Pastor John Hagee, head of Christians United for Israel, at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem's Old City on May 11, 2018. (courtesy CUFI)
Interview'I knew that Israel should be congratulated, not criticized'

Top pro-Israel evangelical leader sees ‘wellspring’ of support for Jewish state

Ahead of his closing benediction at the dedication ceremony of the American Embassy in Jerusalem, Pastor John Hagee talks about anti-Semitism and the end of days

Main image by CUFI

During a congregational trip to Israel in 1978, Pastor John Hagee underwent a conversion of sorts at the Jerusalem Old City’s Western Wall.

At the site revered by Jews for 2,000 years following the destruction of the Second Temple, Hagee, 78, a devout evangelical Christian, “felt a very special presence” and had an awakening, he told members of The Times of Israel at a roundtable interview on Sunday.

“I really felt that there was something that I should be doing to try to bring Christians and Jews together in a dimension that was nonthreatening, and not trying in any way to be conversionary,” he said.

Since that day at the Western Wall, Hagee has become a leading pro-Israel voice in the evangelical Christian world. And his message is heard by the multitudes — including the current president and vice president of the United States — as the pastor’s multi-million-dollar John Hagee Ministries television programming is beamed into homes around the world.

Four decades ago, upon his return to San Antonio, Texas, the minister was under no illusion that it would be easy to bring Jews and Christians together. However, following the June 1981 Israeli airstrike on the Osirak, Iraq, nuclear reactor, as Israel was being denigrated on national television for implementing “gunbelt diplomacy,” Hagee felt it was time to act.

The Osirak reactor prior to the 1981 Israeli bombing (photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I knew that Israel should be congratulated and not criticized. So I immediately picked up a legal pad and said to my wife, “We’re gonna have a night to honor Israel. And I want to call all of the churches in the city together, and we’re going to give a tribute to the Jewish people for all that they’ve given to our nation and to Christianity,” said Hagee. This year marks the 38th annual mega event.

Back in 1981, “I was really not prepared for what I was about to experience: One, the Christians called me a heretic,” said Hagee. Furthermore, the event’s security was in question and the local Jewish Federation was not initially on board, suspicious of a hidden missionary agenda on Hagee’s part.

“At that event, as I was standing on stage and Rabbi [Aryeh] Scheinberg, who has remained my friend all these years, was giving the benediction, the security guy came up and said, ‘There is a bomb threat on this building.’ And he said it was supposed to blow up in about five minutes,” recalled Hagee. After Scheinberg, a local Orthodox rabbi, finished his prayer, Hagee went to the podium to deliver the news to the crowd.

“The Christians ran outta that building. Ran. The Jewish people kind of flipped their hands as if I’d have said kosher hot dogs were available in the lobby for those who’d like to stay a while,” said the pastor with a slight chuckle in his voice. “I saw that they were accustomed to this, and this wasn’t the first time they’d ever heard this.”

Turning somber, Hagee continued, “As I walked off the stage with my wife and the [Israeli] consul general from Houston, I said, ‘Anti-Semitism is a much greater force than I’d thought in this country. And if this is what the Jewish people have to go through to have a simple meeting like this, what we need to do is organize as Christians and join forces with them to see what we can do to crush anti-Semitism.’

“I said, ‘We’re going to do this until these rednecks get used to it.'”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Pastor John Hagee, May 11, 2018. (CUFI)

In 2006, Hagee founded the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization with the support of 400 other leading Christian ministers. Today it is a massive pro-Israel lobby in the United States, with 4.1 million members, including an action group in Washington, DC. It is an active membership: Some 135,000 CUFI members sent emails to the Trump White House, pushing to the US embassy move to Jerusalem prior to the Trump’s announcement in December.

“By the grace of God, we have put something together that has never existed in the history of Christianity,” he said on Sunday.

At the dedication ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on  Monday, Hagee will take center stage when he delivers the final benediction.

Ahead of the ceremony, Hagee visited the Times of Israel’s Jerusalem offices and spoke with staff members, including Jewish World editor Amanda Borschel-Dan, Opinion editor Miriam Herschlag and diplomacy reporter Raphael Ahren. The following is an edited transcript of the hour-long conversation.

The Times of Israel: You’re here to deliver the closing benediction at the dedication ceremony of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. What are you going to speak about?

John Hagee: I’ve been instructed not to divulge the contents of the benediction, although it has been cleared by the ambassador. It will be a joyous thanks to God for the State of Israel, for the occasion of this day, for the leadership of our president that made this possible, for the blessing of God on our ambassador, and a salute to Israel and to the city of Jerusalem.

This is a day you’ve prayed for for a very long time. Did you, behind the scenes or overtly, push for Jerusalem to be recognized?

[Ahead of the foundation of Christians United for Israel], in February of 2006, I called 400 of America’s leading evangelicals to Cornerstone Church and told them what I wanted to do. Long story short, all 400 of them agreed to do it instantly. Now, you have to know those people to know what a miracle from God that was. These people were the leaders of the leaders, and they generally question everything to the nth degree. But on that day, they said yes. And we moved forward, and each year, Christians United for Israel has grown.

When we started, nowhere in our mind was the idea that the embassy would ever be moved in our lifetime. Just didn’t think about it. Maybe someday, some president would not sign that six-month letter [waiving the congressional mandate to move the embassy], and Jerusalem might be recognized for what it has been for the past 3,000 years – the capital of Israel – but moving the embassy? No.

And here, in what has to be called a miracle of God’s grace, from the most unlikely source, Donald Trump, with courage that the United States has not seen in decades, has announced Jerusalem to be the city, and has declared that the embassy would be moved, and the 14th of this month we are going to see that happen. But it was not on our radar screen 38 years ago.

File: Pastor John Hagee, center, leads Christians in a solidarity march in Jerusalem in 2010. (Courtesy: CUFI)

How do you feel emotionally about the embassy moving to Jerusalem, just on the gut level?

There are two primary feelings that I have. One is that finally, Israel is receiving a fair shake. For 70 years the United States of America has not had its embassy here for fear we would offend people who are the enemies of Israel. On the other hand, we have put our embassies in the capitals of all the other nations in the world, and some of those nations are ruled by tyrants and despots. And yet, we brazenly called Israel our best friend in the Middle East, and deny them the equal treatment of putting our embassy there.

I’m delighted that our country has finally found the courage after 70 years to treat Israel not in a special way, as I’m sure some media will imply, but they have only received a fair shake in getting our embassy in their capital city.

Secondly, I believe this is a fulfillment of the biblical position in the Torah, where God promises to Israel in Deuteronomy, where he promises that He will make Israel the head, and not the tail, of the nations, and that toward the end of days, Jerusalem and Israel will be the epicenter of everything that’s going to happen. So this embassy event, to me, is an indication of God’s favor on this nation and on these people in a very physical way.

When you began your work 38 years ago, if I’m not misunderstanding the situation, according to Christian theology, there was still the idea that Christians had replaced Jews, and that Jews were somehow misguided in continuing to be Jews. But you said that this has got to stop and that we must respect Jews as their own religion and that we Christians don’t need to assume that they’re misguided in not taking on Jesus Christ as the messiah.

Even before we started, I was never part of the “replacement” group. I believe it was a false teaching. It does not have the impact or power today that it had 30 years ago, but 50 years ago it was a force to be reckoned with in America.

What was the tipping point to change this tide?

I believe the persistent and consistent teaching of the biblical fact of who the Jewish people are, and the covenants that they have with God – covenants that have never been broken – that they are still the Chosen people, and they are still a covenant people, and they are still the cherished people, and that the Church has never at any time replaced the Jewish people in the economy of God.

And today, which theology is more prevalent? Is replacement theology still an active player?

There are pockets of replacement theology. In my mind, those who practice replacement theology are closet anti-Semites who are using a religious cloak to hide their prejudice against the Jewish people, and I don’t make any bones about calling it what it is.

Anti-Semitic fliers discovered on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, on October 23, 2017. (Courtesy of Cornell Daily Sun via JTA)

Today, anti-Semitism, according to the Anti-Defamation League, is on the rise in the United States. Do you feel like this has something to do with theology? Is it other factors? Why do you see this happening today?

It has very little to do with theology. It has to do with the fact that our colleges and universities have liberal Marxist professors who are teaching the next generation the traditional bile that has been taught by this group of people forever. And these students who are captive to professors who have tenure, listen to this mental cyanide and embrace it because they are young and gullible. And what your professor pronounced to be so, and he’s controlling the quality of your grade, a lot of young people in our colleges are embracing this idea.

Our response to that is that we have a CUFI on-campus organization, and we’re in over 300 universities and colleges in America. We bring to San Antonio these college youngsters, and we educate them about how to attack everything that’s coming up against Jewish youngsters in the university, and Jewish people, period.

Once the Christian mindset becomes educated that Judaism doesn’t need Christianity to explain its existence, but Christianity cannot explain its existence without Judaism, and then they go to the campus armed with truth and facts about history, and then they are attacking other students who have memorized propaganda themes – truth always prevails over propaganda.

In this August 12, 2017, photo by Ryan Kelly of The Daily Progress, people fly into the air as a car drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The photo won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography, announced on April 16, 2018, at Columbia University in New York. (Ryan Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

What do you think about the president and some of his former advisers fanning the flames of anti-Semitism? 

I think the person who inspired anti-Semitism was [former United States president] Barack Obama. He gave $150 billion to Iran, a celebrated terrorist state, and that $150 billion was used to advance their nuclear program to murder Jews, and superior missiles to kill you in a more efficient way. And no one ever called his hand about being an anti-Semite.

In my opinion, he was the greatest traitor Israel has ever had in the history of the United States of America. What the president has done is more for Israel in less time, than the last four or five presidents combined, and that’s positive.

How do you envision the end of days?

Obviously we disagree on who Jesus is. And 38 years ago I was talking to Rabbi [Aryeh] Scheinberg, and I said, “Let’s agree to the fact that the messiah is who the messiah is, and arguing about it for the next 2,000 years is not going to change that. So let’s agree to join forces and defend Israel and the Jewish people, because our organization is one thing: Israel, Israel, and Israel.”

And I said, “Rabbi, when you and I are standing on Ben-Yehuda Street and the messiah is coming down the street, one of us has a great theological adjustment to make. But until then, let’s work together.” And we’ve done exactly that.

Rabbi, when you and I are standing on Ben-Yehuda Street and the messiah is coming down the street, one of us has a great theological adjustment to make

In a broad brush, the Bible teaches – at least from the John Hagee version – is that at the end of days, the messiah is ruling on this earth with a kingdom that has 1,000 years of peace, which is the golden age of peace in Judaism. “When the lion lays with the lamb.” And that righteous Jews are front and center with righteous gentiles. Those who are not judged to be righteous, God takes care of them in His own special way, and that’s His business.

Are the Jews going to recognize the messiah as Jesus in the end?

We are gentiles, we don’t have a covenant. You have a covenant, we don’t. And that’s the only way we get plugged in to have eternal life.

What happens when the messiah comes?

What happens? He’s in charge. Technically, it will be a global theocracy.

And do we use the term apocalypse here, is that being applied?

There’s nothing apocalyptic about it. It’s a blessing.

Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church, left, and Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg of Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, Texas, February 2016. (CUFI)

Can you understand why Jewish readers might be concerned that the efforts and resources and attention that goes into this – that they may worry that this means that there’s a large expectation by a large swath of Americans, strong voters, that believe that this is all leading towards a moment where Jews are writhing in the snakepits of hellfire, while believing Evangelical Christians ascend to heaven? Can you address that assumption by a significant number of readers? Is it rooted in ignorance?

I don’t know why the Jewish people believe that, it is not a teaching at all. It’s just not a teaching.

Could we speak about the idea of providence? There are certain quotes that are often taken out of context that you’ve said throughout the years, that make Jews a little uneasy. Such as the quote about Hitler being a hunter, and necessary for the State of Israel to be established. Can you explain what providence means to you, and where Hitler, the Holocaust, everything would fit into your beliefs?

The essence of providence is that the hand of God is in control of all things. And I’m not going to get into the Hitler situation, because I’m not responsible for Hitler, and I’m not going to assume the guilt that comes with trying to explain how this demonized monster seduced the world into World War II. I’ve had people say, “Well, where were you when Hitler was here?” I was wetting my diaper on my mother’s knee. So I’m not responsible for him.

We Jews often believe that “Hakol l’tova,” everything is for the good. Would you say that this is a common belief that we share, that in the end, everything will work out, and it’s not necessarily in our control?

Christian theology has that the hand of God is protecting the Jewish people, and that from the time of Abraham until now, there have been many forces that have tried to exterminate them. From the time they left Egypt bondage, to Haman, to Hitler, and so forth, but they have always prospered in adversity.

And several prophets of Israel have said that God was going to bring the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel, that the desert would blossom like a rose, that the cities would be inhabited, that the desolate place would be a place of joy, that they would come from the four ends of the earth singing and rejoicing, and that happened. Starting with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, to statehood in 1948, Jerusalem in 1967.

I believe that God does everything in His own time. The concept of the year of jubilee, as taught in Leviticus, Chapter 25, the prophetic clock does not tick until the Jewish people are in the land. And measuring that, that God measures time in modules of 50 years: 1917 was a jubilee year because Israel returned to the land. Add 50 to 1917, and you get 1967, the year in which Jerusalem was joined to the State of Israel, and the land mass of Israel more than doubled in a war that is called to this day, a miracle. Add 50 to 1967, and you have 2017.

This is a year of jubilee, and in this year of jubilee, Jerusalem has been pronounced the capital of Israel and the embassy is being moved. It’s a year of blessing that God is bringing to the Jewish people. So you are still front and center as far as God’s blessing being poured out upon you.

Pastor John Hagee of Christian United for Israel visited the Ben Yakir Youth Village near Hadera. The youth village is home to over 120 youth at risk, many of whom are youngsters who recently immigrated from Ethiopia. February 27, 2009

You are very clear in your understanding that Jerusalem is the historical capital of the Jewish people. Why, in your opinion, do you think there are organizations such as UNESCO that are, in a way, delegitimizing this belief in their policy papers?

The United Nations is a political brothel full of tin-horn dictators who sit around most of their time trying to figure out ways to bring human rights violations against Israel. You look at the bills that they have passed, and the predominance of those bills, or presentations to the world, are anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic. Because that’s basically the only thing that those people in that building are in unity against. And that’s Israel. When all else fails, say something hateful about Israel and you get thunderous applause.

I’d like to see bulldozers shove those bricks into the East River and call it a day. Or at least put those people out and make it a shelter for homeless people. But it would be an improvement to the world if they never met another day, in my opinion.

I’d like to see bulldozers shove those bricks into the East River and call it a day

What do you see as an alternative approach?

There is in the world right now, a wellspring of love and support for the State of Israel that’s supernatural… And if God gives us the time and the financial ability, there’s no reason that we couldn’t have a CUFI international in the future that has the ability to have the impact in those nations that we’re having in America. It will probably take time beyond my lifetime because I’m 78 years of age and 16-hour days are getting old, but that can happen.

No one ever believed what we have done would ever happen in the United States of America. But it has happened, because God is with us. Only God could make this happen. Yes, we worked our brains out, but this is a tribute to the sovereignty of God and His love for the Jewish people.

What do you think people are imagining when they hear “Israel”? Is it some sort of biblical idea, or is it the country where people are rude to each other, and live and breathe? What is Israel? What does Israel mean?

To the Christian community – let’s start with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the city of God. That’s in the Bible word for word. That Jerusalem is the place where God has caused his name to be written. That’s word for word out of the Scripture. Jerusalem is the place where Abraham placed his son Isaac on the altar on the Temple Mount, to sacrifice him to prove to the God that he could not see, and he became the father of many nations. Jerusalem is the place where Isaiah and Jeremiah penned the principles of righteousness that became the moral compass for Western civilization. Jerusalem is the place that David captured from the Jebusites 3,000 years ago.

Jerusalem is the place that, as Christians, Jesus Christ was crucified outside this city. And this is where the epicenter of the millennial kingdom is going to be, with a Jewish messiah on the throne, where righteous Jews and righteous gentiles will be a part of that eternal kingdom.

Jerusalem is the shoreline of eternity.

Yaakov Schwartz contributed to this report. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

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