Lord ‘a’ mercy! For the self-styled Party of the Godly, the GOP is certainly having a lot of religious issues with its presidential field. There’s Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. There’s Rudy Giuliani’s rather tenuous relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. There’s the question as to whether Fred Thompson is a member of the conservative Church of Christ or the progressive United Church of Christ, or doesn’t go to church at all. There’s Sam Brownback’s conversion from Methodism to Catholicism via the controversial Opus Dei organization. And for those Republicans, if there are any, who are scrupulous about separation of church and state, Mike Huckabee’s position as an ordained Southern Baptist minister might raise a few eyebrows.
And now we learn via AP that John McCain has suddenly started telling people in heavily Baptist South Carolina that he’s not, as he has always been identified, an Episcopalian, but a Baptist, having attended a Phoenix-area Southern Baptist Church for about 15 years.
The Associated Press asked McCain on Saturday how his Episcopal faith plays a role in his campaign and life. McCain grew up Episcopalian and attended an Episcopal high school in Alexandria, Va.
“It plays a role in my life. By the way, I’m not Episcopalian. I’m Baptist,” McCain said. “Do I advertise my faith? Do I talk about it all the time? No.”
This news apparently led AP reporter Bruce Smith to do a little googling, and he promptly turned up a rather interesting personal tidbit about McCain from a few months ago:
In a June interview with McClatchy Newspapers, the senator said his wife and two of their children have been baptized in the Arizona Baptist church, but he had not. “I didn’t find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs,” he said.
Well, you’d think anyone who’s been attending a Baptist Church for 15 years might have caught wind of the fact that the denomination, as its name suggests, believes rather adamantly that baptism is necessary for salvation, a reasonably important “spiritual need” by most measurements.
And no, it wouldn’t cut any ice with his fellow-Baptists if it turns out that McCain, like most Episcopalians, was baptized via sprinkling as an infant. Any kind of Baptist I’ve ever heard of holds that only a “believer’s baptism” (i.e., at an age of consent) through full bodily immersion is valid. That’s why their theological ancestors in Europe were contemptuously dubbed “Re-baptizers,” or “Anabaptists.”
I don’t know why McCain has chosen to wander into this particular thicket. But the only way out I can imagine is if he asks Huckabee to baptize him during the next candidate debate.