FORT MILL -- The phone at Town Hall was ringing off the hook Monday after reports that Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk passed along a chain e-mail suggesting Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is the antichrist.
The news about Fort Mill's first-term mayor also has generated a firestorm of criticism on the Internet, with readers of Web sites like dailykos.com ripping into Funderburk.
Funderburk said he forwarded the e-mail to a small group of family and friends because issues regarding Obama's religious and political beliefs had come up among them in conversation.
He maintains he was "just curious" about it.
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"I do have questions about Barack Obama and his political and religious leanings," Funderburk said Monday.
Funderburk said he also passed along allegations that Obama had attended a radical Muslim school -- claims debunked by several mainstream news organizations -- that he found on the Internet.
"I know how ingrained my faith is, and I'm just curious how he could walk away from it," Funderburk said.
Funderburk said he was not trying to perpetuate the rumor about Obama -- who has spoken repeatedly about his Christian faith -- and that he never intended the message to go beyond the small group to whom he initially sent it.
"I'm not a racist," Funderburk said. "This has no basis in skin color. It's political and religious."
Fort Mill resident Barry Faile, who has been critical of the mayor on other issues, said someone in Funderburk's position "should know better."
"I just don't see how a competent public official could get involved in something like this," Faile said. "This is the most reprehensible thing I've ever heard in my life. With Obama as the first African American to seek the presidency and for people to be putting out this kind of slanderous material, this is about as far over the line as you can go."
Funderburk said he is "not a big Bush fan or a big McCain fan ... I've sent e-mails around about them, too. This is a political season. I'm just trying to get some answers."
The e-mail sent by Funderburk has attracted attention from local residents and people who read about it online following a story broadcast Sunday on Charlotte's WCNC-TV.
"We've had a number of phone calls about it," Town Manager David Hudspeth said. "But it's not an overwhelming number of calls. We're still able to conduct city business."
According to a copy of the message obtained by the Fort Mill Times, Funderburk last Thursday forwarded to at least five other people an e-mail that purports to cite scripture and asks whether Obama is the Antichrist.
The message claims the biblical book of Revelation says "The Anti-christ [sic] will Be a man, in his 40's, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with Persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal .... the prophecy says That people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace."
That passage does not exist in Revelation, and Obama is not a Muslim. The message has been debunked by several Web sites, including snopes.com.
Islam did not become a religion until more than 500 years after the Book of Revelation is believed to have been written.