McCain’s faith

The L.A. Times has a revealing story about John McCain’s faith. A sample:

McCain is most comfortable talking about his religious awakening during his 5 1/2 years in captivity, where his connection to God grew stronger and he served as “room chaplain” for a small group of prisoners.

In his early life he was influenced by his “deeply religious” father, who relied on his faith in a long struggle with alcoholism. Prayer and church became an “ingrained part” of McCain’s life at his high school, where he attended chapel every morning and on Sunday evenings, even after church, he says.

McCain says in those days, he was a self-absorbed rule-breaker who became a hard-partying naval aviator. It was not until after his plane was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967, he wrote in his memoir, “Faith of My Fathers,” that he learned to “grasp” faith tightly. In solitary confinement, he prayed “more often and more fervently than I ever had as a free man.”

“I was very slow in maturing,” he said aboard his campaign plane. “I knew right from wrong; I knew the Bible; I knew the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed and the tenets of my faith. And although I neglected them, the time came that I could fall back on them as a net, as a way of salvation, literally.”

Often his faith helped him “get through another minute,” he said. At the same time, McCain said, he learned to be “careful not to ask God to do things that were temporal rather than spiritual.”

In McCain’s first talk as chaplain, he cautioned fellow prisoners not to pray for their release — reminding them of a parable in which Jesus was asked whether it was right to pay taxes. “He held up the coin and said, ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s,’ ” McCain said, recalling his lecture. “The point of my talk was we were doing Caesar’s work when we went into combat, so we really shouldn’t ask God” for release.

That lesson guided McCain not to pray for his own personal success. “I pray to do the right thing so I won’t look back in regret or embarrassment or even shame that I betrayed my principles and my faith,” he said.

McCain began attending a Baptist church after marrying Cindy McCain in 1980 and moving to Arizona. At North Phoenix Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, McCain was attracted to the pastor’s message “that we’re all sinners, but we can benefit from God’s grace if we recognize those sins and move forward,” he said.

Although some religious leaders contend that McCain has not said enough about how his faith influences his positions, his stance on abortion is clear. McCain is a staunch opponent. He said that his view that life begins at conception is based “to some degree” in his religious faith.

Some quirks (not praying for his own success or even release from the POW camp), some insights (“we were doing Caesar’s work”), some solid theology (sin & grace; dependence on the Creeds). At least he stands squarely against the gospel of success that plagues, the confusion of kingdoms, and the content-free theology that plagues contemporary Christianity. Maybe he associates all of that with contemporary evangelicalism, which is why he keeps his distance. Or do you think this is not an adequate confession of faith?

HT: Mark Stricherz at Get Religion.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jonathan

    It seems that GOP Christians must Christianize GOP presidential candidates; now it’s McCain’s turn. Since he, unlike Geo. W., isn’t using all the right evangelical words, we’re having to consult the tea leaves. When McCain returned from captivity, he divorced the wife who had stood by him and ran after the young heir to a beer fortune, worth, now, an estimated $100 million. Are the children from his first wife on the campaign trail with him? What about his constant anger and tendency to hold decades-long grudges?
    I’m no pietist and believe fully that all Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners. But I do suggest that we stop pathetically looking for excuses to Christianize McCain. If you like what you hear from him, vote for him, but don’t turn him into something that he may not be in order to make your support look like a pious act.

  • Jonathan

    It seems that GOP Christians must Christianize GOP presidential candidates; now it’s McCain’s turn. Since he, unlike Geo. W., isn’t using all the right evangelical words, we’re having to consult the tea leaves. When McCain returned from captivity, he divorced the wife who had stood by him and ran after the young heir to a beer fortune, worth, now, an estimated $100 million. Are the children from his first wife on the campaign trail with him? What about his constant anger and tendency to hold decades-long grudges?
    I’m no pietist and believe fully that all Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners. But I do suggest that we stop pathetically looking for excuses to Christianize McCain. If you like what you hear from him, vote for him, but don’t turn him into something that he may not be in order to make your support look like a pious act.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Jonathan:
    I don’t see that happening at all, that anyone’s trying to Christianize McCain. Not even McCain. Just a discussion of his faith, as he’s expressed it when asked about it, without wearing it on his sleeve, which is equally distasteful.
    I love when someone brings up a candidate’s past public sins, but without judgment–how convenient!–but with the effect, intended or not, of discounting his faith and his faithfulness, and thus his legitimacy as a candidate for a secular office. More rhetorical and logical Twister, as it were.
    If we’re going to go that route, we’re going to have to stay home on election day, or just go to the polls to throw stones at others.
    Inevitably, in this country, candidates are going to be asked questions about their faith, what it means to them, how it works for them, etc. Rarely will their answers–or the questions, for that matter–speak to a Lutheran understanding of faith or government or creeds or anything pertinent to a person’s fitness for office.
    For that matter, a person’s personal life, including his faith, has limited bearing on his fitness for office. A better guide is his action as office-holder.
    That’s where McCain gets in trouble with me, and not in how he describes faith or whom he divorces or marries.
    It’s very hard for anyone to answer a question about faith without sounding either sanctimonious or clueless. It must be doubly hard, then, for a candidate courting public favor to do so.
    But I don’t think McCain comes across that way, except to the person who thinks all religion is mere sanctimony, or to the person who’s more interested in having his own religious views validated thru and mirrored in his candidate. Which is a delusion. Luther’s not running for anything, and neither is Jesus!

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Jonathan:
    I don’t see that happening at all, that anyone’s trying to Christianize McCain. Not even McCain. Just a discussion of his faith, as he’s expressed it when asked about it, without wearing it on his sleeve, which is equally distasteful.
    I love when someone brings up a candidate’s past public sins, but without judgment–how convenient!–but with the effect, intended or not, of discounting his faith and his faithfulness, and thus his legitimacy as a candidate for a secular office. More rhetorical and logical Twister, as it were.
    If we’re going to go that route, we’re going to have to stay home on election day, or just go to the polls to throw stones at others.
    Inevitably, in this country, candidates are going to be asked questions about their faith, what it means to them, how it works for them, etc. Rarely will their answers–or the questions, for that matter–speak to a Lutheran understanding of faith or government or creeds or anything pertinent to a person’s fitness for office.
    For that matter, a person’s personal life, including his faith, has limited bearing on his fitness for office. A better guide is his action as office-holder.
    That’s where McCain gets in trouble with me, and not in how he describes faith or whom he divorces or marries.
    It’s very hard for anyone to answer a question about faith without sounding either sanctimonious or clueless. It must be doubly hard, then, for a candidate courting public favor to do so.
    But I don’t think McCain comes across that way, except to the person who thinks all religion is mere sanctimony, or to the person who’s more interested in having his own religious views validated thru and mirrored in his candidate. Which is a delusion. Luther’s not running for anything, and neither is Jesus!

  • CRB

    No one can discount the sacrifice that McCain went through for our country. He is truly a hero! But when speaking of his faith, I get the impression–especially with that quote from his pastor–that the Gospel is not fully presented. As an esteemed and wise professor at Concordia Seminary used to say: “Don’t tell me about your faith, tell me about Jesus!” I think Dr. Veith knows who that gentleman is.

  • CRB

    No one can discount the sacrifice that McCain went through for our country. He is truly a hero! But when speaking of his faith, I get the impression–especially with that quote from his pastor–that the Gospel is not fully presented. As an esteemed and wise professor at Concordia Seminary used to say: “Don’t tell me about your faith, tell me about Jesus!” I think Dr. Veith knows who that gentleman is.

  • Booklover

    to CRB #3

    Rod Rosenbladt??!

  • Booklover

    to CRB #3

    Rod Rosenbladt??!

  • Booklover

    I am more impressed by his knowing and believing (if he does) the Bible, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed than I am about his faith or anyone else’s faith doing something for him.

    Sometimes God chooses not to bring a person through a difficult situation. He is still God.

  • Booklover

    I am more impressed by his knowing and believing (if he does) the Bible, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed than I am about his faith or anyone else’s faith doing something for him.

    Sometimes God chooses not to bring a person through a difficult situation. He is still God.

  • CRB

    Booklover,
    No, it was Dr Norman Nagel, now retired, but his wise words and teaching still reverberating throughout the seminary walls and in the hearts and minds of former seminarians, many of whom are now pastors.

  • CRB

    Booklover,
    No, it was Dr Norman Nagel, now retired, but his wise words and teaching still reverberating throughout the seminary walls and in the hearts and minds of former seminarians, many of whom are now pastors.


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