BY RANDALL STEPHENS
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the ministry of John Hagee since I wrote about him a little in the last chapter of my book on southern pentecostalism. The megachurch pastor, Christian Zionist, pentecostal self-help guru, and best-selling author of end-time camp classics may or may not be a force to be reckoned with. But judging from the attention he’s getting in the press he is a powerful figure of the Chrsitian right. Nearly two years ago Hagee and 400 other conservative religious leaders organized Christians United For Israel (CUFI). That organization sums up one of its goals on its website: “While millions of Evangelical Christians support Israel , there are millions more who do not. It is crucial to educate Christians on the Biblical and moral imperatives of supporting Israel.” Hagee’s harangues against Iran and his call for a preemptive strike against that country have been raising eyebrows in the media for some time now.
Bill Moyers recently featured the Texas preacher on his Journal. Evangelical theologian Ron Sider and M.J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, provided interesting counterpoints. Rapture-ready, Hagee has staked his political and religious fortunes on a militant Israel. Whenever I’ve heard Hagee on NPR, I can almost imagine listeners dropping their tote bags in horror. I thought I heard a collective shriek as Boston’s PBS viewers were treated to the minister’s fury:
Let us shout it from the housetops that a new day has been born in America. The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. If a line has to be drawn, draw the line around Christians and Jews. We are united. We are indivisible. And together we can reshape history.
And, worse yet:
JOHN HAGEE, SEPTEMBER 18, 2005: I want to ask Washington a question. Is there a connection between the 9,000 Jewish refugees being forcibly removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip now living in tents and the thousands of Americans who have been expelled from their homes by this tremendous work of nature [Hurricane Katrina]? Is there a connection there? If you've got a better answer, I'd like to hear it.
Mick Huckabee is slated to speak at Hagee’s 18,000-member Cornerstone Church on December 23. What will the former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister say? Has the flap over his comment on Mormonism chastened him somewhat? The press would certainly have a field day if Huckabee ventured into premillennial eschatology or waxed on the place of Israel in the last days. That would be a rhetorical a-bomb and a public relations nightmare for Huckabee’s handlers. Unlikely, though. Yet this appearance reminded me of the damage that can be done to a campaign by hard-right associations. Think George Bush at Bob Jones U.