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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

John Hagee

  • Cornerstone Church: President
  • Christians United for Israel: Founder
  • Global Evangelism Television: CEO

Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.

John Hagee is a controversial Christian Right leader who is the pastor of an evangelical "megachurch" in San Antonio, Texas. Hagee is also the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a Christian Zionist organization known for its militarist stance on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Hagee's Cornerstone Church, established in 1975, seats 5,000 people and has some 18,000 members; television broadcasts of his religious services, promoted by his Global Evangelism Television (GETV) corporation, reach several million viewers.1 Although a well-known figure among many conservative Republicans and evangelicals, Hagee gained broader public attention during the 2008 Republican presidential primary because of his support for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Like many Christian fundamentalists, Hagee sees the return of Jews to the Holy Land as fulfilling biblical prophecy. This idea traces back to the 1600s but gained prominence with the creation of Israel in 1948.2 Hagee and many other Christian Zionists read the Book of Revelation and other prophetic biblical texts to suggest the creation of the state of Israel started a countdown to the second coming of Jesus in the apocalyptic End Times.3

In Hagee's view, the End Times usher in a global struggle between the armies of good and evil in the battle of Armageddon, located in what is now a valley in Israel.4 Unlike most fundamentalists, Hagee predicts a specific imminent scenario. According to the BBC, in his 2006 book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee argues that Russian and Arab armies will attack Israel and that God will step in to destroy them. This event will spur conflict between China and Satan's earthly agent in the End Times—the Antichrist, who will be masquerading as the head of the European Union—over the fate of Israel, which in turn will lead to the second coming of Christ.5 According to Hagee, President George W. Bush's support for Israel, which Hagee says "fulfills a biblical injunction to protect the Jewish state," will also play "a pivotal role in the second coming."6

According to a Time/CNN poll of Americans in 2002, "Fully 59 percent say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the September 11 attack."7 Another poll found that "59 percent of American evangelicals believe Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy."8 Only a handful of evangelicals, however, believe in the theological assertion shared by Hagee and Christian author Tim LaHaye that there will be a "Rapture," in which godly Christians will be drawn away from earth into a protective embrace while God punishes the non-believers during the Tribulations. Rapture belief can promote a provocative encouragement of strife in the Middle East as a way to hasten the End Times fulfillment of prophecy.9 Hagee and many other believers in apocalyptic Christian prophecy support Israel's control of the ancient Holy Land because they expect Jesus to return to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem once Jews have rebuilt the Temple of Solomon—requiring the destruction of Islamic shrines and mosques currently on that site.10

Since the 1990s, some apocalyptic Christians have viewed Islam as the false religion supported by the Antichrist in the End Times.11 The resulting Christian Islamophobia intersected with the "clash of civilizations" thesis of Samuel P. Huntington and provided support for the Bush administration's backing of aggressive Israeli policies toward its neighbors. The Christian Right, neoconservatives, and militarists found themselves in an uneasy coalition under the Bush administration—all promoting a confrontational and apocalyptic view of strife in the Middle East.12

In a 2006 interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio, Hagee said that there was "no room for compromise" with "radical Islam." When Gross asked about "Islam in general," Hagee responded, "Well Islam in general—those who live by the Koran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews."13 In a March 2006 interview with the right-wing Human Events, Hagee predicted that by May 2006 Israel would militarily engage Iran, the country that he blamed for attacks on targets in the Western world. Asked if the United States should support Israel against Iran, he said, "Iran is a threat to western civilization ... not just to Israel. Iran with nuclear weapons will be the world's worst nightmare. America and Europe will be blackmailed to bow to the Islamofacist agenda. The attack on 9/11 proved Islamics have the will to kill us, they are now searching for the power to kill us... nuclear power."14

In early 2006, Hagee founded Christians United for Israel to promote his vision of Middle East politics. The group's self-described genesis, stated on its website, reads, "Israel is in peril. The President of Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and he's rapidly acquiring the nuclear technology with which to make good on this threat.... In February, 2006, Pastor John Hagee decided the time had come to create a national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel. He called upon Christian leaders from across America to join him in launching this new initiative. Over 400 Christian leaders answered the call and Christians United for Israel was born."15 CUFI says its goal is to provide "a national association through which every pro-Israel church, parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to Biblical issues." Gary Bauer, another pro-Israel Christian Right leader, serves on CUFI's executive board.16

Reporting for the Huffington Post, in 2007 Max Blumenthal attended a CUFI summit in Washington, DC. CUFI's support for Israel, Blumenthal wrote, "derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock" that in the End Times Jesus will return to Jerusalem and "cleanse the earth of evil." At this point, "all the non-believers—Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc.—must convert" or face death and the "torture of eternal damnation." According to Blumenthal, more than "a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to [Sen. Joe] Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as 'even greater than the multitude Moses commanded.'"17

In 2006, Blumenthal reported on the apparent political clout of the new group. "Over the past months, the White House has convened a series of off-the-record meetings about its policies in the Middle East with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is 'a biblical imperative,'" Blumenthal reported. "CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah."18

Hagee's views on Mideast politics, as well as his ability to mobilize the sentiments of large numbers of Christian evangelicals in the United States, have earned him the support of many militarist U.S. political figures. Most notable has been Hagee's relationship with McCain, who garnered Hagee's support during the 2008 Republican presidential primary. In July 2007, McCain spoke at a CUFI conference in Washington about his views on threats to Israel, which he called the "only and best democracy in the Middle East." He also criticized those pushing for withdrawal from Iraq, arguing, according to MSNBC, that withdrawal "would only embolden anti-Israeli nations like Iran."19

Talking Points Memo blogger Eric Kleefeld notes that Hagee "eagerly awaits the Armageddon, considers the Catholic Church to be the Anti-Christ, and has said that Jews brought their own persecution upon themselves." Noting the intensive critical media attention paid to Barak Obama's pastor, Kleefeld noted that "when it came to McCain's rather controversial backer [Hagee] the press hardly batted an eye." To Kleefeld, this seemed "like a pretty clear double standard."20

Hagee's controversial views go beyond the Middle East. In a widely viewed video, Hagee argues that Adolf Hitler merely built on the work of the "Roman Church," which he called "the Great Whore," in spilling the "blood of saints," who Hagee claimed are mainly Jews.21 Hagee defended his comments, saying that by "the Great Whore" he meant "the apostate church, namely those Christians who embrace the false cult system of Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism."22 Some bigoted Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, however, have been denouncing Catholics for centuries using terms such as "great whore" and "whore of Babylon," drawn from their interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation.23

When Bill Bennett, the former Ronald Reagan cabinet member who is now a right-wing radio broadcaster, asked McCain about Hagee's views, McCain said, "Well, obviously I repudiate any comments that are anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic, racist, any other. And I condemn them and I condemn those words that Pastor Hagee apparently—that Pastor Hagee wrote. I will say that he said that his words were taken out of context, he defends his position. I hope that maybe you'd give him a chance to respond." He then added, "I will say, I'd like to say on his behalf, he's been a very strong supporter of the state of Israel and when we were doing the No Surrender tour [a weeklong pro-Iraq War tour and campaign rally with stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina], he came and spoke on behalf of not surrendering in Iraq."24

Hagee has also denounced the Harry Potter novels and films as "Satan's ongoing attempt to deceive and destroy" and argued that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for the sins committed in New Orleans, saying, "I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that."25

Hagee controls a formidable media empire. According to his CUFI biography, "John Hagee Ministries occupies a 50,000 square-foot production center which houses both radio and television studios, 100 telephone prayer partners, and a vast distribution center. Currently, Hagee telecasts on eight major networks, 162 independent television stations, and 51 radio stations throughout the globe broadcasting in over 190 nations."26

The ministry, which is incorporated as the nonprofit GETV,27 has spurred accusations of inappropriate enrichment of Hagee and his family.28 The San Antonio Express-News reported that GETV's 2001 tax statement showed the nonprofit organization earned more than $18 million that year and that Hagee's compensation package amounted to nearly $1.25 million. "As the nonprofit organization's president, Hagee drew $540,000 in compensation, as well as an additional $302,005 in compensation for his position as president of Cornerstone Church, according to GETV's tax statements," the Express-News reported. "He also received $411,561 in benefits from GETV, including contributions to a retirement package for highly paid executives." According to the Express-News story, Hagee's retirement trust "includes a $2.1 million 7,969-acre ranch outside Brackettville, with five lodges, including a 'main lodge' and a gun locker. It also includes a manager's house, a smokehouse, a skeet range and three barns. Taken together, his payment package, $842,005 in compensation and $414,485 in benefits, was one of the highest, if not the highest, pay package for a nonprofit director in the San Antonio area in 2001."

Responding to a critic who argued that Hagee's earnings were "unconscionable" for a minister, Hagee told the newspaper, "I have no salary here [with GETV], none whatsoever. What I have is a royalty from products I produce. That's very, very different. And to call that an income would be a misappropriation of terms." He added, "We are hiding absolutely nothing from nobody. I'm not afraid of you. I'm not afraid of the government, but I am afraid of God. And I'm not going to lie to God and go to Hell over this."29

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1. Cornerstone Church; Analisa Nazareno, "Critics Say John Hagee's Compensation Is Too High," San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2003.

2. Donald Wagner, "Evangelicals and Israel: Theological Roots of a Political Alliance," Christian Century, November 4, 1998.

3. Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006); Chip Berlet and Nikhil Aziz, "Culture, Religion, Apocalypse, and Middle East Foreign Policy," Right Web, December 2003.

4. Robert C. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1992).

5. Richard Allen Greene, "Evangelical Christians Plead for Israel," July 19, 2006.

6. Glenn Greenwald, "Some Hateful, Radical Ministers—White Evangelicals—Are Acceptable," Salon.com, February 28, 2008.

7. Nancy Gibbs, "Apocalypse Now," Time magazine, June 23, 2002.

8. CNN, "Christians, Jews in Holy Land Alliance," August 20, 2007.

9. Barbara A. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2004); Richard Abanes, End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon? (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998).

10. Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount (New York: The Free Press, 2000).

11. Paul Boyer, "John Darby Meets Saddam Hussein: Foreign Policy and Bible Prophecy," Chronicle of Higher Education, supplement, February 14, 2003, B10-B11.

12. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Touchstone, 1997). On influence: Duane M. Oldfield, "The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right's Influence and How to Counter It," Foreign Policy in Focus, Interhemispheric Resource Center, March 2004, http://www.fpif.org/papers/2004evangelical.html; Donald Wagner, "Evangelicals and Israel;" William Martin, "The Christian Right and American Foreign Policy," Foreign Policy, Spring 1999; Sarah Posner, "Lobbying for Armageddon," AlterNet, August 3, 2006, http://www.alternet.org/story/39748. On apocalypticism: Michael Northcott, An Angel Directs The Storm. Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004); Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2002).

13. Terry Gross, "Pastor John Hagee on Christian Zionism," National Public Radio, September 18, 2006.

14. Robert Bluey, "John Hagee: Iran Poses Grave Threat to Western Civilization," Human Events, March 16, 2006.

15. Christians United for Israel, "About CUFI".

16. CUFI, "Executive Board".

17. Max Blumenthal, "Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour," Huffington Post, July 26, 2007.

18. Max Blumenthal, "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism," The Nation, August 8, 2006.

19. Andrew Merten, "McCain on Iraq, Iran, and His Faith,' MSNBC, July 17, 2007.

20. Talking Points Memo, "Farrakhan's Support For Obama? Hugely Controversial. Hagee's Backing Of McCain? No Problem," February 28, 2008.

21. "John Hagee Compares Roman Church to Hitler," YouTube.

22. Thomas F. Schaller, "Running in Reverse: From the Middle to the Right, Baltimore Sun, March 13, 2008.

23. Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, pp.145-148; John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (New York: Atheneum, [1955] 1972, pp. 5-9, 77-87.

24. ThinkProgress.org, "McCain Defends Hagee: 'He Said That His Words Were Taken Out Of Context,'" March 11, 2008

25. Both quotes cited in Dayo Olapade, "Exterminate the Brutes," The Plank, The New Republic, February 28, 2008.

26. "Pastor John Hagee," CUFI.

27. "John Hagee Ministries/ Global Evangelism Television," MinistryWatch.com.

28. Analisa Nazareno, "Critics Say John Hagee's Compensation Is Too High," San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2003.

29. Analisa Nazareno, "Critics Say John Hagee's Compensation Is Too High," San Antonio Express-News, June 20, 2003.

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