Forgive Them for Their Religious Advisers?

The controversial views expressed by Sen. Barack Obama's pastor spurred the candidate to address the issue in a major speech this week, renewing scrutiny over the role of religious advisers in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Tuesday Obama struggled to distance himself from the controversial preachings of his pastor of 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has said the United States provoked the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism" and accused the government of having "started the AIDS virus."

"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course," Obama said. "Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."

Wright married Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized their two daughters. Obama credits Wright for the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."

Obama said he wouldn't disown Wright but condemned his expression of "views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation," he said.

Republican pundits have pounced on Wright's sermons and Obama's speech on race.

"Do they really want the presidential campaign to be about race, because Barack Obama has made it now about race," conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said. "He has essentially, in not disavowing and distancing himself from Jeremiah Wright, who, by the way, I think the correct way to understand Jeremiah Wright and the way people are reacting to him is not in a racial manner. This is a man who hates the country. Jeremiah Wright is a hatemonger. He hates America. It is patently obvious."

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As with the campaign surrogates who have made headlines recently for going off-message, the candidates have gingerly distanced themselves from the controversial views of some of their religious advisers.

Controversial Religious Supporters

In February, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., distanced himself from supporter John Hagee, a televangelist and San Antonio megachurch leader who has referred to the Roman Catholic Church as "the great whore" and called it a "false cult system."

McCain has also been endorsed by Rod Parsley, who has reportedly called for a war on the "false religion" of Islam.

"It's simply not accurate to say that because someone endorses me that I therefore embrace their views," McCain said at a February news conference in Phoenix.

Hagee's views have become a political problem for McCain, who stood with the televangelist and said at a news conference that he was "very honored" to receive his endorsement. Catholic groups are pressuring McCain to reject the endorsement. The Democratic National Committee has also publicized Hagee's comments and his endorsement of McCain.

McCain was raised Episcopalian but now attends a Baptist church in Arizona.

The Methodist church Bill and Hillary Clinton attended during Clinton's presidency got some attention last month when the senior pastor decided to offer services that acknowledge gay and lesbian relationships. Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington will lead services that "recognize and honor" committed gay relationships, although clergy do not perform union ceremonies.

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