WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of John McCain’s most prominent supporters on Tuesday praised an evangelical leader whom the Republican presidential candidate repudiated after a string of controversial remarks were made public.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who frequently campaigns with McCain, said pastor John Hagee’s support for Israel outweighed the remarks that led McCain to reject his endorsement.
Lieberman said he had been urged not to speak to Hagee’s group, Christians United for Israel.
“The bond that I feel with Pastor Hagee and each and every one of you is much stronger than that, and so I am proud to stand with you tonight,” Lieberman told several thousand members of the group, which urges U.S. support for Israel.
“I don’t agree with everything that Pastor Hagee’s done and said … but there is so much more important than that that we agree on,” Lieberman said.
McCain, in an effort to reach out to evangelicals who are among the most loyal Republican voters, accepted Hagee’s endorsement in March but rejected him in May after learning that the Texas preacher once said that God allowed the Holocaust to happen because it led to the creation of Israel.
McCain addressed Christians United for Israel last year. His campaign declined to comment.
Hagee, who heads the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, also was criticized for calling the Catholic Church “the Great Whore” and saying that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina for staging a gay-rights parade. He has since apologized to Catholics.
Hagee said the spotlight had been unsettling and condemned what he said was misleading media coverage.
“What will I say when I’m asked to endorse a presidential candidate? Never again,” he told the cheering crowd, which waved American and Israeli flags.
Hagee has written that events in the Middle East point to an imminent apocalypse Christians should welcome, and in several books envisions a climactic battle in Israel leading to the second coming of Jesus.
Christians United for Israel takes an uncompromising stance toward Israel’s enemies and opposes giving land to the Palestinians.
Hagee said that it was up to Israelis to reach their own peace terms, and said the group was not trying to bring about a biblical apocalypse in the Middle East.
“We don’t believe that we can speed up the End of Days one second because we believe that God has shown that he will set the time,” Hagee said.
A organization supporting a negotiated peace in the Middle East, J Street, said it had delivered a 40,000-signature petition to Lieberman’s office urging him not to speak to Hagee’s group.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Eric Beech)