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McCain Denounces Hagee

In this Feb. 27, 2008, file photo Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at a press conference with Rev. John Hagee, an influential Texas televangelist who endorsed John McCain. (Associated Press)

Updated 5:10 p.m.
By Juliet Eilperin and Michelle Boorstein
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today rejected the endorsement of megachurch pastor and ardent Zionist John Hagee after learning of a sermon in which Hagee posited that Nazism was God's will.

Hagee's sermon was delivered in the late 1990s but a video of it began circulating widely this week on the Web on the site talk2action, which monitors the religious right. The sermon calls Hitler a "hunter," a reference to the Book of Jeremiah, which quotes God saying he "will restore [the Jews] to the land I gave to their forefathers."

Hagee is one of the country's best-known evangelical Christian Zionists; he founded a pro-Israel alliance of Christian groups and has donated tens of millions from his Texas-based ministry to support humanitarian causes in Israel. He has said he is driven by the belief that the creation of the state of Israel, and the return of Jews to Palestine, are God's will.

"A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter," Hagee says in the sermon. "And the Bible says -- Jeremiah writing -- 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."

When asked what McCain thought of the remarks, campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds responded with an e-mail from the candidate, denouncing Hagee.

"Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them," McCain said. "I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."

The comments represented a significant shift by McCain, who had refused to reject Hagee's endorsement despite controversial comments Hagee has made about Catholicism and his implication that Hurricane Katrina represented divine retribution. After learning of those comments, McCain said just because he accepts -- or seeks -- someone's endorsement doesn't mean he endorses that person's views.

At roughly the same time McCain rejected Hagee's endorsement, the reverend issued a statement saying he was withdrawing it to prevent any further damage to the presumptive GOP nominee's candidacy.

"Ever since I endorsed John McCain for president, people seeking to attack Senator McCain have combed my records for statements they can use for political gain. They have had no qualms about grossly misrepresenting my position on issues most near and dear to my heart if it serves their political ambitions," Hagee said in the statement. "I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues. I have therefore decided to withdraw my endorsement of Senator McCain for President effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2008 campaign."

The senator also made an effort to draw a distinction between his link to the controversial megapreacher and Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) ties to Chicago Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright's incendiary remarks about the U.S. government have dogged Obama for months.

"I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views. But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for twenty years," McCain said in the statement. "I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today."

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 22, 2008; 4:26 PM ET
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