Pastor John Hagee gleefully anticipates the death of hundreds of millions of people in a series of wars preparing the world for the second coming of Christ: “The end of the world is rapidly approaching . . . Rejoice and be exceeding glad.”
Worse, Hagee wants to jump start what he sees as the inevitable battle between Israel and the US and an alliance of the Islamic states and Russia: “The United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West.” Hagee’s bizarre interpretation of the Bible sees war with Iran as a “biblically prophesized End Time confrontation . . . which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation and the Second Coming.”
If Hagee were just another kook, walking around Times Square carrying a sign saying “The End is Near,” there would be no need to worry. In fact, Hagee is senior pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, with a congregation of 18,000, appears weekly on 150 TV stations around the world and is the head of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a lobbying group founded to advance the interests of the State of Israel in the U.S. Congress. Not only does Hagee advocate aggressive war against Iran, he is a strong supporter of our continuing misadventure in Iraq and he opposes any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, arguing that God has given all of Palestine to the Israelis.
John Hagee’s end time theology transmogrifies Christianity into little more than a death cult in which the State of Israel is worshipped like a latter day Golden Calf. Despite his weird views, Hagee has access to senior politicians in the US and Israel; he likes to brag that he has met every Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin.
President Bush praised Hagee’s CUFI for “spreading the hope of God’s love and the universal gift of freedom.” How to square “spreading . . . God’s love” and the “gift of freedom” with bombing the Iranians is hard to fathom, but, in any event, evangelicals like Hagee have been among President Bush’s strongest supporters and the president is not about to abandon them now.
Senator Joe Lieberman is also a Hagee fan and praised him at last year’s CUFI meeting in Washington, likening him to Moses, “a man of God . . . leading a mighty multitude.” If comparing Hagee to Moses seems over the top, remember Hagee and Lieberman have a lot in common. Both men were keen to see the US invade Iraq and both would like to have Uncle Sam attack Syria and Iran, a wish shared by many in Washington, especially arms makers, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and neocons in the White House and the Pentagon.
John McCain recently thanked Pastor Hagee for endorsing his run for the presidency. Eight years ago, McCain made a point of denouncing Hagee’s fellow evangelical Jerry Falwell as an “agent of intolerance” and an “evil influence on the Republican party.” Clearly times have changed.
Hagee’s distorted view of Christianity, his hatred of Islam (Hagee once said “those who live by the Koran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews”) and his toxic criticism of American Middle East policy have all become part of American political discourse. For example, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma believes “We are Israel’s best friend . . . because of the character we have as a nation . . . This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.” Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey opined, “I am content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank . . . I happen to believe the Palestinians should leave.” And just a few months ago, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, an ex-evangelical preacher himself, said he favored the establishment of a Palestinian state, but not in Palestine, rather in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
Many people, some influential, some not, think religious belief should guide American Middle East policy. Others would say that that the Bible and foreign policy ought to remain entirely separate and that a discussion of Hagee’s religious doctrine is about as meaningful as trying to decide how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. What individuals on both sides of this debate don’t realize is that Hagee’s highly selective reading and strange interpretation of the Bible put him well outside mainstream Christian belief.
Hagee regards God’s covenant with Abraham in the book of Genesis as granting the Patriarch and his descendents unconditional title to the Holy Land. He concludes, therefore, that no territorial compromise with the Palestinians is desirable or necessary. Hagee preaches that those who bless Israel will themselves be blessed (Genesis 12:3) and that a close military and political alliance between the United States and Israel is mandated in scripture. Further, Hagee sees the 1948 emergence of an independent Israel as a sign of the second coming of Christ. Finally, and most controversial of all for an evangelical preacher, Hagee claims that God’s covenant with the ancient Hebrews allows Jews to be saved without belief in Christ.
Did God grant Abraham and his offspring unconditional and eternal possession of the Holy Land? Many scholars would argue that remaining in the land required the Israelites to keep God’s laws. Failure to do so would bring divine punishment. Moses warned in Deuteronomy 28, “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law . . . you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of.” The Hebrews’ captivity in Babylon and the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD demonstrate to many scholars that God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendents was conditional and their right to the Holy Land by no means absolute.
When Hagee advocates unqualified American support for the State of Israel as a means of obtaining the Almighty’s blessing, he assumes the modern State of Israel is a linear and worthy successor to Abraham. Does blessing Israel mean giving the government of the State of Israel unconditional political, financial and military support? One could argue that Israel’s efforts to colonize the lands captured in 1967 and to dispossess the Palestinians violate the Old Testament commandments against theft and killing.
Furthermore, Hagee’s callous disregard for the suffering of indigenous Christians and Muslims is certainly contrary to the New Testament injunctions to “love thy neighbor as thy self” (Matt. 19:19) and to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (Matt. 7:12), to say nothing of “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). Hagee’s bizarre theology has hijacked the messages of the Old and New Testaments to sanctify the injustices done in the Holy Land.
The second coming of Christ is a difficult issue because the Bible can be interpreted in many ways. In his book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee enumerates 10 “signs” which he claims “prove” that Christ’s return to earth is imminent. But Luke’s gospel (17: 20) gives a diametrically opposing view: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.” Furthermore, Pastor Hagee may say he knows when Christ is returning but his confidence is inconsistent with the parable of the bridegroom (Matt. 25): “you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
Most people who have studied the Christian religion, believers or not, would assert that the New Testament requires belief in Christ for salvation: that is, after all, what makes Christians Christians and the New Testament new. Hagee’s interpretation of scripture posits that salvation for Jews is also possible in Christianity because of God’s covenant with Abraham. Pastor Hagee’s view is obviously erroneous: the gospel of John states, “I (Christ) am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
It is easy to understand why Hagee preaches what he does. If you make the State of Israel an object of veneration and at the same time insist that its inhabitants convert to Christianity, you are not going to make many friends in Israel or among Israel’s supporters in the US. And for similar reasons Hagee asserts the Bible favors the Israelis over the Palestinians: Pastor Hagee obviously enjoys meeting Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, speaking in front of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and having Malcolm Hoenlein, the head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, visit him in San Antonio. Hagee bartered his faith for power and fame, money and notoriety. An advocate of unjust war, Hagee has put down the Bible and taken up the sword. His kingdom is very much of this world.
The Founding Fathers were wise to forbid in the Constitution the establishment of a religion in the US. Although morality, often finding its roots in religion, will always influence government and election of public officials, the specifics of religious belief and practice have been kept, for the most part, in private life, to the nation’s great benefit. Making decisions about war and peace based on strange interpretations of arcane End Time prophecy is dangerous and absurd.
That Hagee is a serious political player in 21st Century America shows we have truly entered a post Enlightenment era.
John Taylor, a lifelong Republican, received an AB in Near Eastern Languages from The University of Chicago. He is a US Army veteran. As a young man he served in the Middle East as a civil servant, archaeologist and banker. Prior to retirement he worked in the energy business in Texas for 20 years. – Online Journal