McCain Keeps His Faith out of Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Don't expect any public testimonies of faith from presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who is not demonstrative about his religion but who embraces a Baptist faith that is based on salvation.

The religious intentions of Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama were dissected after he publicly explained his decadeslong relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., but the senator from Arizona likely will talk little about the details of his own spiritual path other than to acknowledge that he is on one.

"The most important thing is I'm a Christian," Mr. McCain told reporters in September on the campaign trail when asked about his religious affiliation.

Mr. McCain's official congressional record identifies him as an Episcopalian, and he was raised in the Episcopal Church, but the senator said he now considers himself a Baptist. He cut short any further inquiry by adding that he "won't have anything more to say about that."

That brief exchange with reporters was before he broke out of the Republican pack in New Hampshire in January and became the presumptive Republican nominee. Now, as the campaign speeds toward the general election in the fall, Mr. McCain's record on everything from romance to foreign policy likely will go under the microscope. Some wonder whether his reticence on religion, particularly after the Obama flap, may be a good thing.

"It is to John McCain's credit that he is not using his faith as a political tool," said Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus. "However, at some point in the general election when voters are taking a renewed and closer look at the candidates, he should feel comfortable talking about his journey in faith from his days in Hanoi and what role it played in shaping the man he is today."

Some facts are known about Mr. McCain's churchgoing. He has attended the Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated North Phoenix Baptist Church with his family for about 15 years. The 7,000-member church with an active radio ministry is led by the Rev. Dan Yeary, 69, who is described as "folksy and patriotic" and who came to his Arizona congregation after a stint at University Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Fla.

"John and I are having continual dialogue about his spiritual pursuits," Mr. Yeary told Reuters news agency earlier this year. "John and I are friends. He has called on me to minister to the family in times of challenge and difficulty."

Mr. McCain, in a 2006 interview, said he liked his Baptist church and his pastor's message of "reconciliation and redemption, which I'm a great believer in." Although he has not elaborated about the specifics of his religion, Mr. McCain, the son of a Navy admiral who attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, wrote extensively in his 1999 best-seller "Faith of My Fathers" about how faith helped him survive during his 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. Fellow prisoners dubbed him "the chaplain" for his role in holding makeshift services.

In the book, Mr. McCain tells a poignant story about a Vietnamese prison guard who drew a cross with his foot in the dirt for the Navy flier to see, only to rub it out before others might notice. That moment signaled to Mr. McCain that God was indeed present, even as he and his fellow captives struggled to survive the torture and living conditions inflicted upon them.

Mr. McCain campaigned for support from the Republican Party's conservative base earlier this year, but received a tongue-lashing by James Dobson, the powerful founder of the conservative Focus on the Family.

"I'm praying that we will not get stuck with him," Mr. Dobson said.

Now that Mr. McCain is the presumptive nominee, other conservatives have softened their tone, embracing the war hero's pro-life stance as they prepare to challenge the Democrats. …