The Christian Nationalism of John McCain
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 11:07:20 AM EST
I am reprising this post because the issue of John McCain's professed Christian nationalism is a real question that goes to the question of his core beliefs as well as his ongoing relationship with the religious right.

In an interview with BeliefNet, last year, John McCain came out as a Christian nationalist. This is a disturbing development from a man who has been profoundly critical of the religious right in the past, but has courted movement leaders, and received the endorsement of some (and was forced to renounce some too) while seeking the GOP nomination for president over the past year.

In this interview, he comes out more strongly as a Christian nationalist and critic of separation of church and state than any nominee for either party in modern American history.

There was a flurry of correspondence with the Anti-Defamation League in the wake of his statments. (reprinted below) But the upshot was this statement from the ADL:

In response, ADL welcomed Sen. McCain's clarification, but added, "Nevertheless, we are deeply disappointed that you did not expressly retract your statement that "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.

Last October, journalist Dan Gilgoff interviewed John McCain on BeliefNet. The interview was  titled:  John McCain: Constitution Established a "Christian Nation."

Q: A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?

McCain: I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, "I only welcome Christians." We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

Abraham Foxman, ADL National Director wrote to McCain about this  on October 1, 2007. McCain replied, and the ADL rejoined.

We write in response to your recent interview posted on We and others are confused and dismayed by the comments you made in the course of this interview. On the one hand, you correctly noted that our Founding Fathers unequivocally believed in the separation of church and state. Yet you then came to the conclusion that "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation."

While this view may reflect what recent polls show is the opinion shared by a majority of Americans today, it is false. Absolutely nothing in the Constitution establishes that the U.S. is a Christian nation, nor is it accurate to say that this nation was founded on Christian principles.

The sources that influence the framers ranged from Greek and Roman law, to John Locke, to Scottish Common Sense philosophers to Calvinism. The Founding Fathers actually rejected attempts to include Biblical passages and religious principles in the Constitution. In fact, every attempt to include official recognition of Christianity in the United States Constitution was defeated. The secular character of the new nation was affirmed in the Treaty of Tripoli (1797) which was negotiated under George Washington and signed by John Adams: "The Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

We were pleased that you clarified your earlier remarks about Muslims' suitability to serve as president, and made it clear that you would be willing to vote for a Muslim candidate. As you well know, our Constitution explicitly states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

While the Anti-Defamation League is non-partisan and does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office, we believe deeply that voters should be making their decisions on the basis of a candidate's qualifications and positions on substantive issues. We do not ask candidates to hide their religious heritage or the impact religion has had on them. But appeals to voters based on religion are inevitably divisive and contrary to the democratic ideals upon which our nation was truly founded.

We urge you to reconsider and withdraw your statements describing the United States as a "Christian nation" and a "nation founded on Christian principles." Not only were your assertions inaccurate, they were also ill-advised for any candidate seeking to lead a nation as religiously diverse and pluralistic as ours.

McCain replied:

You have misconstrued my interview with Beliefnet, in which I made repeated references to the "Judeo-Christian" values that informed our founding fathers' respect for human rights. I did not assert that members of one faith have a greater claim to American citizenship than another. In fact, I stressed the opposite, noting that "the lady who holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say 'I only welcome Christians.'" Read in context, the interview makes clear that I believe people of all faiths are welcome here and entitled to all the protections of our Constitution, including the unfettered right to practice their religion freely. In the interview, I observed that the values protected by the Constitution - such as respect for human life and dignity - are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all I intended to say to the question: is America a Christian nation?

While I acknowledged that I might be more comfortable voting for someone who shared that tradition, I also made clear that a candidate's faith should not be a barrier to running for or serving in high office. And in a clarification I gave Beliefnet shortly after the interview I said I could support a Muslim candidate for President, if I believed he or she were the best qualified to serve in that capacity.

I hope you will now see that your concern was misplaced. I have always made it a practice to put the country's best interests before my own, and have always avoided seeking political gain by aggravating racial or religious divisions among us, and I regret the insinuation that I would. Indeed, I do not think you can find anything in my life and political record to suggest the contrary. I was asserting nothing more controversial than that I recognize the human rights cherished in America, which the Constitution was conceived to protect, and which Americans have sacrificed their lives to defend, are values cherished in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Foxman rejoined:

Thank you for your quick response to my letter expressing concern over your interview with Beliefnet in which you referred to the United States as a "Christian nation."

We welcome your clarification that you were "asserting nothing more controversial than that you recognize the human rights cherished in America.....are values cherished in the Judeo-Christian tradition."
Nevertheless, we are disappointed that you did not expressly retract your statement that "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation." Unfortunately, that phrase is often exploited by those who do not fully appreciate the importance of our Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom and equality which you embrace.

We hope that you will express your commitment to our pluralistic values in more inclusive language in the future.

Here is the ADL press release on the flap.

The blog Jed Report made a You Tube video from an interview conducted by Dan Gilgoff at Beliefnet last year. It is a compelling two and a half minute bit of vid, but Jed Report does not identify the source. The link to the original is in this post.

A hat tip and a sweeping bow to Daily Kos diarist DrSteveB for originally flagging this in response to the Obama/Farrakhan episode.

For a primer on Christian nationalism, see: History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters.

is a made-up term to try to graft a veneer of Judaism onto the Christian Right, and to gloss over the essential differences between the two religions.  John McCain should stop his clowning.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 09:16:56 AM EST
the "straight-talking," "Maverick" continues to pander.  Lovely!

I wonder if the MSM will call him on it, or if they will continue to avert their gaze in reverence...

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 11:45:58 AM EST

of these matters. But sometimes good reporters get a chance to ask good questions.

Interestingly, McCain has been taking some heat that although he claims to be a Baptist (after being a lifelong Episcopalian) he has never actually been baptised. Calling pols on their hypocrisy is easier than getting into their actual ideology.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 11:52:11 AM EST

made by McCain where he says that he decided to attend a Baptist church becuase they are"strong on redemption and so am I."  It's hard to know why people make the religious decisions they do, becuase you can't properly access their intentions and movitivations, without opening up their brain and taking a look inside.  According to McCain, he's attended that particular Baptist church for over 15 years, so he may not be pandering.  In any event, McCain doesn't strike me as a particularly deep thinker, so maybe he joined it because he likes the people there.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 12:45:27 PM EST
but seems to me that if you are going to claim to be a Baptist, it helps to actually be one.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 12:48:32 PM EST
fair enough

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Mon Jun 09, 2008 at 01:04:07 PM EST

EXCERPTED from Today's Haaretz: John McCain won the endorsement of pro-Israel evangelical leader John Hagee on Wednesday, which could boost his standing among religious conservatives who have been reluctant to embrace the likely nominee..... Hagee, who heads a 19,000-member church in San Antonio, Texas, is best known for his outspoken support of Israel and writings on the Middle East, where he envisions a blood-soaked clash between East and West leading to the return of Jesus Christ...... "I'm very honored by Pastor John Hagee's endorsement today," McCain said at a news conference. "He has been the staunchest leader of our Christian evangelical movement in many areas, but especially, most especially, his close ties and advocacy for the freedom and independence of the state of Israel." ........"Victory is within our grasp because John McCain knows it's never wrong to do the right thing," Hagee said...... McCain's support for the Iraq war and fierce criticism of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won praise from Hagee, who has brought thousands of evangelical Christians to Washington to lobby on Israel's behalf. Hagee has written that events in the Middle East point to an imminent apocalypse Christians should welcome. In his book "Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World," Hagee predicts Russian and Arab armies will invade Israel and be destroyed by God. Israel will then be the site of a battle between China and the West, which will be led by the anti-Christ in his role as head of the European Union. Jesus Christ will return to Earth in the final battle, he writes.... The book also claims Adolph Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church joined in a conspiracy to destroy the Jews. .......McCain said on his campaign plane that he was not familiar with Hagee's writings. "I think he's a fine leader and I appreciate his commitment to Israel," McCain said.... e

by eileen fleming on Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 11:00:10 AM EST

It is difficult to say what McCain actually believes, but he will say and do anything to get votes at this moment, and likely will do so if elected.

by NancyP on Fri Apr 11, 2008 at 02:39:15 PM EST
McCain has abandoned principles for votes.

by khughes1963 on Fri Apr 11, 2008 at 05:39:52 PM EST

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