Deconstructing Hagee and Us

The halachic and moral challenge of Pastor Hagee.

Ellen W. Horowitz

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It simply feels wrong that liberal Americans continue to relentlessly cast politically loaded stones at John Hagee. But Pastor Hagee's rhetoric and gestures do present the Jewish people with certain halachic and moral challenges. Before Israelis can authentically attempt to reconcile the magnanimous political and humanitarian support being offered by the American evangelical community, we need to reinstate our unique status and clarify our ethical obligations as Jews living in Eretz Yisrael.

While Hagee is a well-intentioned and determined philo-Semite, he is also a devout Christian mega-church leader wrestling with and adjusting his evolving theology. Consequently, we Jews must remain vigilant, because philo-
We Jews must remain vigilant, because philo-Semitism can be a mere hair away from anti-Semitism.
Semitism can be a mere hair away from anti-Semitism. When Christians attempt sweeping and bold moves towards reconciliation - and Jews reciprocate in turn - sometimes things can go terribly wrong. So, the Talmudic formula of "respecting and suspecting" would seem to be the wise approach.

While it's appropriate to exhibit a degree of support and encouragement toward those church leaders and denominations who are grappling with Christianity's past, I don't think it's the role of the Jew to play "theo-therapist". Nor should Jews feel that they have to defend or understand a Christian pastor's theology, theodicy or eschatology. This is forbidden halachic ground. But the current American and Israeli political reality has put many Jews in the ridiculous and impossible position of either wholeheartedly justifying, or brutally trashing, a megachurch leader's spin on scripture.

Political agendas and allegiances at times seem to overshadow our commitments to G-d and to our faith. I find it confounding that many purportedly Torah-observant Jews adhere to pundit Ann Coulter's view that "the survival of Israel is inextricably linked to the survival of the Republican Party and its evangelical base." I, too, am concerned about the outcome of the presidential race and its impact on Israel, but isn't it high time that the people of Israel learn how to roll with the punches and come up on top - regardless of shifts in American foreign policy and changes in the White House Administration?

Israelis have the responsibility to take this debate out of the realm of US partisan politics and bring to the fore some very core issues. Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is a problematic organization. Good intentions aside, Pastor Hagee simply cannot control the minds, hearts and agendas of 50,000,000 American evangelicals. It seems he can't even control his own executive board members and regional directors - some of whom are promoting a Jewish Messianic (Christian) restoration in Israel, are signing recent statements calling for the conversion of Jews, and are giving air and press time to those accusing the Orthodox Jewish community of violence and church persecution.

Hagee is a mega-maverick who sincerely believes that if he rids the church of anti-Semitism, then the path for a theological reconciliation and fusion of Judaism and Christianity is attainable. He refers to the "Judeo-Christian faith," has been known to don a talit at church services, and sees "Christians and Jews coming together to stand together and be together forever." So it's our responsibility as Jews to inform the good pastor that, while we appreciate his altruistic efforts, he must understand that even in the absence of anti-Semitism, any theological Jewish-Christian reconciliation remains an impossibility.

While it may be unfair to sneak into the pews and dredge up sermons for political fodder, Hagee himself has chosen to enter the public political arena, as a mega-church leader and as a visible part of America's cultural and entertainment scene - where nothing is sacred. His take on the End of Days is readily available in Wal-Mart, on cable TV, DVD, CNN, in films and in cyberspace.

When this Torah-observant writer views a YouTube clip of the pastor explaining the illustrated Book of Revelations, which depicts Israel as a woman pregnant with the child Jesus, surrounded by the sun, moon and stars, and towering over a great red dragon, I tend to become very "pro-choice" - and would opt to terminate the pregnancy.

Don't interpret this as a swipe at Christianity; consider it a reaffirmation of my Jewishness. While I find common ground, share interests with, and enjoy people of other cultures and faiths; I pray that I always find alien theologies and mythologies somewhat disconcerting - because that indicates that my head, heart and soul is in the right place, and that I remain fiercely loyal to one G-d and the Torah.

On the political front, Pastor Hagee is among those who have led the charge through the wall that separates church and state in America. Mainstream Americans seemed satisfied with "one nation under God" and being "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Generic monotheism was fitting for a multicultural melting pot and good for the Jews. I personally believe this was a source of blessing for America. But now, Jesus is out of the cloisters and sitting exclusively on Capital Hill. "Bible believers" see this as progress against liberal secularists, but a number of G-d fearing US citizens deem this a serious cultural, religious and political regression - and it frightens them.

Common sense dictates that we Jews need not excuse the over-the-top religious rhetoric which has become the primary campaign issue in America, and has all but busted the God-O-Meter. As far as we're concerned, theodicy is theoidiocy , and some things you just don't say - even if your mind and heart has toyed with them (and I admit that a lot of us play with the same type of toys as Pastor Hagee).

Thirty million dollars in donations to Israel should not "unconditionally" immunize the good pastor from Jewish critics across the political and religious spectrum. Political allegiances and money must not blind the discerning eyes of the Jews. The Zionist camp should address their friendship with evangelicals in an honest and accountable manner - even if that means leveling criticism and exposing problems in the relationship.

Don't worry, because John Hagee is a big boy with an excellent Jewish spinmeister named David Brog, who specializes in damage control. David can even quote Matthew and invent institutions like "a rich Judeo-Christian
Don't interpret this as a swipe at Christianity; consider it a reaffirmation of my Jewishness.
tradition of theodicy."

Hagee also has a rabbi, who compared the pastor's Hitler remarks to those of Holocaust martyr Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, author of Eim Habanim Semeicha. But juxtaposing the introspective and humble thoughts of a condemned Torah scholar - hiding in a cellar - to a wealthy, secure preacher confidently booming prophecy through the rafters of a megachurch is a little... shall we say, irreverent?

Pastor Hagee may have all the answers, while the Jews, admittedly, have none of them. But we do have questions. Primary among them is not whether G-d punished or abandoned us, but rather: Did we abandon G-d? And that is not a despondent question, it is a redemptive one.

More than partisan political differences, the brouhaha over Pastor Hagee's statements clarifies and defines the very contrasting worldviews of Judaism and Christianity. And it validates the position of the halachic giant Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who consistently opposed theologically-based interfaith dialogue and references to a "common tradition uniting two faith communities such as the Christian and the Judaic."

Perhaps it's best to conclude with an excerpt from "the Rav," spoken and published in 1945:

"When a minister, rabbi or priest attempts to solve the ancient question of Job's suffering through a sermon or lecture, he does not promote religious ends, but, on the contrary, does them a disservice. The beauty of religion with its grandiose vistas reveals itself to men not in solutions, but in problems; not in harmony, but in the constant conflict of diversified forces and trends." (from "Sacred and Profane, Kodesh and Chol in World Perspective", originally a yahrzeit shiur, which appeared in Hazedek, May/June 1945)