06/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

McCain & the Rev. Wrongs

Finally realizing that he has been burned by cynically playing with fire-and-brimstone, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has in quick-though-belated succession thrown to the wolves two of the wolves in sheep's clothing of the Irreligious Wrong whose endorsements he had eagerly sought, the Irreverends John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

The Irrev. Hagee's hate-filled diatribes on the Catholic Church as the "Great Whore" that had showed the way for Hitler had not been sufficient to cause Sen. McCain to reject his support. Nor had Mr. Hagee's repeated contention that a Terrorist God sent Weather of Mass Destruction to punish the sinners of New Orleans. In a less noticed comment, Hagee had attributed Katrina -- or, as he apparently sees it, Hurricane Jesus-to God's displeasure with the United States' support of Israel's removal of Jewish settlers from some of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Yet after most of this had been made public, John McCain declared, "I admire and respect Dr. Hagee's leadership. I admire and appreciate his advocacy for the state of Israel." Sen. McCain's jettisoning of Hagee came only after the surfacing of a decade-ago sermon in which Hagee said that God had sent Adolf Hitler and allowed the Holocaust as a way to get the Jewish people back to Israel.

In the case of the Irrev. Parsley, what failed to cause Sen. McCain to reject him is also more interesting than what finally led to the break. The Republican candidate disassociated himself from Parsley because of the preacher's reference to Islam as an "anti-Christ religion" and Muhammad as "the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil."

But what of the many other positions that Parsley, pastor of the World Harvest Church, has taken? Called "the Raging Prophet," Parsley jumps, screams, and chastises. Those who join his organization, the Center for Moral Clarity, are given swords and told to "lock and load" for a "Holy Ghost invasion."

Parsley preaches the currently popular message of the Jesusless religion that can, because of its resemblance to effortless weight-loss plans, be called "ChristianityLite" in its purest form: "I'm telling you, you don't have to do anything but just receive, that's it."

In 1992, Parsley demonstrated his anti-intellectualism when he declared, "Exegesis X's out Jesus." In fact, it is he and his fellow Jesus Thieves who have X'ed out Jesus.

Rod Parsley is a healer and hater. He rebukes headaches. "In the presence of God," Irrev. Parsley says after applying his hand to the forehead of a Christian afflicted with pain. "I rebuke it. In Jesus, I rebuke it. Lose it. Lose it. In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, lose that." Whether saying this JesusOn mantra is any more effective than repeating, "HeadOn. Apply directly to the forehead," three times in rapid succession has yet to be verified by the FDA.

When Pastor Rod is not healing his followers, he is preaching fear and hate. He is prominent in promoting the idea that Christianity is under siege (not the siege under which he and his fellow Leading Lites have put Jesus, but the imaginary "War on Christianity"). Part of that siege, he says, is to "strip the church of its First Amendment rights through hate crimes legislation." So Parsley, like many others on the "Christian Right" insists on his "Christian" right to preach hate, which he apparently believes is What Jesus Would Do.

Who Would Jesus Hate? The obvious answer -- or, one of many answers for these people who have committed identity theft against Jesus and believe that Jesus spreads his hate lavishly-- is homosexuals. Those leading the siege of the heavenly city are, Parsley tells his followers, those promoting the "Homosexual Agenda." One would think that if homosexuality was what Jesus considered to be the world's greatest evil, he might have mentioned it at least once, but he didn't. Lite X-a-Jesus is a method of reading between the lines of the Gospels to find what isn't there.

The unprincipled principal crop Parsley's organization is harvesting is hate. But none of that had been sufficient to make John McCain reject Parsley's support.

Barack Obama has had his Rev. Wright Problem, but John McCain has created for himself a serious Rev. Wrongs Problem.

What, it must be asked, is Mr. McCain, the con artist formerly known as "Straight Talk," doing communing with such hate mongers? They are the sort of pseudo-Christian snake-oil salesmen he rightly called "agents of intolerance" in 2000.

The only sensible answer is that Mr. McCain thinks courting the followers of these Jesus Thieves is the way to win the position currently occupied by the Lite President he seeks to replace. The irony is that Mr. McCain's association with that Jesus Thief-in-Chief is a much heavier drag on his candidacy than were the Lesser Lites he just cut loose.

{Robert S. McElvaine is Elizabeth Chisholm Professor of Arts & Letters at Millsaps College. This piece is partly adapted from his latest book, Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America, which has just been published by Crown.}