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John McCain’s Curious Christian Faith

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Two news articles in recent days have shed light on an enigma: John McCain’s Christian faith. Andrea Billups’ story in the Washington Times -- despite its inadvertently funny lede, which appears to have caught multiple people sleeping at the copy desk -- will do nothing to boost evangelical Christians’ comfort level with McCain. For evangelicals, all the candidate has going for him is that he’s anti-abortion in a race where the other candidates aren’t. Another story posted on the Associated Baptist Press Web site offers the most detail to date about McCain’s relationship with his church, North Phoenix Baptist, and pastor, the Reverend Dan Yeary. And this too will stoke suspicion about McCain’s faith, not confidence.

Wonder why evangelicals haven’t cottoned to McCain? Here are four reasons why -- and they’re less about his tepid opposition to gay marriage than a deeper concern that his Christian faith isn’t the guiding force of his life. If it isn’t the guiding force, the thinking goes, it’s an add-on, a malleable, negotiable thing, and it can’t be trusted.

1. McCain is vague on the details of his faith, generally treating it as a private affair. For evangelicals, who consider it their calling to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world -- to evangelize -- faith is anything but a private matter. McCain’s reticence suggests to evangelicals a lukewarm, distant faith.

2. To evangelicals, faith in Jesus Christ is an all-encompassing thing, touching and transforming every aspect of one’s life. Our convictions about the sanctity of life, for example, affect how we treat the abortion issue. We believe our convictions should provoke actions. We can’t warm up to a candidate who says he’s against something, like gay marriage, but refuses to take the logical steps to combat or limit it.

3. McCain regularly attends a Southern Baptist church -- a resolutely evangelical denomination -- but has not officially joined or been baptized. Baptism by immersion, of course, is one of the defining practices of Southern Baptists. How can he attend a church but not participate in one of its most basic expressions of faith?

4. McCain has never described a conversion experience, unlike President George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Evangelicals believe there is a precise moment when one enters into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and they tend to be suspicious of anyone who can’t recount that event. If you can’t tell it, did it ever happen? --Julie Lyons

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