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Michael Felsen

John Hagee shouldn't be rattling sabers in the Mideast

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Felsen
June 9, 2008

IN FEBRUARY, John McCain eagerly accepted the endorsement of megachurch televangelist and Christian Zionist leader John Hagee. But almost immediately, the presumptive Republican nominee was under siege by Catholic advocates grossly offended by Hagee's characterization of their church as "apostate" and "the great whore." McCain wavered and Hagee publicly apologized; a close call, but the relationship survived.

A few weeks ago, a Hagee sermon from the late 1990s surfaced. In it, Hagee interprets Jeremiah 16 as foretelling Theodor Herzl's efforts to shepherd Diaspora Jews back to the Land of Israel. When Herzl's attempts proved inadequate, Hagee tells us, God ushered Hitler, the "hunter," onto the scene, because "God said, 'my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the Land of Israel.' "

McCain called these statements "crazy and unacceptable," and promptly repudiated not only the pastor's words but his endorsement as well. As far as McCain was concerned, this was pretty toxic stuff.

Not so for Senator Joseph Lieberman, who days ago confirmed that he will be a keynote speaker at the annual Washington-Israel summit to be held this summer by Christians United For Israel, a lobbying group founded by Hagee. Also slated to speak are Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States, and a handful of other Jews.

Is something wrong with this picture? Should Jews care about Hagee's remarks? Or should we forgive them, in the face of his professed love for Jews and the state of Israel, and the material contributions made by his followers as apparent evidence of that love?

Heartfelt as it may be, Hagee's love arises from his reading of Scripture that also eagerly anticipates an imminent apocalyptic war heralding Jesus' return. As prelude to the second coming, Jews in great numbers are required to return to biblical Israel and reestablish their dominion. Hagee and his flock have supported this venture. They have helped bring Russian Jews to Israel, and have buttressed settlements in the West Bank through financial and political support. They have also opposed peace talks with the Palestinians and the ceding by Israel of even one centimeter of the West Bank, while vigorously encouraging preemptive military strikes against Iran.

As Hagee reads the Bible, God is evidently prepared to engage in the most heinous acts imaginable to reach the "end times" when Jesus will return. Hagee thinks the Holocaust was simply God's means to an end, a horrific but effective and necessary method for impelling to the Holy Land those Jews who survived. But there's more.

Now that Israel has been established as a Jewish state, the stage is set for another impending horror: the cataclysmic battle of Armageddon (in which countless Jews and other nonbelievers will die), followed by Jesus' triumphal return, with salvation for those who accept him, and perdition for the rest.

Despite the implications of this theology, Hagee and Christians United For Israel profess love for Jews and Israel, and they claim to take political action accordingly. As part of the conference this summer, thousands of Christian Zionists will lobby Congress. When they do, I hope they will communicate their love - consistent with the desire for peace of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians - by urging US lawmakers to vigorously support a fair and equitable two-state solution to the conflict, along the lines of, for example, the Geneva Accord.

I hope they will advocate the use of all possible diplomatic and nonmilitary means to address the problems that plague the region. I hope, rather than rattling sabers in excited anticipation of a coming apocalypse, they will promote new and creative means to plant the seeds of lasting peace amongst the peoples of the region. I hope. Because efforts by Christians United For Israel to the contrary - aided by Lieberman and others, and whether intended to or not - seem all too likely to draw us closer to Armageddon. That's love we can do without.

Michael Felsen, an attorney, currently serves as president of the Boston chapter and on the National Executive Board of Workmen's Circle, a 100-year-old Jewish communal group.

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