Tuesday's New York Times had an interesting article about John Hagee, the San Antonio pastor who has emerged as America's most influential Christian Zionist. I was especially intrigued because, when I travel around the country speaking about my book Kingdom Coming , some of my most impassioned challengers have been Jews who are grateful for the Christian right's zealous support for Israel. As many point out, Hagee is a major fundraiser for pro-Israel causes -- at his "Night to Honor Israel" celebration last month, he gave out $7 million to various Jewish and Israeli charities.
The theology that underlies Christian Zionism -- called premillenial dispensationalism -- is opposed to a two-state solution, a goal most American Jews continue to cherish, however far off it seems. As I described it in a 2002 Salon story "Put baldly, millions of evangelical Christians see forewarnings of Armageddon in the crisis in the Middle East. Followers of dispensationalism, a major strain within American evangelical Christianity, they believe that the return of Jews to Israel and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount is a precondition for the rapture, the apocalypse and the return of Christ... For them, there can be no negotiation over what they call 'Judea and Samaria' despite the fact that many Israelis, and Jews worldwide, hope Israel eventually pulls out of the territories. Randall Price, jet-setting founder of World of the Bible Ministries, says, 'In the book of Genesis, there are territorial dimensions for the land that is given to Abraham and his descendents. It's from the river of Egypt to the river of the Euphrates.' In his view, Israel's right to that land, which extends into modern-day Iraq, is absolute. As for the Palestinians, Price says, 'Ishmael has said that his descendants would live to the East of their brother. There's a much larger geographical territory allotted to them.'"
Maybe that sounds lovely to ultra-right Jewish maximalists, but the dispensationalist scenario ends badly for the Jews -- after a third world war in the Middle East, those who remain unconverted are dispatched to hell while believers enjoy a thousand years of peace on earth. Most Jews (and, of course, most Christians) see massive military conflict in the Middle East as something to be assiduously avoided, but for many Christian Zionists, it's a necessary step to paradise. Some Jews are willing to put such differences aside for the sake of political expediency, figuring they needn't trouble themselves with rapture fantasies that will never be fulfilled outside of Left Behind novels. The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier has famously called this bargain a "grim comedy of mutual condescension." (The Times story offered one striking example of such condescension from the Christian right: James Dobson grudgingly allowing that, "[d]espite all the spiritual shortcomings of the Jewish people," they are uniquely blessed by God.)
Last night, I gave a talk in San Antonio sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, an amazing local organization that combats religious fundamentalism in one of the regions where it's strongest. I figured I'd get some questions about Hagee, so I read his most recent book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World. There's an astonishing passage in it that Jews who partner with the pastor would do well to be aware of. Read the whole thing -- it takes a few paragraphs to see where he's going:
The Bible is a book of parables and word pictures describing principles of truth from God to man. The prophet Jeremiah puts his pen to parchment and paints a vivid picture of the human agendas God intended to use to bring the Jewish people back to Israel.
"But now I will send for many fishermen" declares the LORD, "and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks."
-- Jeremiah 16:16 NIV
I believe this verse indicates that the positive comes before the negative. Grace and mercy come before judgment. The fishermen come before the hunters. First, God sent the fishermen to Israel. These were the Zionists, men like Theodor Herzl who called for the Jews of Europe and the world to come to Palestine to establish the Jewish state. The Jews were encouraged to escape while there was still time. The situation for Jews in Europe would only get worse, not better.
A fisherman is one who draws his target toward him with bait. Herzl and his fellow Zionists were God's fishermen, calling the sons and daughters of Abraham home. Herzl was deeply disappointed that the Jews of the world did not respond in greater numbers.
God then sent the hunters. The hunter is one who pursues his target with force and fear. No one could see the horror of the Holocaust coming, but the force and fear of Hitler's Nazis drove the Jewish people back to the only home God ever intended for the Jews to have -- Israel. I stand amazed at the accuracy of God's Word and its relevance for our time. I am stricken with awe and wonder at His boundless love for Israel and the Jewish people and His divine determination that the promise He gave Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob become reality.
Unless I'm really reading this wrong, Hagee seems to be saying that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews back to where they belong. If that's the case, he might be a friend of the Israeli state, but he's no friend of Jewish people.