Theocrats Deny 'End Times' Theology Is Cause of Their Push for War With Iran
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Here's a news flash from the recent Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit in Washington: It really isn't about Armageddon.
Or at least that's what John Hagee, who runs CUFI, and CUFI's executive board tried to convince a group of reporters at a press conference this week. Journalists (including this one) had questions about Hagee's writings and sermons. Does his discussion of God's punishment of Jews suggest his own anti-Semitism? What about the Second Coming, when everyone will either accept Christ as their savior or perish? What, exactly, does Hagee think is going to happen at the end of days?
The reaction of Hagee and his board -- former Reagan administration official and Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, former Promise Keepers chair George Morrison, self-described "Christocrat" Rod Parsley, former Republican Senate candidate Bishop Keith Butler and Mac Hammond, a close friend of Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R- Fool for Christ) -- ranged from mock outrage to patronizing amusement. Hagee insisted that "our support of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with end times prophecy. It has absolutely nothing to do with eschatology." Hammond maintained that we were getting "distracted" by the discussion. Followup questions were cut off. They sighed in exasperation at questions about the end times, which they insist are near. When a reporter from the Associated Baptist Press asked the group if they considered themselves premillenial dispensationalists -- people who believe that we are fast approaching a final showdown between Christ and the Antichrist at Armageddon -- they smirked and looked at each other as if to say, "What was that big word?"
Their where-in-the-world-did-you-get-that-idea method of deflecting questions was straight from White House press flack Tony Snow's playbook.
They insisted that they came to Washington to talk politics, not eschatology. But when someone asked about CUFI's position on the proposal Bush had laid out the day before to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, they were stumped -- it turned out that they had not yet reviewed a major presidential announcement on their raison d'etre . A few hours later, Hagee told his minions that CUFI was "deeply disappointed" by Bush's speech, particularly by his use of the term "occupation." (Specifically, Bush said -- heretically to their cause -- that "Palestinians should not have to live in poverty and occupation.") Almost simultaneously with Hagee's announcement, Tony Snow played down Bush's statement, telling reporters, "even though I know I used the term 'conference' this morning, this is a meeting ... I think a lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It's not."
Just as it had been during Hagee's appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last spring, every effort was made to whitewash his apocalyptic religious beliefs (which include enforced Christianity for his Jewish allies at the end) and present him as a good friend of Israel and Jews. But Hagee's most recent book, Jerusalem Countdown , reissued with new material earlier this year, is all about the end of days and how nuclear war with Iran will ignite it. Hagee frequently talks about how Jesus Christ will rule the world from a throne on the Temple Mount after the battle at Armageddon. Hagee admits he has "written extensively about why I believe that the generation that is alive today will see the mass ingathering of believers commonly called the Rapture." He has claimed that "when you see what's happening in America and the world it doesn't take long to realize that God is proclaiming through the voice of nature that we are approaching the coming of Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven." In September Hagee preached that "World War III has begun" and released a sermon series that purported to "show the historical and Biblical foundations that explain the war we are in now and point us to Armageddon." In January he wrote about the Book of Revelation and its prediction that "Jesus Christ rules the world with a rod of iron from the city of Jerusalem." And in March, he sermonized about "the edge of time ... the final countdown has begun."
At the CUFI conference, there was a lot of fretting about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "12th Imam" -- the Messiah of dispensationalist Islam -- but questions about the Christian version were brushed off as silly and inconsequential.
After the press conference ended, reporters were talking outside the room. A representative of CUFI's public relations firm engaged a group of us in conversation. She insisted that Hagee wears two hats -- one as a pastor and one as a political activist -- and that the CUFI summit was about politics, not eschatology. We discussed whether it was possible for Hagee to separate his end times views from his political stance on Israel, based solely on the Bible, which Hagee describes as the "word of the living God ... the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Hagee's security personnel, along with hotel security guards, then escorted me, Max Blumenthal, and his accompanying camera man out of the building and off the premises. We were not, apparently, the right kind of Jews. (At the AIPAC conference, I had a similar discussion with one of its representatives, which attracted no attention. If Hagee is unfamiliar with the great Jewish tradition of debate, he can come to Shabbat dinner at my house.)
Following a phone call, CUFI's public relations firm realized that this wasn't ... well, kosher, and came outside to assure us that we were indeed welcome at the conference even though we had declined to be stenographers for demagoguery. Hagee, I was told, was "not pleased" with my coverage of him.
No doubt it was difficult for Hagee to be questioned, given that speaker after speaker at the conference, including members of Congress, all extolled his divine mandate. House Minority Leader Roy Blunt pointed to AIPAC board members and quipped that Hagee could be that organization's president, too. CUFI, Blunt added, is "part of God's plan." Joe Lieberman echoed that sentiment, calling CUFI "miraculous" and claiming to "see God's hand" working in it. Lieberman compared Hagee to Moses -- a "man of God" -- who has become a "leader of a mighty multitude." John McCain thanked Hagee for spiritual guidance, because "it's hard to do the Lord's work in the city of Satan." David Brog, CUFI's executive director (who is Jewish) maintained that just like God placed Harry Truman in his mother's womb at a juncture in history when his support of Israel was needed, God placed Hagee in his mother's womb as well.
Portrayed as a prophet, Hagee is leading thousands of CUFI delegates to Capitol Hill as I write this, undoubtedly emboldened by the successful Republican filibuster of the Democrats' plan for ending the Iraq war. They seem to think that their input as "Bible-believing Christians" on issues relating to Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Iran, should be given greater weight than that of other citizens. "God deals with nations, churches and people as they deal with Israel and the Jewish people," Hagee warned ominously at the "Night to Honor Israel." Hagee laid out a list of enemies: at the top were Jimmy Carter, the "blame Israel crowd," the U.N. (a "brothel"), advocates for ending the Iraq war and promoters of "appeasement" toward Iran and the Palestinians. He put the nearly 5,000 people in the audience on notice: "There are two ways to live. The Torah way or the wrong way."
Will members of Congress want to demonstrate to this vocal constituency that they, too, are motivated by God when shaping American foreign policy? Lieberman gave a big clue to his position at a gathering of CUFI major donors Monday night. "America is a faith-based initiative," said the former Democrat. "We are not endowed by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment but endowed by our Creator ... Anyone who tries to separate American government from faith," he added, "is doing something profoundly unnatural."
Sarah Posner has covered the religious right for the American Prospect , The Gadflyer and AlterNet. Her book God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters will be published by PoliPoint Press next year.