McCain's faith: "I pray regularly"
A candidate's religion
The 10-minute tape is hardly clandestine, but it's not in heavy
news rotation either. Two silver-haired men chat in a cozy
office. Dan Yeary, pastor of the North Phoenix Baptist Church,
calls it "a blessing" to include his companion "in our family
and our fellowship." He asks if they might talk about prayer.
"Sure," says John McCain. He explains that at the Hanoi Hilton
"those of us who gained our spiritual help and strength through
God seemed to do better physically than those who basically gave
up." Then he describes his practice now. "I pray regularly, and
I don't have to be getting ready for bed, to be getting up in
the morning. I seize opportunities throughout the day." He often
prays in thanks for a full life, he says. "I haven't always
succeeded; I've failed many times. But because the foundation of
your and my belief is redemption, I've been able to receive
additional comfort, strength and the desire to move forward
Such talk, taped in 1998 for internal church use, would be no
surprise from George W. Bush or Al Gore. But from McCain, who
has remained discreet about his current faith while waging one
of the more religiously contentious primary runs in history, it
is revealing. His close relationship with Yeary's church is
unknown even to many Phoenix politicos and pastors.
McCain's great-grandfather was an Episcopal minister, and his
father prayed twice daily--on his knees. Despite McCain's
Episcopal heritage, however, the service he attends--"every time
he's in town; John is faithful in worship," says Yeary--is the 9
a.m. Sunday "contemporary" gathering at North Phoenix Baptist.
The megachurch is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. More
moderate than Bob Jones University, the S.B.C. is still
scripturally and socially conservative. One prominent member is
McCain target Jerry Falwell.
McCain began attending Baptist services in Tempe, Ariz., before
moving to Phoenix. "I just liked the church," he says. The four
youngest McCain children are Baptists. Still, McCain maintains
his Episcopalianism. Richard Jackson, pastor emeritus of North
Phoenix, is not bothered. "I'm concerned about a person's
relationship with Christ," he says, "and I was convinced he had
that personal faith." McCain, he judges, "is not a biblically
versed, mature Christian. He's a novice scripturally. But the
Hanoi Hilton is not a seminary."
"I don't go [to church] as much as I would like," McCain told
TIME. When he and his wife Cindy do attend, they usually sit
behind the youth section, where they can get in and out
unobtrusively. "He does not seek attention," says Yeary. "If I
tried to recognize him, he might chastise me." Arizona
Congressman J.D. Hayworth, a former North Phoenix member who has
prayed with McCain, contends that the candidate's trademark
candor extends to his faith. "You read the Psalms, you see how
David is brutally honest with God," he says. "That's John. He
doesn't keep anything from the Creator any more than from the
rest of us."
--By David Van Biema. With reporting by John F. Dickerson, with McCain