- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

Let's hope the latest holy war is over. If this can't be the season of peace on the continent, maybe it can be a season for the big tent.

Lots of important people are trying to bring back a sense of quiet tolerance, forgiveness, openness and reciprocal respect for different religious faiths as the season of Easter and Passover approaches. They need all the help they can get.

Pope John Paul II's homily for the Day of Pardon Mass in St. Peter's Basilica sets a solemn tone, apologizing for the sins of Catholics toward other Christians, Jews and Muslims, including the sins of the Crusaders, the Inquisitors and those complicit, if only by their silence, in the Holocaust. This does not satisfy everyone no apology is ever enough for some people but it does cover 20 centuries of sin, and the history books will take note.

While the pope does not specifically criticize Pope Pius XII, who stood by when Jews were taken from their homes and sent to their deaths in concentration camps, he asks all Catholics to deepen their "moral and religious memory" of the tragedy inflicted upon the Jewish people.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the largest wing of Protestant Christianity in America and an umbrella group of evangelicals, met in a suburb of Washington last week and dedicated their organization to mending fences with minorities and old theological foes. It elected its first black chairman and noted the growing numbers of both blacks and Hispanics in its membership. It changed its bylaws so that its members may belong to liberal ecumenical groups, such as the National Council of Churches.

"The NAE has been too male, too white and too aging," says the Rev. Edward Foggs, the new chairman, trying to appeal to young, college-age evangelicals. The evangelicals rallied to bring attention to the ignominious "sexual trafficking of women and children" worldwide, a cause neglected by many activists who ought to be in the forefront of this cause.

Many Catholics in this country, dismayed over political attacks on evangelical Christians by John McCain and others, are speaking up, too. William Bennett and Michael Novak, both Catholics, sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert expressing their alarm at the recent attempts to divide Catholics from evangelicals in the public square: "We deplore the semi-truths and outright falsehoods recently deployed by unwise persons to inflame passions and to sow acrimony among good people, who during the last 20 years have made extraordinary progress in mutual cooperation and mutual esteem."

They commend the efforts of the speaker in opening up the selection process for a new chaplain for the House, which was fanned into controversy when a Protestant and not a Roman Catholic priest was chosen.

The McCain broadsides against the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell backfired on Mr. McCain, an Episcopalian who worships at a Baptist church, revealing an intemperate temperament, and were taken as a personal attack on Christians of several denominations. They also cut into the vulnerable coalition of Jewish intellectuals and evangelical Christians.

For example, Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard who seems to devote full-time attention to the McCain candidacy, does not understand how the McCain tantrum offended religious conservatives. Many men and women of faith and many of no faith were startled, puzzled, offended and even ashamed. Mr. Kristol, aspiring to play kingmaker, now draws up a fanciful scenario to continue the controversy with a "draft McCain" movement, with the senator cast as either a Bull Moose Republican or a Perotista independent.

But now is the time for healing wounds, not picking at them. George W. must shepherd Mr. McCain back into the party the senator says he has always called "home." For his part, the senator must realize that persuasion, not pouting, is the only way he can sell his campaign-reform agenda to his Republican colleagues.

George W. was not called on to prove his courage as John McCain was, but he nevertheless no longer looks like President Bush's "boy." He has matured before our eyes in the ordeal of a tough campaign, a winner beyond the rough-and-tumble of Texas politics.

He's still got lots to prove, but that's what presidential campaigns are all about. A campaign is not a crusade. Politics is not for zealous missionaries. George W. can focus now on broadening his party's appeal. He could call it a big tent revival.

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