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New Baptist John McCain Returns to His Old Episcopal High School

April 1, 2008

In the latest stop on his biographical trip down memory lane, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain returned to his old high school in Alexandria, Virginia. As it turns out, that may have been an odd choice for a man trying to reintroduce himself to the American people. Years after leaving the august halls of Episcopal High School, John McCain became a Baptist.
To be sure, John McCain's visit to his old stomping grounds certainly won't convince many Americans that he is a man of the people. Home to the children of Washington's political and military elite since 1839, fees at EHS (excluding computers and textbook costs) top $38,000 per year. The school's rigorous instruction apparently also includes a serious commitment to its students' spiritual development, featuring religious services three times a week.
But somewhere along the way to his "Service to America" biographical tour, John McCain traded in his Episcopalian faith and became a Baptist.
Just last week, Reuters offered a fawning portrait of John McCain's Southern Baptist minister of 15 years, the Reverend Dan Yeary. The clear message of the piece ("McCain's Pastor a Sharp Contrast to Obama's") was to highlight John McCain as well within the American mainstream while depicting Democrat Barack Obama as beyond the pale:

That puts Yeary, who heads the church attended for the past 15 years by the Republican presidential candidate firmly in the U.S. Southern Baptist mainstream, and in line with the Republican Party.
He offers a sharp contrast to Democratic contender Barack Obama's former preacher Jeremiah Wright, who has stirred controversy with his fiery comments on race and America.

Yeary, glowingly described as "a folksy patriotic Southern Baptist," leads the 7,000 member North Phoenix Baptist Church McCain has attended for 15 years. In an interview last year, the one-time Episcopalian McCain claimed he was drawn to Yeary's "message of reconciliation and redemption which I'm a great believer in," adding, "And so I began attending North Phoenix Baptist church and I'm grateful for the spiritual advice and counsel that I continue to get from Pastor Dan Yeary."
But McCain's faith-based swap (an experience a recent Pew study showed is shared by 44% of Americans) is more complicated than it first appears. Despite the fact that his wife Cindy and their two children were baptized at Yeary's church, John McCain himself has yet to take the plunge (so to speak). As Reuters suggested, that still rankles McCain's minister:

Yeary declined to comment on McCain's reluctance to finally undergo a baptism ceremony, a key ritual of the faith. "John and I are having continual dialogue about his spiritual pursuits," Yeary said.

Even more curious is McCain's shifting positions when it comes to what he religion now considers himself to be. In June 2007, McClatchy reported, "McCain still calls himself an Episcopalian." But as the 2008 South Carolina primary approached, McCain had a change of heart as he appealed to the Palmetto's State's massive evangelical base. By September 2007, McCain announced he had in fact switched teams:

"It plays a role in my life. By the way, I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist."

Of course, John McCain's personal religious faith is his own business and normally should not impact voters one way or another. But with the media's obsession with faith-based politics in general and the Obama-Wright imbroglio in particular, McCain's confused conversion (and possible Palmetto State pandering) on the way to the White House shouldn't be ignored.
Back in June, McCain admitted his reticence when it came to discussing his spiritual journey. "When I'm asked about it, I'll be glad to discuss it," he said, adding, "I just don't bring it up." With his return to his old Episcopal High School today, John McCain just brought it up.
UPDATE 1: ABC and Reuters now offer profiles of the "rambunctious" John McCain, a "punk" also known to his schoolmates as "McNasty." But so far, no mention of the McCain's post-Episcopal High School spiritual journey.
UPDATE 2: For more ironies surrounding McCain's magical, mystery biographical tour, see "John McCain's Bio Waste."

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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