Interview: John Hagee
Texas pastor John Hagee, 67, is arguably America’s most influential Christian supporter of Israel. He has an Evangelical congregation of 18,000 (10,000 attend his Sunday sermons) and a global television audience of millions; an Israeli flag flies next to Old Glory in his San Antonio Cornerstone Church. The activist-author encourages his flock to study Hebrew and Jewish sources and go on missions to Israel. As keynote speaker at the 2007 annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he received a standing ovation. Hagee works for Israel through Christians United for Israel, his national lobby.
Q. Why is support for Israel and the Jewish people so central to your beliefs and activities?
A. We have a Bible mandate…. In Genesis 12:3, God says, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Isaiah also instructed us, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet.”
Q. Does the New Testament mandate you similarly?
A. Yes. Saint Paul teaches “if the Gentiles have benefited from the Jewish spiritual things they—the Gentiles—are indebted to the Jewish people to bless them with their material things.” We are obliged to give to the Jewish people of our financial resources to help them. Therefore we encourage every Christian in America to financially support Israel, to visit Israel, to have our program A Night to Honor Israel in every major U.S. city.
Q. Why do you see an urgent need to support Israel?
A. Israel is today more threatened than any time in her history. Moreover, Israel and America are both being threatened by the identical terrorism source, Iran.
Q. Do you consider your address before AIPAC historic?
A. It was my first appearance before AIPAC, so I am not capable of really judging. I certainly did know that it was a very important speech through which I wanted to communicate that there are 50 million Evangelicals in America determined to walk side by side with the Jewish people—with no agenda other than to support Israel in its day of danger. American Jews are not alone…. [T]here are millions of people prepared to support them and stand with them. Together we will make an awesome impact in Washington, D.C., and that is exactly what we’re doing.
Q. Do you understand why some Jews do not welcome your support?
A. It’s totally understandable. Jews have lived through 2,000 years of persecution at the hands of people who call themselves Christians. The Roman Catholics are…those who sculpted the “Jews are the killers of Christ” mantra. I said we have no hidden agenda, although many Jews cannot believe this. Sometimes it’s easier to embrace your fear than your faith.
Q. How is it that Israelis don’t share these apprehensions?
A. I…see the dividing line as being between Torah Jews and secular Jews, wherever they may be. When a Jew believes in the Torah, we have instant traction. If they don’t believe, we’re in some intellectual ozone layer where we just can’t have that [sharing].
Q. How did you come to your perspective of Israel?
A. First, my father was a lover of Israel. He was a minister, a Bible scholar. I remember vividly the night we were sitting in our kitchen in 1948, listening to the radio. The announcement came that the U.N. had recognized the State of Israel. My father, a very unemotional man, had tears in his eyes and told us this was the greatest day of the 20th century. My mother was a Bible scholar in her own right, and is today, at age 94, a lover of Israel. In public school in Houston, my teacher and coach Herman Goldberg had more influence on my life than practically anyone. I deeply respected and grew to love him, and loved him till the day he died.
Q. When did you first visit Israel?
A. I went to Israel in 1978 as a tourist and came home a Zionist. I felt like my spiritual roots were there. I felt at home as I walked the streets of Jerusalem. I felt the presence of God when I prayed at the Western Wall…. I saw a Jewish man praying and reading the Torah…and I just felt the Lord say to me, “You don’t know anything about that man, yet he’s afraid of you and your spiritual brothers. I want you to do everything in your power to bring Christians and Jews together.”
Q. How did you translate this revelation into action?
A. I went into a three-year study binge of Israel’s history—Holocaust, the Inquisition, the Crusades…. I was moved to tears by the suffering that the Jewish people experienced at the hand of people who claimed they were Christians. I make it a habit whenever I speak to large Christian audiences to ask the Jewish people for forgiveness for all the horrific acts of anti-Semitism against them. I kept studying until 1981, when the [Israel Defense Forces] bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Iraq. The U.S. media were positively hateful towards Israel. I told my wife this was an opportunity to salute Israel, which had done the world a favor, removing nuclear weapons from a madman. I invited…local churches to hold A Night to Honor Israel. They acted like I was from outer space! [T]hanks to the support and wisdom of my close friend Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg [veteran Orthodox rabbi of San Antonio’s Congregation Rodfei Sholom], A Night to Honor Israel was born.
Q. Could you describe Christians United for Israel?
A. [CUfI] began in February 2006, when I reached out to 400 of America’s foremost Evangelical leaders. They were presidents of universities, operators of radio and TV ministries, major church pastors, a true brain trust of the Evangelical world. I told them Israel was threatened and CUFI would pursue three goals: Go to Washington once a year to interact with congressmen and senators on behalf of Israel. Our message is that defending Israel is…a Christian and a Jewish concern…. We are a one-issue organization: Israel, Israel, Israel. Our second goal was to have A Night to Honor Israel in every major American city each year. This brings Christians and Jews together in places where sometimes the pastors have never even met the rabbis. We are now up to 60 NTHIs annually and have given millions of dollars to Israel through them. Finally, we communicate to as many as two million people what is happening in Israel, keeping people informed and responsive to Congress on issues of critical importance to Israel.
Q. What is on your political agenda?
A. Our top concern is to have a [presidential] candidate who is pro-Israel not just in words but with a voting record that demonstrates a real commitment. I have been approached by almost every candidate…. We are definitely on their radar screen, and they know CUFI is one of the most forceful pro-Israel organizations in America today.
Q. What if you disagree with Israel’s decisions?
A. Israel is a democracy. Israel is a friend. With friends you can always agree or disagree. If Israel is going in the wrong direction, they have earned the freedom to do that. We do not suddenly become hostile. Israelis pay the price for their own decisions, and we respect that. [For example,] giving away Gaza to terrorist organizations…, permitting the terrorists to have more and more land from which to launch rockets into Israel. I fear Israel will be plunged into a series of outbreaks and even war, defending herself against Hamas, which is digging down in Gaza, not to mention the Hezbollah on the northern border.
Q. What will the Jewish state look like in 20 years?
A. The security of Israel is rock solid. I believe after all its enemies have been defeated, the flag of Israel will still be flying over the ancient walls of Jerusalem. God said, “He who watches Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” I believe that if Christians and Jews will stand together in defense of Israel demanding that America, the strongest nation on the face of the earth, be supportive in every way possible, then the only democracy in the Middle East will be safe and secure for time immemorial.