Dr. John Hagee, the American evangelical pastor who last month announced plans for a Christian-style AIPAC, says the organization is a "canopy group" encompassing Christian supporters of Israel from across America and is coming together "with a speed and harmony I never would have believed possible."
Hagee says he attempted something similar, though on a smaller scale, 25 years ago, but to no avail. "I called 30 pastors together... At the end of the first hour, I lost 29 of them." Now, by contrast, "I called 400 [pastors] and all 400 have agreed to participate in Christians United for Israel."
The San Antonio, Texas-based Hagee specifies three primary aims for the group: one, to unite Christian supporters of Israel to speak "with one voice for a common cause"; two, to establish a "rapid response" capability that can flood Capitol Hill with e-mails, faxes and phone calls at short notice on issues of concern to Israel; and three, to organize "Night to Honor Israel" events in every major US city "so that the Jewish people can see and feel Christians expressing the love of God to them without a hidden agenda."
The new initiative by Hagee, who has collected and distributed millions of dollars to Israeli causes over the past 25 years, raises questions about what precisely he means by "support for Israel" and whether there are conditions for that support. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he said "Christians United for Israel is completely loyal to the positions of the Bible" and that he does not seek to influence the Israeli government or to support political candidates in Israel or America. But that "loyalty" to the Bible, in his interpretation, for instance, means not backing the relinquishing of biblical territory.
It's an apparent contradiction that he reconciled as follows: "The Bible says that God gave the Jewish people this sacred land. 'It's yours. Don't give it away. If you choose to give it away, that's your business. We're still friends, although we feel you make the wrong choice. I wouldn't stop supporting Israel because of your choice.'"
Interviewed by the Post at the recent AIPAC national convention in Washington, DC, where he was warmly received by many delegates, Hagee also carefully explained his thinking on the incendiary issue of evangelical attitudes to Jews and Judaism.
In precise and deliberate language, flavored with a rich, deep Texas drawl, he asserted that a growing majority of evangelical leaders do not preach "replacement theology, which teaches that the Church has replaced Israel" and the Jews "have no future in the plan of God." The vast majority of evangelicals, rather, teach that "the Christians have a Bible mandate to be supportive of Israel and the Jewish people without a hidden agenda."
True to that interpretation, Hagee said, "I do not target Jews for conversion."
Nonetheless, he stressed, "If you come into my church [of your own volition], you are asking to hear my witness of Jesus Christ and you're going to get it, wide open."
In your conception, how should a Christian support Israel?
We began to actively support Israel 25 years ago when the American media responded hatefully toward Israel when the IDF blew up the nuclear reactor in Iraq. The media in America was extremely fierce against Israel, and I felt that Israel had done the world a great favor. I proposed to my congregation and the pastors of San Antonio that we gather all the Christians of our city and go down town to the city auditorium and have a "Night to Honor Israel" to show support for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people.
I had a meeting with [members of] the local Jewish Federation, who were very concerned about hidden agendas. It took four lengthy committee meetings to convince them there was no hidden agenda or ulterior purpose. On the night of the event the auditorium was packed. We had our choir, our orchestra, and our television cameras so that we could show the event across the nation. It was a wonderful celebration of unity between Christians and Jews.
Just at the end of the celebration there was a threat on the building, to blow it up. While [San Antonio] Rabbi [Aryeh] Sheinberg was praying, the security came to me and said "this building is supposed to blow up in about five minutes."
I went to the microphone when the rabbi finished and said, "I hate to end such a wonderful night on a negative note, but we have a threat on this building."
And the Christians left that building instantly, because they had never experienced such a threat. The Jewish people flipped their hands and just kept on talking.
On the way home, I told my wife that "if the anti-Semites think they can silence us with a threat, they are mistaken. I'm going to do this until they get used to it."
So 25 years later, we're continuing to do "A Night to Honor Israel," only now we're doing it over live national television so the world can experience it as it goes across America and into 126 countries.
Hagee's "Night to Honor Israel" is a non-conversionary event. We do not target Jewish people for conversion. If a Jewish person comes to me and asks me about my faith, I am under a Bible mandate to tell him about my faith. If he accepts or rejects my faith, it does not enhance nor depreciate that person in my view. From that point we agree to go forward in mutual esteem working on behalf of Israel. All Christians are under a Bible mandate to be supportive of Israel and to be supportive of the Jewish people.
If somebody outside the "Night to Honor Israel" framework comes to you [to inquire about Christianity], what do you do?
We give them our entire testimony and biblical explanation of our faith.
Again outside the "Night to Honor Israel" framework, do you target Jews for conversion?
When I open the doors of Cornerstone Church, 5,000 people fill the auditorium. As I present the gospel message, I don't know if you're Muslim, Hindu, Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic or Jewish. If you come into Cornerstone Church, you are asking to hear my witness of Jesus Christ and the Cross as the way to redemption, and you're going to get that message, wide open.
In the ultimate vision to which you subscribe, there is a second coming, and what happens to Israel and the Jews then?
This is the biblical teaching of St. Paul. St. Paul in Romans 9, 10 and 11 presents what I call in my latest book, Jerusalem Countdown, "God's position-paper on the Jewish people."
In Romans 9, Paul states that this three-chapter section is exclusively about the Jewish people. He continues that theme in the 10th chapter, and in Chapter 11 writes in the first verse that "God has not cast away Israel." This statement by St. Paul is the absolute death knell of "replacement theology."
Something that is cast away disappears forever. Israel is alive. Israel is thriving. Israel is growing. Israel and the Jewish people have not been cast away by God! Paul makes the statement that "God has not cast away Israel" twice. Romans is a post-Calvary document in which St. Paul states, in 11:5, "even so at this present time there is a remnant [a surviving group of Jewish people] according to the election of grace." That means very simply that there are Jewish people right now who have favor with God by the election of grace.
What is going to happen when Jesus comes back? Every Christian believes that Jesus Christ is the messiah. The Jewish people do not believe that. In that regard we have to agree to disagree. I say to my rabbi friends: "You don't believe it; I do believe it. When we're standing in Jerusalem, and the messiah is coming down the street, one of us is going to have a very major theological adjustment to make. But until that time, let's walk together in support of Israel and in defense of the Jewish people, because Israel needs our help."
Replacement theology teaches that the Church has replaced Israel. In replacement theology, you [the Jews] have no future in the economy of God. Replacement theology falsely teaches that the Church has taken the place of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are no longer in the economy of God, according to this teaching, which places the Church as God's centerpiece.
There are fewer and fewer [evangelical leaders who subscribe to replacement theology] as time goes along. They are seeing, finally, the error of replacement theology. The vast majority of evangelicals do not believe in replacement theology. Evangelicals believe that Israel has a Bible mandate to the land, a divine covenant for the land of Israel, forever. That the Jewish people are chosen of God and are the apple of God's eye. That Christians have a Bible mandate to be supportive of Israel and the Jewish people, to demonstrate to the Jewish people what they have not experienced from Christianity for 2,000 years... the love of God.
Is this support for Israel predicated on an Israel that does not relinquish biblical territory, or is it support for Israel and an acceptance of the sovereignty of the Israeli government in making the decisions it sees as being best for Israel?
Our support for Israel is without condition. We have a Bible mandate by St. Paul, by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, to be supportive of Israel and the city of Jerusalem, period. We are not swayed by political personalities or parties. We are totally and completely loyal to the positions of the Bible.
In the modern context, there was an Israeli government last summer that relinquished parts of the biblical land of Israel.
We would not support that position. We would say that God gave the Jewish people this sacred land. "It's yours. Don't give it away. If you choose to give it away, that's your business."
However, our support of Israel continues regardless of your choice. Every Bible-believing Christian knows that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, the first thing that's going to happen is the Judgment of the Nations. The basis of that judgment is how did the gentile people treat Israel and how did they treat the Jewish people. If they are found guilty of anti-Semitism, they face the judgment of God.
Would you seek to influence Israeli government decisions?
No. We are not trying to influence the Israeli government. We are not going to support political candidates. We are going to support positions that are biblical. Period.
For instance, for years we gave generous contributions to Hadassah hospital. They started doing abortions, so we stopped giving financial aid to Hadassah, because abortions are clearly against the Bible. We transferred our giving it to universities, orphanages and to the bringing back of exiles to Israel. Jeremiah wrote in 23:7-8, "Therefore behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when they shall no more say, as the Lord lives, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, but, as the Lord lives, who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries to which I had driven them. And they shall dwell in their own land." Our bringing the exiles back to Eretz Israel is a fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy.
If you stopped Hadassah's money because of abortions, why are you still supporting an Israeli government that relinquished Gaza?
When you help orphans in Israel, you are helping the Jewish people. When you help exiles come to Israel, you are helping those people fulfill the biblical mandate of returning to Israel. There are lots of things one can do to help Jewish people that have nothing to do with approving or disapproving of the government.
What the organization Christians United for Israel wants the world to see is that for the first time in the history of Christianity in America, Christians from every part of the nation are coming together to form a canopy organization under which every church, every para-church organization, every Christian radio and television ministry can be supportive of the people of Israel and the state of Israel with common cause. That they can speak with one voice and speak at one time, for the defense and/or support of Israel. That has never happened before. And, with God's help, we are going to get it done.
Twenty-five years ago, I called 30 pastors together and tried to get them to do this. At the end of the first hour, I lost 29 of them. Out the door. On February 7, I called 400 [pastors] and all 400 have agreed to do it. It's a miracle.
We have appointed a national board. We have appointed regional directors. The regional directors are selecting state directors. The state directors are selecting city directors for the complete national infrastructure.
We are also putting together the Israel Rapid Response by fax, e-mail or telephone to our elected officials from every state and congressional district in the union. If something is threatening or of concern to Israel, then we send our Rapid Response to Washington, DC, in one 24-hour period, to every congressman and to every senator.
We also want to have the "Night to Honor Israel" in every major city in America, so that the Jewish people can see and feel Christians demonstrating the love of God without a hidden agenda.
To get these three things established and functioning will be monumental. It's coming together with a speed and a harmony that I never would have believed was possible.
If one were to preach replacement theology, could one join your group?
No. A replacement theology preacher will not associate with us, because we believe Israel is still the apple of God's eye. We do not believe that God has cast away Israel or the Jewish people. We believe that God has the Jewish people and the Church working together as brothers, serving the same God, during a very dangerous time in history for both of us.
Speaking of danger, what do you believe the Bush Administration should do about Iran?
I believe that Iran is a threat to Western civilization. I believe their president means it when he says "Israel should be wiped off the map."
I believe that we are exactly where we were in the middle 30s when Hitler was talking about the world without Jews. We have a new Hitler, in the Middle East. He's the president of Iran. We need to take him very seriously.
I would hope the United States would join Israel in a military preemptive strike to take out the nuclear capability of Iran for the salvation of Western civilization. It is as important to America as it is to Israel.
Have the diplomatic routes been exhausted, or should diplomacy be given more time?
I don't believe that the Islamofascist mentality will ever respond favorably to diplomacy. Their agenda is the destruction of Israel and death to Jews and Christians.
Sanctions have never worked. Sanctions didn't stop North Korea. Sanctions didn't stop Cuba. Sanctions will not stop Iran.
Why must Israel be part [of this preemptive strike]?
America could do it alone if they chose to.
Let's leave it right there.