John McCain’s pastors have gone to ground.

It’s been a rough year for the Republican presidential candidate’s prominent evangelical supporters. The Rev. John Hagee got in hot water for suggesting that God was behind the Holocaust and that the Roman Catholic Church is a “great whore.” The Rev. Rod Parsley had some uncharitable thoughts on Islam being an “anti-Christ religion.”

So it follows that all eyes would be on Hagee’s group (Parsley is a regional director) when it came to town this week for its third annual “summit” of Christian Zionists. The group, Christians United for Israel, booked the convention and publicized its agenda widely in the media.

But Hagee seems to have had a conversion on the road to Washington.

“I have some bad news for you,” announced the group’s spokeswoman, Avraleigh Keats, when reporters showed up for a panel with Hagee and Gary Bauer, president of the group American Values, yesterday morning. “There’s been a change. There’s no press allowed. . . . No interviews. No filming. Nothing.”

So why did Hagee’s group announce the summit agenda with such fanfare and invite the public to watch? Executive Director David Brog speculated darkly: “I don’t know if it was someone trying to sabotage us.”

A secret Christian Zionist meeting? Talk of sabotage? It was the sort of thing that caused McCain to distance himself from Hagee and Parsley in the first place. But while McCain has officially renounced the pair (and they him), the program for the summit suggests the distancing came with a wink and a nod. It touts as speakers top McCain surrogate Joe Lieberman and Bauer, a prominent McCain supporter and an informal adviser to the campaign. It displayed three photos of McCain with Hagee at last year’s summit.

This election may well come down to which candidate can better control his crazy pastors — and after yesterday’s weirdness at the convention center, McCain has fallen behind by about two cubits.

Both McCain and Barack Obama, of course, have seriously revved-up revs: Obama quit his church over the Rev. Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright’s various explosions and the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s bashing of Hillary Clinton. Hagee, in turn, has called Catholicism a “false cult,” blamed gays for Hurricane Katrina, and preached that Hitler came about “because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” Parsley, meanwhile, called the prophet Muhammad “the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil.” (MORE)


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