I Am Not Better Than John McCain: I Am Worse (and You Might Be Too)

Inevitably, when a figure who is much beloved by some–but not by all–dies, we are […]

Sarah Condon / 8.31.18

Inevitably, when a figure who is much beloved by some–but not by all–dies, we are reminded of our opinion of that person. In our current cultural moment, this also means that by God we are going to share that opinion.

In its most recent iteration, the death of Senator John McCain sparked an Opinion Fest not seen since the death of Billy Graham. If my newsfeed was any indicator, we wanted the world to know that we knew that John McCain had died. But more than that, we wanted to be clear that we had feelings about him:

We wanted everyone to know that we did always not agree with Senator McCain.

(Is there someone with whom we do always agree? Did you say that when your Memaw died?)

Also, we want everyone to know that we are “not the same” on a lot of issues.

(Did someone call y’all twins? Do you look like an 80 year old Arizonian who served in a POW camp?)

And finally, just to be clear, we would have made “different choices” than the Senator from Arizona.

(Or, more plainly, we are better than he is.)

Thank God for church funerals, because the internet death send-off sounds like a kick in the corpse’s pants.


I am hoping that when the good Lord inevitably calls us home (just a public service annoucement: EVERYONE DIES), our transgressions will not be hauled out for the public viewing. Imagine the worst things you ever did, scrawled across the internet. I would be horrified to see my own skeletal remains.

I understand the argument goes that people who are famous have to deal with our judgement. And I understand why that would be especially true of politicians. It is the “price they pay” for the influence they wield. But does it have to be? Have they stepped out of the realm of mercy when they stepped into the blinding spotlight? As people, I mean.

Look, I get it. The decisions he made and policies he helped implement were not what everyone wanted. People are obviously allowed to have opinions about these things. That is how politics works. I mean, McCain ran for president with Tina Fey as his running mate.

Who knows what he was thinking? And I mean that last sentence with a full measure of mercy. Who knows?

But he also served for and suffered on behalf of our country. And he requested that the guy who beat him for the American presidency offer his eulogy. And he also left his wife–about as serious a sin as a man could commit 30 years ago.

In short, he was a person. A remarkable one.

The reaction to his death points to an impulse in the zeitgeist, though it may be more timeless than that. If there is any dirt to be found on a person, any transgressions to be named, the moment of their death has become the appropriate place to air them. We all want to say to ourselves (and the world), “So and so was really great, but…”

As though being “really great, but…” is some kind of a rarity. As if sin does not exist in every human heart. Instead of acknowledging our own fear and regret about our own gigantic missteps, we run to our screens to mark our virtue level high while the body is still warm.

Recently, I attended the funeral for a man with a complicated relationship to his family. The incredibly pastoral preacher looked at the loved ones left behind and said, “All of the bad stuff he did has died with him. And all of the wonderful things he was are living on in you.”

They were words of mercy spoken over a family in their moment of need. Death was a release from the harm that had been caused. Not a moment to posture. Not a moment to claim better than. And certainly not a moment to signal their own virtue.

And yet, when John McCain died, we longed to make it clear that we were not like him.

I will gladly join that refrain. I am nothing like John McCain. I would not have lasted 4 minutes in a POW camp. Hell, I would have done everything humanly possible to evade going to Vietnam in the first place. And when and if I had made it home, the very last thing I would have done is thought hey running for political office and further devoting myself to America sounds like fun.

Finally, there is no way on earth that I will be choosing a former enemy to speak at my funeral. Like, there is zero chance of that happening.

I am nothing like John McCain. I am not nearly as good a person.

Of course, none of this ultimately even matters. Our internet statements upon his death, his actions good and bad, and even his innate goodness do not matter at all. What matters is that John came and suffered, sinned, and was forgiven.

We know that John was a man of faith. And now we know that he has gone home to his Maker.

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4 responses to “I Am Not Better Than John McCain: I Am Worse (and You Might Be Too)”

  1. Sean says:


    This was the apostle Paul’s practice as well (cf. Rom. 4). Abraham waivered in unbelief. But that sin died with him. Amen.

  2. Jim Moore says:

    Sarah, I’ve worked with and around John McCain for 19 years now. I didn’t know the man who made those decisions in Hanoi back in the last century. I knew the aging Senator. You’re not worse than John McCain. I’d say you to are tied. (Especially after that enemy line.)

    My personal reflection on the man I got to watch rolling around the Capitol was that life is a continuum and the heroic choices of our youth don’t mitigate the poor choices of our old age (Right King David?) but those later choices add patina and color to our heroism. They stain it to the human shade we should have always expected.

    The hard reality of our funerals is we plan them on this side of the “dark glass” Paul speaks about. But we observe them in the presence of Jesus Christ. I wonder if, standing in the glory of Jesus’ presence. John McCain still has enemies. I hope not. No scratch that. I know he doesn’t. And now he knows he never did.

  3. DaleKlitzke says:

    Oh, Sarah, if only I could find a way to broadcast your message to the entire country! Thank you for writing this and for all of your thoughtful words.I can’t wait to hear you preach!

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