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Minister: Split with McCain 'best for both of us'

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Ohio preacher Rod Parsley says McCain influenced by 'political hit squad'
  • The Rev. John Hagee urges media to return to "the pressing issues of the day"
  • Sen. McCain rejected Hagee's endorsement Thursday over Hitler remarks
  • Hagee later withdrew his endorsement of the Arizona senator
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(CNN) -- Texas televangelist John Hagee said Friday that his political divorce from Sen. John McCain is "best for both of us" and urged reporters to return to "the pressing issues of the day."

McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, renounced Hagee's endorsement Thursday after attention was drawn to remarks by the evangelist suggesting that the acts of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during the Holocaust were part of God's will.

"God says in Jeremiah 16: 'Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. ... Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them.' That would be the Jews. ... Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter," Hagee said, according to a transcript of his sermon.

In a statement to CNN on Thursday, McCain said, "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Rev. Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.

"Our search for an explanation for evil must never be confused for an effort to excuse evil," he said. "Many have wondered where God was during the Holocaust, but I think the more important question is what we will do here on Earth to make sure there will never be another Holocaust."

McCain won Hagee's endorsement in February as part of an effort to shore up support among the Christian conservatives who make up a major part of the GOP base.

He stuck with Hagee even after Catholic groups blasted the San Antonio, Texas, megachurch pastor for calling the Roman Catholic Church "the Great Whore" and a "cult," though McCain criticized the remarks.

McCain said he did not know about the Hitler remarks before Hagee's endorsement and renounced Hagee's support. Hagee in turn said he was withdrawing his endorsement of McCain as well. Video Watch more on the controversy »

"This way is by far the best for both of us and the best for the country," Hagee said. "It is time for the candidates and the media to turn their attention back to the pressing issues of our day and stop focusing on what I did or did not say decades ago."

Hagee has been an outspoken supporter of the Jewish state, the existence of which many Christians consider to be a necessary prelude to the return of Jesus.

He said Friday that "to hear people who know nothing about me or my life's work claim that I somehow excuse the Holocaust is simply untrue and heartbreaking."

McCain also rejected the endorsement of Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley on Thursday. Parsley angered Muslim groups by saying that Islam "is an anti-Christ religion that intends through violence to conquer the world."

A McCain spokesman had said that the candidate does not agree with those remarks but that Parsley's endorsement was political, not religious.

Parsley said he was disappointed by McCain's renunciation of his support.

"I believe much of the fault lies with those who have misrepresented my views for political gain and who have lied in pursuit of political power," Parsley said.

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He suggested that McCain was forced to distance himself by "political hit squads" seeking to create the same kind of controversy Democratic front-runner Barack Obama faced over fiery sermons by his longtime pastor, Chicago minister Jeremiah Wright.

"Mr. McCain has never attended my church," Parsley said, echoing McCain's comments Thursday. "He has never been directly under the influence of my ministry. And though he was kind to call me a spiritual guide, I have never directly influenced his conduct nor policy."

CNN's Brian Todd, Dugald McConnell, Ed Hornick and Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report.

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