McCain has warned of the threat from extremism in Islam, not the religion as a whole [AFP]
On the road to clinching the Republican party nomination for president, John McCain worked hard for the endorsement of influential Evangelical Christian ministers.
The ministers are helping shore up McCain's support on the party's right wing, which has always been sceptical about whether the Arizona senator is a true-blue conservative.
But one of those minister's beliefs about Islam and Muslims raise disturbing questions.
Rod Parsley, the pastor of a large and profitable Ohio mega-church, calls Islam a false religion. He says Allah is a demon spirit and that Muslims are bent on world conquest.
Parsley endorsed McCain in February, praising him as a "strong, true, consistent conservative".
Sharing a Cincinnati, Ohio, stage with Parsley, McCain said: "I am very honoured today to have one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide, Pastor Rod Parsley. Thank you for your leadership and your guidance. I am very grateful you are here."
He certainly had reason for gratitude - a week later, Parsley's support helped McCain win the important Ohio primary.
Reverend Parsley, who often holds services in which people are supposedly cured of disease by divine intervention, runs the sprawling World Harvest church near Columbus, Ohio.
World Harvest has a 12,000 member congregation, a bible college, and a television studio, which broadcasts his sermons.
A frequent theme of those homilies is the threat to Christian values posed by gays, liberals and Muslims.
In his book, Silent no More, Parsley says the United States was ordained by God to defeat Islam.
In one chapter, titled The Deception of Allah he writes: "I cannot tell you how important it is that we understand the true nature of Islam, that we see it for what it really is. In fact, I will tell you this: I do not believe our country can truly fulfil its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore."
We asked Parsley for an interview, but through a church spokesman, he declined. We also sent him written questions, but he did not respond to those either.
Abukar Arman, a Muslim community leader, says Parsley's remarks are threatening.
"It has a psychological toll on Muslims in central Ohio and beyond, that you are not part of the society that America was founded, in his words, to obliterate Islam," says Arman, president of the Central Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
McCain and other politicians should "distance themselves from the politics of hate and polarisation", Arman said, noting that rhetoric that marginalises American Muslims only contributes to poor relations between communities.
"In the grand scale of things," he says, "it hurts even the national security of this country because it fuels anti-Americanism."
Interestingly enough, Parsley has been largely ignored by the US media, in sharp contrast to the intensive scrutiny given to sermons by Jeremiah Wright, Democrat Barack Obama's pastor.
Wright's homilies were widely criticised as unpatriotic and racially inflammatory, and have been replayed over and over on cable TV news channels.
Obama rejected Wright's remarks, but McCain has not denounced Parsley's comments about Islam, nor has he sought to distance himself from the minister.
In fact, some of McCain's campaign rhetoric virtually echoes Parsley's sermons. McCain, too, talks about a threat - although he focuses on extremism in Islam, not the religion as a whole.
"I'd like to talk to you for a minute about why I'm running, primarily," McCain told a Wisconsin rally on February 19.
"We face the transcendent challenge of the 21st century. That is the threat of radical Islamic extremism. My friends, I know you know that this is an evil of transcendent and unbelievable magnitude. You can see other times when our nation and our way of life was threatened, but this ranks among the greatest."
McCain's campaign told Al Jazeera that "... he [McCain] rejects politics that degrade our civics, and will be running a respectful campaign".
But in seeking a path to the White House, it seems McCain is counting on the politics of fear and relying on a disturbingly belligerent spiritual guide.
Source: Al Jazeera