Pastor John Hagee, founder and chief visionary of Christians United for Israel ( CUFI), has been denounced by Christians for his theology, disparaged by atheists for advancing the cause of Christian ideas and pummeled by Jews for trying to steal their souls.
When all is said and done, however, John Hagee stands out as a staunch pro-Israel Christian pastor in a shrinking universe of pro-Israel anythings.
Hagee has devoted more than twenty-five years of his life and ministry to supporting Israel.
This year, CUFI will celebrate its tenth anniversary with its annual Summit to be held in Washington, DC on July 13th and 14th .
With more than 2 million members, CUFI claims to be the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States and one of the leading Christian grassroots movements in the world. An estimated 5,000 delegates will attend to listen, learn, advocate and celebrate.
Following a day and a half of speeches about Israel, Iran and other burning issues, CUFI delegates will meet with their elected officials and staffs in order to express their support for Israel, their concerns for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and their opposition to a bad nuclear deal with Iran.
First-timers will join the long-timers who have been attending every year for the past nine. They will travel from every state in the nation including Alaska and Hawaii and some from nations around the world to hear a lineup of notable speakers including:
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel; Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer; radio host Dennis Prager; Benjamin Anthony from Our Soldiers Speak, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina; Senator Tom Cotton of Arizona; Representative and combat veteran Tulsi Gabbard , Wall Street Editor Bret Stephens; Malcom Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Eric Stakelbeck, author and terrorism expert and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister who speaks annually to the delegates live via satellite.
Hagee’s international television ministry, with many millions of viewers, has helped to put him in this unique position — as a big, international voice for Israel. In addition to being the founder and chief visionary of CUFI, Hagee is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. He will be the lead-off speaker for the opening session of the conference where he will stir up conference delegates with his stem-winding, oratorical style.
Despite frequent threats against property, person and family, he has been unwavering in this unique calling.
While CUFI represents a significant positive energy on behalf of Israel, and there is another and darker side to the Israel/CUFI story.
In an article from Middle East Quarterly (MEF) (Spring 2014), David Brog the Executive Director of CUFI, states that there is a worrisome increase of evangelical Christians being influenced to turn away from support of Israel.
How quickly things change. The days of taking evangelical support for Israel for granted are over. As they are increasingly confronted with an evangelical-friendly, anti-Israel narrative, more and more of these Christians are turning against the Jewish state.
There is troubling precedent for such an about-face. At one time—prior to the 1967 war— the mainline Protestant denominations were among Israel’s most reliable American supporters. Israel’s opponents, therefore, targeted these denominations with mainline-friendly, anti-Israel messages. There are still many mainline Protestants who support Israel today. But to the extent the mainline denominations act corporately in connection with the Jewish state, it is to divest from it. And it is from Israel—not Iran—that they seek to divest.
In a similar fashion, Palestinian Christians and their American sympathizers are successfully promoting a narrative aimed at reaching the rising generation of evangelicals and turning them against Israel.”
Until recently, evangelicals were considered to be Israel’s closest Christian allies — not so much today. Within some Evangelical Christian circles, there are vocal critics who assert not only that Hagee’s theology is wrong but that Christian Zionism in general is a grave mistake. They further assert that Jews have no unique Biblical claim to the land.
Hagee’s stand as a Christian Zionist and a Dispensational theologian has drawn severe criticism and even demonization from some vocal Christians in an increasing number of opposing theological camps. It has even been called a heresy by some of its most viscous opponents. For Christians, theology plays a pivotal role in determining whether Israel is even on the religious radar screen.
Until the middle 1800s, there were two influential Christian Theologies, both of which, unfortunately, contributed to a systemic anti-Semitism throughout Christian Europe: Catholic, Anglican and related Lutheran theology asserted that the “Church” replaced Israel and was now “the new Israel”; the second, called Reformed Theology, introduced in the mid 1500’s by John Calvin, asserted that Israel and the Jews either accepted Jesus as the Messiah and join what they called a “Covenant of Grace” or were left out of the “kingdom of God altogether.”
Further, within the Reformed theology paradigm, the land of Israel is up for grabs to whomever happens to be living there at the time. There is no particular Biblical mandate for the Jews according to their Reformed Theology. Some of the more extreme versions of this idea, assert that contemporary Jews are not the same “chosen” people group as the Jews of the bible ( someone should have told Hitler that).
According to both of these theologies, the covenant and gift of the land that God made with Abraham is null and void, and Israel has no special place in God’s economy.
Conversely, the Dispensationalist view incorporated Israel and the Jewish people into its theological framework. Introduced by John Nelson Darby in 1850, Dispensionalism provided a new lens through which Christians began to re-evaluate and re-interpret the Bible.
By this measure, Hagee’s approach to theology separates him from both the Catholic and Reformed camps from which come some of the most prominent Christian voices against Israel. There is a long list.
Two of the loudest of those voices are Anglican Vicar Steven Sizer and Gary Burge a Wheaton College professor. The two of them have collaborated on a variety of Israel bashing projects including the bi-annual “Christ at the Checkpoint Conference” and the film “With God on Our Side”.
Sizer’s 2006 book “Christian Zionism- Roadmap to Armageddon” Is a polemic against Zionist Christians who stand with Israel as a matter of Biblical importance. Sizer mistakenly conflates Christian Zionism with Dispensationalism and assigns the evils of the world to Israel and her Christian Zionist friends.
In his cogent review of Sizers book, Peter Uys states:
“In chapter three Sizer accuses Christian Zionists of supporting Israeli colonialism, opposing peace and hastening Armageddon. These ludicrous calumnies make sense in view of the author’s association with Naim Ateek, the Palestinian liberation theologian. Sizer’s fear-mongering resembles the political propaganda of Noam Chomsky, the Pol Pot apologist and Hezbollah fan, in theological language. This is the demonic doctrine of Displacement Theology, also known as Supersessionism or Replacement Theology.
He ( Sizer) writes: ” … There is, therefore, no evidence that the apostles believed that the Jewish people still had a divine right to the land …” This is an example of arrogant anti-Judaism. “
Even though the theological argument is at the crux of the animus against Hagee, it is less theology and more public policy issues that propel CUFI into the public arena as an advocate for Israel.
Ten years ago, when the ink was barely dry on the CUFI stationary, Hagee understood that the battle for Israel would be won or lost in the arena of public policy.
Thus, CUFI was founded with a “public policy” brand to which it seems to have been faithful. The mandate provides a successful formula for transcending race, religion, political party, age and socio –economics with a unifying message. Both Christian and Jewish members seem to recognize CUFI as an effective platform from which to express their common concerns for Israel.
The next generation of public policy makers is in college today. At the same time, the college campus has become the new battleground against Israel. Some scholars assert that anti-Israelism is the expression of the new anti-Semitism.
College students demonstrate against Israel, falsely accusing it of being an “apartheid state.” Student governments regularly pressure college administrators to divest from American companies doing business in Israel. On some campuses, Jewish students are even afraid for their personal safety amidst a climate where supporting Arab/Palestinian causes also seems to mean vilifying and calling for the destruction of Israel —all commonplace on campuses around the nation.
In 2009, as universities started to catch fire with anti-Israel activities, Hagee, Brog, a small staff, armed with a skinny budget and a major vision, saw that it was time to tackle the anti-Israel narrative on campus. “CUFI on Campus” to date, has trained more than 1600 students and is active on more than 300 college campuses in the US.
Even if a challenging and difficult battle is still facing CUFI, the idea of Christian Zionism seems to be here to stay. Just two weeks ago, CUFI opened their first foreign office in the UK. Their US growth over the past ten years has provided them with a front seat at the table of public discussion about Israel.