Wednesday, April 09, 2008

McCain Pastor Interview
Those handful of you who are familiar with the Baptist world may be interested in this little inside baseball tidbit.

A little background first: John McCain has been rightly criticized for his pandering to the Religious Right this time around. It's been painfully obvious, to the extent that one wonders why the panderees aren't more uniformly insulted by his sudden advances (It's as if only James Dobson sees clearly here...). You'll remember that back when reasonable, straight-talking McCain was running for President in 2000, he considered fundamentalist leaders to be something of a scourge on the Republican party, and he said so - "agents of intolerance", he called them. Fast-forward 8 years later and he's speaking to Falwell's crowd at graduation, begging for Hagee's endorsement and oh yeah, he's not Episcopalian anymore. He's Southern Baptist. (Or, at least he attends a Southern Baptist church in Arizona - not technically a member) Has there ever been a more unconvincing attempt by a politician to be accepted by conservative religious Southerners, (who generally view Episcopalian as another word for Catholic, which is to say, only grudgingly American)? But, I digress.

McCain's new Sunday stomping ground while home is mega-church North Phoenix Baptist, a member of the very right-wing Southern Baptist Convention. But here's the thing. Apparently, McCain's conversion to the far-religious-right just couldn't quite stomach a full-fledged fundamentalist doctrine once a week. The church he joined is actually quite the moderate congregation, in Baptist terms. (In normal parlance, that means it's only woefully mainstream conservative.) As one former Baptist leader who would know said to me, "If you were looking to appear like you're in league with the fundamentalist, politically ambitious crowd, that's not a church you would join."

Getting around to actual news of the day, and the reason for this post, McCain's Arizona pastor, Dan Yeary, has been quite the sought-after interview lately, what with Hagee's controversial endorsement and Jeremiah Wright's unfortunate ascendance on the national political scene. But Yeary has been reluctant to put his name out there, and respectably so, I suppose. Still, the demand may have gotten to him, or else the need to address an issue or two weighed too heavily, and so he decided to seek a reasonable religious outlet for an interview after all.

If you were a far-right conservative Baptist in bed with the Southern Baptist movers and shakers, you would grant this interview to the Convention's "news" arm, Baptist Press. Instead - and what's interesting here - Yeary dialed up their direct competitor, Associated Baptist Press, which was in fact created to offer a moderate, journalistically sound, Baptist alternative to the overtly political, one-sided, PR-machine-masquerading-as-a-news-organization that Baptist Press became after the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination. This interview is quite the get for ABP, really. And, as if to send a little tweak in BP's direction, the ABP article includes this (my emphasis):
Yeary has been reluctant to talk to the news media about the McCains or his relationship with them. He has turned down many media requests in order to protect his relationship with the family and their privacy. But he initiated an interview with Associated Baptist Press in an attempt to quell continued journalistic curiosity about McCain’s faith, saying he trusts the independent national news organization’s reputation for fairness.
I don't know how this interview came about. The McCain camp's idea? Yeary on his own? Either way, if the SBC poobahs are paying attention they are a bit insulted, as well they should be. ABP primarily serves the kind of Baptists the SBC calls liberals and heretics, the kind they ran out of their Convention 20 years ago--the Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Bill Moyers, church-state separating kind of Baptists. Our own Kenny B was the original Washington Bureau Chief for ABP - that kind of Baptist. For whatever reason, Southern Baptist exiles are where McCain's pastor felt comfortable. One reason is, clearly, Yeary is right: ABP is fair and reasonable and a respected news organization. They're decidedly not political. Still, considering the politics of it all, it's an interesting choice.

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