JOHN MCCAIN NEEDED AN EVANGELICAL TO EMBRACE and send a message to the Christian right that he will do their bidding, even if he’s not quite one of them. He settled on San Antonio End-Timer John Hagee.
McCain has never been tight with the nation’s evangelical community. While running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, he described Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance.” When George W. Bush visited Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2000, McCain was unforgiving. He assumed that the Christian university’s official position on the Roman Catholic Church—it is the “Great Whore of Babylon” and its Pope is “the Anti-Christ”—could be turned against Bush, along with Bob Jones U’s official ban on interracial dating.
“If I had been invited to go to Bob Jones,” McCain said in 2000, “sure, I’d have gone. And I’d have told them ‘Get out of the 16th and into the 21st century. What you’re doing is racist and cruel.’ Instead, Governor Bush went there and never said a word. I would never ever do such a thing.”
Bush beat McCain in South Carolina, with the support of the Christian right. Since then McCain has been ingratiating himself with the nation’s evangelicals. In 2006 he delivered the commencement speech at Liberty University, with the university’s founder Jerry Falwell at his side. McCain would go on to say that the Constitution defines the United States as a Christian nation. Somewhere along the way, he changed his religious affiliation from Episcopalian to Baptist.
And now John Hagee.
PREACHING PROSPERITY—The social critic Lenny Bruce used to say, “Show me a preacher who has two suits where there is another man who has none, and I’ll show you a fraud.” Bruce died long before the advent of the Prosperity Gospel, which spawned a generation of millionaire ministers. The Rev. John Hagee is decidedly in the two-suit category.
In 2003 San Antonio Express-News reporter Analisa Nazareno wrote a long investigative profile of Hagee’s ministry. Nazareno reported that Hagee’s compensation package was $1.25 million a year. Hagee and his wife, Diana (who has earned more than $100,000 a year from the church business), lived (and still live) in a 5,200-square-foot classical revival house in an exclusive gated community in San Antonio. The house is valued at $736,960 on the 2007 tax rolls. A Hagee trust owns a 7,969-acre ranch in South Texas. And the Hagees own more than $1 million worth of unimproved property in San Antonio, according to the local tax assessor.
The campus of Hagee’s Cornerstone Church includes a spacious 5,000-seat sanctuary and a 50,000-square-foot media center, from which Hagee says he broadcasts to 115 television stations and 110 radio stations. Nazareno described a media conglomerate, Global Evangelism Television (GET), that has brought in more than $18 million a year.
In 2003 John Hagee was the highest-paid director of a non-profit corporation in San Antonio. By 2004 he was the highest-paid preacher in the country, according to FreeGoodNews, a Christian non-profit advocacy group that monitors the compensation packages of ministers. (Hagee’s financial figures are no longer available. He merged his non-profit GET with Grace Church, which has no physical location and no phone number, so it is no longer required to file annual financial disclosures with the IRS. While he was filing, however, salaries were set by a non-profit board controlled by the Hagee family.)
Three paragraphs into her story, the Express-News reporter got to Hagee’s revenue source:
An emotional, energetic half-hour of song praising the glory of God passes. Then Hagee tells ushers at his 5,000-seat Cornerstone Church to “take their positions.”With the dozens of men bearing glinting platters in the aisles, and six cameramen capturing the moment, Hagee instructs church members to hold their money toward the heavens. The thousands repeat after him: “Give and it shall be given.”
“When you give, it qualifies you to receive God’s abundance,” he tells his listeners. “If God gives to you before you give to him, God himself will become a liar. . . . If you’re not prospering, it’s because you’re not giving.”
John Hagee’s accumulated net worth derives from contributions and the sale of his books, videos, and tapes. Spend a Sunday at Cornerstone and it becomes evident that the basic tenet of the Prosperity Gospel—when you give, you receive God’s abundance—isn’t working for most congregants. Rev. Hagee battens on 18,000 working-class whites and Hispanics who call Cornerstone their spiritual home. This is a Wal-Mart congregation that spends one day a week in the tony San Antonio suburb where Hagee built his church.
TWENTY MILLION ARMAGEDDONITES—Hagee’s theology is at best bizarre and at worst toxic. It is rooted in the teachings of apostate Anglican preacher John Nelson Darby, who left the Church of England in the 1820s to found his own sect. Pre-millennial Dispensationalism divides the world into seven epochs, or “dispensations.” According to Darby’s eschatological calendar, mankind is nearing the end of the penultimate dispensation. The final dispensation will be 1,000 years of peace, which arrive after Christ’s defeat of the Anti-Christ (and Satan) at Armageddon. For Hagee, this is not a metaphor but a place in the Middle East. Hagee’s eschatology also involves “the Rapture”—the physical ascent into Heaven of sanctified and reborn Christians.
Before all that can come to pass, however, certain biblical prophecies have to be fulfilled: the reunification of biblical Israel under Jewish control; the in-gathering of the world’s Jewry to the parts of their ancestral home made up of Israel, Judea and Samaria; the rebuilding of the Temple (on the spot now occupied by one of three of Islam’s most sacred mosques); etc.
Hagee’s focus on End-Times prophecy has turned him toward American foreign policy in Israel and Palestine.
He’s not alone.
American Conservative co-publisher John Basil Utley cites Christian writer Gary North’s estimate that 20 million Americans are Armageddonites. “Many of them,” Utley writes, “have an ecstatic belief in the cleansing power of apocalyptic violence.”
John Hagee is committed to the cleansing power of apocalyptic violence. He preaches it. He writes about it. And he puts his money—or his congregants’ money—where his theology is. Hagee has raised more than $8.5 million for Israel, much of it used to relocate Jews from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to settlements in the West Bank—to Hagee the eastern extension of biblical Israel. Only after a critical mass of Jews have been concentrated in Greater Israel can the End-Times prophecies begin to unfold.
ISRAEL’S PROPHETIC ROLE—Hagee’s attitude toward Jews is peculiar. He loves them, but only so much and for so long. In his book Jerusalem Countdown: A Prelude to War, Hagee blames the Jews for the anti-Semitism that has dogged them for 5,000 years.
“It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenental responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day,” he writes.
Hagee claims that Jews are responsible for “birth[ing] the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come . . . it rises from the judgment of God upon his rebellious chosen people.”
Nonetheless, these Jews must return to Israel—the Holocaust helped that along, attempts to create a Palestinian state are slowing it down—before the apocalyptic conflagration at Armageddon can take place. Then Christ can return. Those Jews who recognize Christ at his Second Coming as the Messiah will be saved, but most will perish. Some Pre-millennial Dispensationalists have calculated the precise number of Jews who will survive Armageddon, the Rapture and all that: 144,000; that is, 12,000 representatives of each tribe of Israel.
THE CATHOLIC QUESTION—Despite his protestations to the contrary, Hagee is also hard on Catholics. In a bizarre video clip posted online by Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse, Hagee stands before an elaborate iconographic chart depicting the Christian cosmogony. At the End Times end of the timeline a slutty woman in a red dress rides a three-headed feline monster. In her hand the woman holds a Eucharistic chalice.
Pointer in hand, Pastor Hagee elaborates: “This is the Great Whore of Revelation 17. This is the Anti-Christ system. This is the apostate Church,” he says. “In this cup, if you read it in the Book of Revelation, is the blood of the saints. This is talking principally about the blood of the Jewish people.Where? From the Crusades that happened back here. From the Spanish Inquisition. From the Holocaust. When Adolph Hitler came to power he said, ‘I’m not going to do anything in my lifetime that hasn’t been done by the Roman Church in the past 800 years. I’m only going to do it on a greater scale and more efficiently. . . .'”
“God said, ‘I gave you the time to repent but you did not,'” he explains. “This false cult system that was born in Genesis 10 and progressed through Israel and became Baal worship, God said the day is going to come when I cause this beast to devour this apostate system. So you can say very clearly that while the church is in heaven, this false system is going to be devoured by the Anti-Christ.”
Catholics take issue with that. As do some Jews, whose blood ends up in the chalice for what appears to be their own fault.
All this would be harmless enough (perhaps) if confined to Rev. Hagee’s temple. But John Hagee has a constituency that extends beyond his congregation. He used that constituency to build a foreign-policy advocacy organization—Christians United for Israel (CUFI)—that is now pressing for a pre-emptive war with Iran. CUFI brought 4,500 End Times activists to Washington for its July 2006 inaugural event, followed by a day of lobbying on the Hill.
Hagee was straightforward in announcing his agenda: “The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West,” he said. He saw this step as “a biblically prophesied End Time confrontation . . . which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation . . . and the Second Coming of Christ.”
A REPUBLICAN RELIGION?—John McCain has been pressed to renounce Hagee. He cannot. Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, whose unsolicited “endorsement” created a problem for Sen. Barack Obama, can preach religious hate. But he works on the fringe of American religion and politics and is an unlikely guest at anyone’s White House. The influence of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—Obama’s longtime pastor who is cut from a different cloth than Farrakhan—doesn’t extend beyond the African-American community in Chicago. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is deeply invested in John Hagee and his followers.
On the Sunday before the 2006 election, for example, Texas governor Rick Perry and sixty other candidates (almost all Republicans) stood before the altar at Cornerstone Church with Hagee, each candidate angling for an election-day bounce with evangelical voters.
But John Hagee is bigger than Texas. In 2000 he was on presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “values team.” Since then the right wing of the Republican Party has responded to Pastor Hagee’s altar call. In 2002, Republican majority leader Tom DeLay was the keynote speaker at Hagee’s “Night to Honor Israel.” In 2006 Hagee met with Elliot Abrams, Bush’s fervently pro-Israel deputy national security adviser. Hagee later said he and Abrams are largely in agreement regarding Middle East policy.
Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) attended the 2006 Washington, D.C., kickoff of Christians United for Israel, standing by as Hagee called for an End Times war on Iran. Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, old acolytes from Texas, were also present. (Under Karl Rove’s tutelage, Cornyn started his political career with a pilgrimage to Cornerstone Church.) Party chair Ken Mehlman joined Hagee on the speaker’s platform. President Bush sent a pre-recorded message.
Joe Lieberman (I-CT) got most of the media attention at CUFI’s second annual gathering, in 2007, because the Jewish senator compared Hagee to Moses. But Republican house whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) attended and John McCain also joined the pro-Israel Christians when they met in Washington in July. McCain praised Hagee for “doing the Lord’s work in Satan’s city.” That’s not San Antonio but Washington.
This Palm Sunday John Hagee was in the pulpit in San Antonio, preaching his “Vote the Bible” sermon. Hagee warmed up the 8:30 a.m. crowd with hymns, some sung by his son (Pastor Matt), who is being groomed to take over the family business.
Then the senior pastor used “Jabez’s Prayer” as a prelude to the collection, asking congregants who were tithing to hold their envelopes above their heads. God answered Jabez’s prayer “to bless me and enlarge my territory.” The prayer is used by Prosperity Gospel ministers to encourage giving so that God will give back.
The sermon was a bellicose endorsement of John McCain, without mentioning the candidate by name. “The surge in Iraq is working,” Hagee roared. “Voting the Bible” means refusing to vote for any candidate who will “cut and run” from Iraq. Hagee told his congregation that an account of “first just war” is found in Genesis 14. As Hagee explicates the text, the 318 men Abram led across the desert in pursuit of enemies who had attacked his family were “Abram’s Israeli commando unit” avenging and killing “ancient Iraqis.”
“Jesus was no peacenik!” Hagee said. “Jesus is going to fight in it himself, against the enemies of Israel!”—in the battle of Armageddon.
Hagee’s Christian Zionists return to Washington, D.C., in July. They will hear from the usual neocon suspects: William Kristol, Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, Clifford May. The secular architects of the Iraq War are now pushing war with Iran and again are eager to sit down with extremist Christians who can help make it happen. Sen. Joe Lieberman will be back, this time to deliver the keynote speech at the “Night to Honor Israel.”
John McCain is not yet listed on the program.