Ron Paul learns what happens to candidates who embrace religious extremists [UPDATED]
Updated, 2:10 p.m., Jan. 10: A spokesman for Pastor John Hagee says I mischaracterized his views on the holocaust and Israel. His response is posted at the end of this piece.
Where have we heard this before: A presidential hopeful lacking electoral cachet with hyper-religious voters awkwardly promotes his connection to a well-known firebrand reverend, only to get burned when evidence emerges that there's a reason why said reverend is a well-known firebrand? Happened to John McCain in 2008; likewise with Barack Obama.
Add to the list Ron Paul in 2011:
A prominent supporter of Republican presidential aspirant Ron Paul has advocated for capital punishment for homosexuals.
The Reverend Phillip Kayser, pastor of Dominion Covenant Church in Omaha, Neb., who recently announced his support for the Texas congressman, wrote a paper a few years ago which claimed the Bible allowed for the murder of gay people, according to Talking Points Memo (TPM).
"Difficulty in implementing Biblical law does not make non-Biblical penology just," Kayser wrote. “But as we have seen, while many homosexuals would be executed, the threat of capital punishment can be restorative. Biblical law would recognize as a matter of justice that even if this law could be enforced today, homosexuals could not be prosecuted for something that was done before...."
Notice of the Kayser endorsement has since been removed from Paul's official campaign website.
Yes, I know there's evidence to suggest that Paul is a homophobe, but his votes on rolling back "don't ask, don't tell" and against the Defense of Marriage Act suggest he's fine with checking his squeamishness with gays at Capitol Hill's door. And judging by the swiftness with which his campaign distanced itself from Kayser, it's likely that Paul was unaware of the minister's ghoulish anti-gay fanaticism.
But the lesson here isn't that candidates should do better background research. Famous religious sophists build their dedicated audiences largely by articulating the unspeakable beliefs their followers harbor silently. Whether it's the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. (Obama) declaring "God damn America" or John Hagee (McCain) postulating that Hitler fulfilled God's will by perpetrating the Holocaust -- or Kayser wondering aloud how the biblical command to execute homosexuals could be incorporated into modern criminal law -- these people have a track record of producing deservedly embarrassing soundbites. It's practically their job.
Presidential candidates would do well to exercise caution in selecting which religious fanatics to embrace -- or not to seek their endorsements at all. My vote is for the second option.
Update: Ari Morgenstern, spokesman for John Hagee Ministries, responds:
In this piece, Pastor John Hagee, senior pastor at San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, is called an extremist and is unfairly placed in the same inauspicious league as the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright. To substantiate the assertions, the author of the piece writes that Hagee once "postulat[ed] that Hitler fulfilled God's will by perpetrating the Holocaust." This is an unfair oversimplification that does not capture the sermon's true intent.
The author's allegation stems from a years old sermon Hagee gave in which the pastor interpreted elements of the book of Jeremiah to foretell the message of Zionist leader Theodore Herzl, the rise of Adolf Hitler, and the eventual creation of the State of Israel; in making his analysis, Hagee was informed by the teachings of noted Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal who, writing before his murder at the hands of the Nazis, concluded: "Furthermore, the sole purpose of all the afflictions that smite us in our exile is to arouse us to return to our Holy Land."
In the 2008 presidential campaign this sermon's message was grossly misrepresented in the media. And while it was never Hagee's intent to offend, when it became clear to the pastor that his sermon had offended the very people he had devoted his life to supporting, he quickly sought reconciliation with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the leading American organization combating anti-Semitism. The ADL not only welcomed this reconciliation, but noted, "We are grateful that you have devoted your life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the State of Israel."
-- Paul Thornton
Photo: Ron Paul campaigns in Iowa this week. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA