Rev. John Hagee stood nervously before the 19,000 members of his Texas mega-church. He adjusted the lapel of his expensive suit and took a deep breath.
“Brothers and sisters, I have been wrong,” Hagee said. Not even a cough was heard from the audience. “I have been wrong about Israel. The state I have spent so much of my life defending is actually indefensible. It persecutes Christians. It violates God’s covenant demands for obedience. It was created in sinful brutality. I led you astray into supporting an evil system that continues to crucify Christ in this world. I repent.”
Yes, this is an imagined day. It’s a confession of which we can only dream. San Antonio pastor and televangelist John Hagee speaks worldwide into 99 million homes. He forged an unprecedented alliance between Israel-loving Christians and Zionist Jews. His organization, Christians United for Israel , lobbies for the Jewish state and opposes any land concessions for peace. Hagee earns $1.25 million per year from speaking non-Biblical platitudes, urging aggressive foreign policy, and mis-teaching history.
He is an evangelical with clout. He was on Bush’s “values team” during the presidential race in 2000. In 2002, one of his “Night to Honor Israel ” events featured Republican majority leader Tom DeLay. In 2006, Hagee met with Elliot Abrams, America ’s hotly Zionist deputy national security adviser—a neocon who helped push us to war. Hagee has boasted that his powerful organization has more influence than the famous Jewish lobbying group AIPAC.
“When a congressman sees someone from Aipac coming through the door, he knows he represents six million people. We represent 40 million people," the televangelist said. Christian groups like CUFI were defined by Walt and Mearsheimer as part of the “ Israel lobby” in their infamous book. Without evangelical support (and money), the state of Israel would not exist in its present form.
Because of the power and effects of Christian Zionism, Hagee’s teachings matter to us all. But they especially matter to Christians. As the race to the White House picks up, the pastors of the candidates have come under scrutiny. Obama has faced questions about his America-critical pastor. Some wonder if McCain should distance himself from his “spiritual guides,” Hagee and Rod Parsley. All have made their share of inflammatory statements.
A bigger question brews here. Should average Christians disavow Hagee or Parsley? Should these men rake in millions as purveyors of our faith?
Hagee Gags the Gospel
John Hagee’s 2007 book, In Defense of Israel, is an easy-to-read and passionate guide to his convictions about the Jewish state. Hagee shares heartwarming moments as a child identifying with the birth of Israel . He recounts facing down opposition from both Jews and evangelicals to found Christians United for Israel and their “Night to Honor Israel.”
From the beginning, Hagee said, “I set forth an unbendable ground rule: members had to agree to set aside both theological and political agendas and focus on a single issue—support for Israel . We agreed that all Night to Honor Israel events would be nonconversionary.” (p46) (emphasis mine)
So…set aside all political agendas except undiluted support for a foreign nation. Set aside all theological agendas except one mandating Christians to silence the possible voice of the Holy Spirit or conscience (which might prompt them to share the gospel of hope). Bible-believing Christians should already be concerned. Silencing the gospel is the act of persecutors, not Christians.
The Book of Acts describes many times Jewish leaders commanded early Christians not to preach. Once Peter and John were ordered by powerful Jews to stop speaking about Jesus. They replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19 , 20) Early believers chose imprisonment and even death over silence.
John Hagee has forsaken a prime duty of Christians—to speak truth at God's leading—and shelved the gospel in pursuit of political and social goals. He believes supporting the Zionist nation of Israel is more important than seeking to save Jews' eternal souls.
There’s a theological reason for this. Hagee isn’t deeply concerned about Jewish repentance or obedience. He holds a strongly Calvinist theology1 that teaches humanity’s inescapable sinfulness and God’s unconditional mercy. He writes of the Hebrew covenant with God—“These covenants are not based on man’s faithfulness to God; they are based on God’s faithfulness to man.” (p54)
How does he back up this statement? With a relatively personal rationale: “If God broke covenant with the Jewish people, what scriptural justification do Christians have that he will not break covenant with us?” (p54)
He inadvertently makes a good point. There isn’t any scriptural justification for believing God won’t break covenant with us if we rebel! Many Israel-first evangelicals are passionate about God’s “faithfulness” to unrepentant Israel because it supports their belief that He will be “faithful” to them whether or not they sin. This is blasphemy. The Scripture is interwoven and held together by God’s insistence on human cooperation with His grace. Our Holy God honors His covenant when He withholds blessing from those who willfully and persistently rebel.
Did John Hagee miss Deuteronomy -- which threatens Israel that God will perpetually curse them in all aspects of their lives if they disobey Him? In my Bible, that’s a pretty big section. 2
But Hagee has every material incentive not to convert Jews. (I’m guessing the threat of eternal hell doesn’t loom very big in his mind.) His fat paycheck and cushy ministry would be cut off quickly if he criticized or sought to convert the “chosen people.”
The New York Times recently ran a full-page ad from the Worldwide Evangelical Alliance, signed by 44 Christian leaders. The ad defends evangelism of Jews and the ministries of Jews for Jesus and other messianic organizations seeking to “introduce individuals to the Messiah.”
The ad was promptly denounced and vilified by the powerful Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Its head, Abe Foxman, didn’t use merely political language to attack the ad. He used Christian Zionist arguments, claiming the ad is “offensive and insulting to the Jewish people and brazenly dismisses Jewish self-definition.” Why? Because it doesn’t validate “God's irrevocable covenant with the Jewish people, and ongoing Jewish covenantal life, themes also found in their Scripture…” This language comes straight from John Hagee and his ilk. His ideas are being used by Jewish antagonists to silence Christian evangelists. John Hagee will have a lot for which to answer, that’s sure.
Stoning Stephen: Adding to Jewish Anti-Christianity
Hagee has made himself popular with some Jews by blaming Christians. This interview from the evangelical-leery website Jews on First is mostly hostile to Hagee—but appreciates that he at least accepts blame for anti-Semitism. Jews on First writer Robin Podolsky also appreciates Hagee’s definition of Jesus as a “Reform rabbi.” This is a frequent refrain. In his Easter sermon, while wearing a blue and white prayer shawl, Hagee boomed about Jesus, “You saw him leave personally as a Jewish rabbi. He’s coming back as a Jewish rabbi.”
Hagee says Christianity could not exist without Judaism, yet Jews have had to suffer the intolerance of Christians for millennia. Flatly, he states, “anti-Semitism has its origin and its complete root structure in Christianity, dating from the early days of the Christian church. Until we come to terms with the true origins of anti-Semitism, we will not be able to correctly address this most egregious of sins.” (17) (emphasis added) Here, Hagee goes even farther than many Jews, who similarly deny any fault in Jewish actions but usually at least blame Gentiles in general for their irrational hatred. Not Hagee. He blames Christianity for creating anti-Semitism in the beginning.
He also blames the church for Nazism. He attributes Hitler’s ideas to Catholicism, writing that “Hitler, the most notable example of anti-Semitism in the twentieth century, simply enforced policies that had been approved by the church over the course of history and that remained the official policy of the church when the Nazi party came to power.” (25)
Hagee’s beliefs about earlier history are similarly unsympathetic to the faith he claims to hold. He says the physical separation of Jews and Christians—when Christian Gentiles fled from Rome —formed the basis of antipathy. “The physical separation of the two groups would prove to be permanent and would form the basis of the strained relationship between them.” (19) He says the Gentiles fled because Jesus had warned them to flee to the mountains when they heard “wars and rumors of wars,” and the Jews felt betrayed. That created animosity. But hang on, Hagee attributes all the millennia of animosity to Christians and as coming from the Christians’ side. It’s hard to see how Jews’ hurt feelings could have created a strain, since Jews share no blame for the “strained relationship.”
Modern anti-Semitism is, of course, a huge concern for the Texas pastor. He has publicly called for war with Iran and also raises Cain about “Christian anti-Semites”—meaning, believers who take seriously Christ's warnings to beware of the "synagogue of Satan."
Speaking of "replacement theologians" (with whom I also largely disagree), Hagee says, “Some pastors teach that Romans 9-11 refers to the church,” Hagee writes, “that the church has become a “spiritual Israel” and has replaced the Jewish people. This is an anti-Semitic theology that refuses to believe God still has a place in his heart for Israel and the Jewish people.” (52)
“No Such Thing as a Palestinian”
If that’s anti-Semitic, what do you call Hagee’s theology—which writes off a whole race of Semitic people? Of the Promised Land’s indigenous people, Hagee writes: “The land of Israel never belonged to the Palestinians…there has never been a land called Palestine . There is no Palestinian language. Before 1948, the people now called Palestinians lived in Egypt . They lived in Syria . They lived in Iraq . They moved into the land of Israel when they were displaced by the war of 1948, which the Arab nations started, but Israel is not occupying territory these people now call home.” (58) What planet has Hagee been living on? The existence of at least 900,000 Palestinian Arabs in Palestine during the last century is an unquestioned fact of Mid-East history. So is the fact that Israel 's terror began with the Jewish massacre of 250 Arab men, women, and children at Deir Yassin in 1948 and drove more than 800,000 Palestinians out of Israel. This is what we call falsehood. Israel’s “new historians”—themselves mostly Jewish!---exploded the Zionist/Hagee lie that there were no Palestinians before 1948.
Just this week the Jewish Advocate online published a column by Jewish writer Hannah Mermelstein calling for recognition of the catastrophe committed against the Palestinians. She writes that “more than 6 million Palestinian people remain refugees to this day… all forbidden from returning to their homeland for one reason: they are not Jewish…In my name, and in the name of Jewish people throughout the world, an indigenous population was almost completely expelled. Village names have been removed from the map, houses blown up…”
This is the truth. But—and as a Christian I find this hard to write—there seem to be more honest Jews than honest evangelicals.
1. 2 Kings 18:4 Calvinism’s false assurance was described by Jeremiah, when he spoke with God, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision.” Jeremiah 14:13-14 The prophets of whom Jeremiah spoke were promising the Israelites peace in Canaan , even though they were in disobedience. Likewise, modern evangelists promise salvation, even without continuous trust and obedience to God. Such assurances are groundless and grievously destructive.
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, ‘You will have peace.’ And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’” Jeremiah 23:16-17 These words were spoken by the Lord to his prophet, Jeremiah, thousands of years ago. Yet they apply with deadly accuracy to modern evangelists who promise eternal security to all who once believed on Christ, including those now disobedient.
2. Far from an example of God’s unconditional love, God’s relationship with Israel actually proves His insistence on obedience. The Old Testament is riddled with demands for Hebrew obedience. Without obedience, the Jews can’t receive God’s material or spiritual blessing. Please see Ex. 15:26, 19:5, Lev. 26, Numb. 32:15, Deut. 4:29, 6:24-25, 7:9-15, 11:13-15, 11:26-28, 13:17-18, 15:4-5, 19:8-9, 28:1-68, 30:9-20, 31:16-17, Josh. 24:19-20, 1 Sam. 2:30, 7:3, 12:14-15, 12:20-25, 1 Kings 3:14, 6:12-13, 8:46-52, 9:4-9, 11:38, 2 Kings 18:11-12, 21:8, 1 Chron. 28:9, 2 Chron. 7:17-22, 15:2, 30:9, Ezra 8:22, Neh. 1:8-9, Is. 1:19-20, 1:28, 7:9, 58:9-14, 65:11-12, Jer. 4:1-4, 7:5-7, 12:16-17, 13:22, 15:19, 17:24-25, 18:7-10, 22:4-5, 26:3-6, 38:17-18, 42:10-16, Ezek. 18, 33:12-19, Hos. 5:4-5, 5:14, 7:13, 9:15-17, 10:13-15, 13:2-8, Amos 4:1-2, 5:6, 9:10, Obad. 1:10, Micah 2:2-4, 3:4, 6:9-16, Nahum 1:2-8, Zech. 3:7, 7:11-14 (This list is not exhaustive.)
Harmony Grant writes and edits for National Prayer Network, a Christian/conservative watchdog group.
Let the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith teach you how they have saddled 45 states with hate laws capable of persecuting Christians: http://www.adl.org/99hatecrime/intro.asp.
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