John Hagee is the controversial 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 is also the pastor of Texas-based Cornerstone Church, an evangelical "megachurch" established in 1975 that seats 5,000 people and has some 18,000 members. Television broadcasts of Hagee's religious services, promoted by his Global Evangelism Television (GETV) corporation, also reach several million viewers.
Although a long-established figure among many conservative Republicans and evangelicals, Hagee first gained broad public attention during the 2008 Republican presidential primary for his backing of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain eventually distanced himself from Hagee after a video surfaced of the Christain Right leader making apparently anti-Semitic remarks.
Like many Christian fundamentalists, Hagee sees Israel as playing a key role in fulfilling biblical prophecy. He and other Christian Zionists share a particular reading of the Book of Revelation and other prophetic biblical texts, according to which the return of all Jews to the Holy Land is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus in the End Times. This idea traces back to the 1600s, but gained prominence with the creation of the state of Israel in 1949.
In Hagee's view, the End Times will 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. Unlike other fundamentalists, however, 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.
Hagee is also an adherent of the Christian evangelical concept of "Rapture," an end-time prophecy which holds that godly Christians will be drawn away from the Earth while God punishes non-believers. Author Barbara Rossing has said that Rapture belief can lead to provocative encouragement of strife in the Middle East as a way to hasten the End Times fulfillment of prophecy. Hagee believes that Jesus would to return to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem once Jews have rebuilt the Temple of Solomon, which would require destroying Islamic shrines and mosques currently on that site.
Christians United For Israel
In 2006, Hagee founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI) to promote his religious and political views of the Middle East. CUFI describes itself as a "national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel" and claims to "serve over one million members and conduct over 40 pro-Israel events every month." Gary Bauer, another divisive pro-Israel Christian Right leader, serves on CUFI's executive board.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has criticized CUFI and argued that its far-right ideology could threaten the bipartisan support Israel has enjoyed in the United States by driving away young, socially-liberal Jews from supporting Israel. "What they mean by support of Israel and we mean by support of Israel are two very different things," Yoffie said in a 2008 conference of the Union of Reform Judaism.
After attending a CUFI summit in 2007, journalist Max Blumenthal wrote in Huffington Post: "[CUFI's] support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers—Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc.—must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation."
"A dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow," reported Blumenthal. "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.'"
In 2006, Blumenthal reported on the apparent political clout of the then nascent 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 said. "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."
CUFI's 2014 summit, which took place during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, attracted an array of politicians, media personalities, and conservative figures. On-stage guests included personalities from Fox News, Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Bill Kristol, former CIA director James Woolsey, Elliot Abrams, and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz. "We've come to Washington to ask our government to stop demanding for Israel to show restraint," John Hagee said at the event. "Let Israel finish the job. Let every rocket be dismantled. Let every tunnel be destroyed." During the event, Hagee gave a special award to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.
Hagee has been a staunch critic of President Barack Obama. At a November 2014 Zionist Organization of America-sponsored meeting between prominent right-wing Jewish American donors and potential Republican presidential nominee Ted Cruz (R-TX), Hagee claimed that Obama was "the most anti-Semitic president ever." The Anti-Defamation League called the comments "offensive and misplaced."
Hagee has also argued that the 2014 Ebola crisis was brought about by God because of President Obama's lack of support for Israel. "Our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching, and He will bring America into judgment," Hagee said during an October 2014 broadcast of his "Hagee Hotline" internet show. "There are grounds to say judgment has already begun because he, the president, has been fighting to divide Jerusalem for years now. We are now experiencing the crisis of Ebola."
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 U.S. political figures. Perhaps most notable among these has been Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who Hagee endorsed during the 2008 Republican presidential primary.
In July 2007, McCain spoke at the group's annual summit to warn of threats from Iran and dire consequences if the United States withdraws from Iraq. He also used the opportunity to publicly affirm his Christian beliefs. According to MSNBC, "The Arizona senator concluded his remarks by commenting on his own faith. … He said that his own personal religious beliefs helped get him through his time in a Vietnamese prison camp, telling a story of a guard who drew a crucifix on the ground for him when he was allowed to go outside on Christmas Day one year."
McCain's enchantment with CUFI ultimately proved to be short-lived after a video of John Hagee surfaced in which he suggested the Holocaust was a essentially a fated Biblical event meant to force Jews to settle in Israel. In the 2005 video, Hagee said: "Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter." The publicity and outrage the video garnered resulted in McCain rejecting Hagee's endorsement of his presidential candidacy.
In another video, Hagee argued 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. 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." However, some fundamentalists have long denounced the Roman Catholic Church using terms such as "great whore" and "whore of Babylon," drawn from their interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation.
Hawkish Views and Islamophobia
Hagee has a history of making Islamophobic statements. In a 2006 interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio, for instance, 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."
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."
Hagee has also supported calls by former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for U.S. military strikes against Iran, saying in a 2007 interview with journalist Bill Moyers: "It is time for America to embrace the words of Senator Joseph Lieberman and consider a military preemptive strike against Iran to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Israel and a nuclear attack in America."
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."
The ministry, which is incorporated as the nonprofit GETV, has spurred accusations of inappropriate enrichment by Hagee and his family. 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."