Senator John McCain’s funeral: An example of civil religion?

Last Saturday, I watched some of the funeral service for United States Senator, John McCain, which took place at the National Cathedral (Episcopal) in Washington D.C. It made me sad because, while there were some references to Jesus Christ, the Gospel was not presented. I was reminded of 2 Timothy 3:5, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The service was a mixture of (c)hristianity and civil religion, all in keeping with the “good people go to Heaven” philosophy.

I surely do not mean any disrespect to Senator McCain or to his grieving family. Perhaps at some point in his life Senator McCain did accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. Articles on his religious views state that he did attend North Phoenix Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch, for many years with his wife and children, and a visit to that church’s website indicates they do preach the Gospel of grace there, but when asked if he was spiritually born-again, McCain answered no (see here). However, when asked by ecumenical celebrity pastor, Rick Warren, what being a Christian means, McCain replied: “It means I’m saved and forgiven” (see here).

The senator was ill for a very long time and was able to personally plan every detail of his funeral, but the Gospel was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, I heard from one of the speakers that the senator respected all religions:

“I can tell you everything we did together around the world and here in Washington and across America, he showed that same acceptance, respect, curiosity about everybody’s religious observances, and about everything else about them that was different from himself and his own experiences.” – former U.S. Senator, Joe Lieberman, speaking at McCain’s funeral service

I rarely attend a religious service these days where the Gospel is not preached, so to watch a service like the McCain funeral, that propagated a quasi-(c)hristianity/civil religion/all-people-are-God’s-children theology, was jarring and sad. I hope to see John McCain in Heaven, but it’s not altogether clear where he stood in regards to the Gospel. As we live out our lives, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not allow others to have to wonder where we stand in relation to Jesus Christ and the Gospel!

“My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” – Psalm 71:15-18

34 thoughts on “Senator John McCain’s funeral: An example of civil religion?

  1. Yes… when he also made reference to all Americans uniting (paraphrased) red flags went up everywhere for me- I actually voted for him to be president with Sara Palin – the first time I had ever voted. The reason I voted was because I respected him as a person that would be for our country ( little idol worship back in the day 😉 ) and because Sara Palin had a child with Down Syndrome and I felt she would be a fighter for the disabled – I will share an article written specifically that was done in our town about his subject.
    Another great post ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! I rarely tread into political waters, but McCain was respected on both sides of the political divide for his military sacrifice and for his lack of party partisanship. Those things are fine, but they’re secondary to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. From the service, I’m not sure if McCain ever accepted Christ and that had me shaking my head.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ideally, the Gospel should have been preached at that funeral and, ideally, all should have been invited to hear the Gospel, friends and “enemies,” but politics “trumped” the Gospel at this event.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve expressed my own disappointment here. Sen. John McCain could have prepared a lasting legacy for the Gospel, had he called for repentance. Instead, a ‘compromised Christianity’ was validated. What a missed opportunity!
    Press on brother.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. American Civic religion is probably the primary “religion” of most Republicans (and I say this as someone who is conservative politically and theologically) and not Christianity. I suspect McCain was not saved. His life was something else too…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Given all that I had read about McCain in researching the post, my gut feel was that he wasn’t saved also. I recently put a hold an a very recent book about the history of American civil religion and look forward to digging into that soon.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Good post, brother! This is a very difficult thing to process, what better time to share the Gospel than when death is fresh on their minds? This is why I have details clearly stated for my funeral to be about salvation. What does my life matter if the end isn’t like the beginning (the second birth beginning)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, sister! Yes, I’m certainly an unworthy jar of clay, but like you I’ve made sure the Gospel will be presented at my funeral. It’s hard to imagine a genuine believer not insisting on that, especially knowing millions would be watching on TV.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi brother I thought Mccain was not saved but then I heard his Pastor say Mccain put his faith and trust in Jesus but was Mccain Born Again of the Spirit of God I don’t know I could be wrong it’s possible he was a Christian in name only or CINO my one concern was I watch half I think of the funeral memorial service I had a problem with the women Pastors speaking at the memorial service as the Word of God says no women cannot be Pastor. I would want the Gospel preached at my funeral too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi BG. We won’t know but it just seemed strange to me that an alleged believer who had time and resources would choose to carefully arrange their own funeral service without any mention of the Gospel.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yup, BG, I did see that article but thanks anyway. Popes have been offering up those hollow platitudes for twenty years in regards to the pedophile priest and cover-up scandal but the Catholic laity are FINALLY demanding concrete action. We’ll see.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Tom, hi. I am sure it would not surprise you to learn that in some works and denominations it is not common to preach the Gospel at funerals. In fact, some consider it to very bad taste, to preach at such a time as that. Of course, we all know the very time when an entire assembly is looking death in the face is the perfect time to do that. Our pastors always preach funerals, and most won’t agree to perform a funeral without being given great latitude in what they say. You know my mother was a member of a denomination who had some extremely questionable teachings, notably that of Baptismal regeneration. Nonetheless, God saw fit to place her in a facility towards the end that was managed by a man who was at one time a Baptist Pastor. My friend offered me assurance that my Mother came to faith before she died. But, that is not really the story. Her pastor from where she was officially a member did her service and my stepson read the obituary. So, the pastor talked and talked, and basically left God, Jesus, and salvation out of the entire thing, which was just shocking to me. They had asked if I wanted to say a few words and I had declined. So, my wife played the music, and the last song I had picked for her to play was, “It is Well With My Soul.” The conviction was heavy on me the entire time she was playing it, and I knew what had to be done. As it was about to be dismissed I say. “Wait, I have changed my mind.” That was my opening question. “You heard that song. Is it well with your soul? “ I didn’t take but a few minutes but I told of my mothers years as a most likely false convert and my own late arrival at faith, and how we both had made it right. Then we talked about how they needed to make it right, and finally about how they could make it right. All of the guests from the other church seemed shocked, but all of the evangelical types seemed to like it. Hopefully, the lost ones listened. So, yes, the Gospel certainly belongs at a funeral, where everyone is clearly comtemplating the fact that this life ends.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the good comments, Wally. Up here, there are so few Gospel-preaching churches that most believers look forward to having their unsaved family and friends hear the Gospel at their funeral. That was a blessing to read about giving your testimony at your mother’s funeral. Yup, there’s no doubt most people – even some Christians – would think giving a Gospel invitation at a funeral would be gauche, but not that soul whose body is lying in the casket!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Funny thing is all my husband and I can remember (as I’m not American) of John McCain is the video with his thumb up and then putting it down – like a Roman Emporer at the Colloseum when his vote was necessary for the repeal of your Obamacare! He voted against, when they’d said he was always for changing it.

    I heard some of his daughter’s message and it certainly was ‘politics trumping religion’ attacking others with the last say. Very much a shame that a Gospel-believing church didn’t take that wonderful opportunity to be those feet that bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the family took complete control. When it was my mother-in-law’s funeral at the local RCc a few years ago, my hubby and I thankfully dealt with ‘laxed’ priest (who had been overseas for some years and had returned) who allowed us to omit prayers for dead, “saints”, pope, etc, and we got to have a few songs that contained the Gospel as well. We had a few Bible readings and verses in the leaflet too. Many remarked how joyful the service seemed! We thanked the Lord we had this opportunity that we never thought possible and thankfully the other rigid priest wasn’t on duty 😊😉 God is amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

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