San Antonio pastor a champion for Israel
By Abe Levey, San Antonio Express-News, July 22, 2006
To some, San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee is a beloved defender of Israel, articulating why the Bible urges Christians to cherish the Jewish people in practical and political ways.
To others, he has polarized Christians and helped to suppress peace in the Middle East by criticizing Palestinian causes and militant Islamic groups hostile to Israel.
He's drawn both praise and criticism from Jewish and Christian leaders for what's become his life's work.
His reach - television and radio broadcasts in 190 countries, 21 major books, plus his Cornerstone Church, with an average Sunday attendance of 8,000 to 9,000 - is undeniable.
With the release of his book, "The Jerusalem Countdown," earlier this year and fresh off a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., Hagee has intensified his efforts to keep America allied with Israel and unify Christian support for the cause.
In an interview Friday with San Antonio Express-News Staff Writer Abe Levy, the pastor addressed his pro-Israel campaign and the latest Mideast fighting.
You've visited Israel 23 times and known Israeli prime ministers dating back to Menachem Begin. You've donated $12 million in recent years for 12,000 Russian Jews to relocate to Israel. Why?
I went to Israel for the first time in 1978 as a tourist and I came home a Zionist. I felt a very special presence of the Lord there. I felt that my spiritual roots were there. On the occasion that I was praying on the Western Wall on that visit, I turned and saw a Jewish man praying, kissing the Bible, very devotedly talking to God. I knew he was praying to the same God I was, and I knew absolutely nothing about him.
So I returned home and for three years went on a study binge to discover the Jewish roots of Christianity, to discover the history of the Jewish people from the Cross until the 20th century. I read about things I had never been taught in seminary nor any secular university from which I graduated.
Five months ago, you founded Christians United for Israel with 400 evangelical leaders. The group drew 3,500 people to its first-ever summit last week in Washington D.C., and met with members of Congress. You've said this summit will be repeated yearly. What else is in store for the group?
We're going to have a 'call to action' e-mail and fax. Every spiritual leader in the nation, we want to be able to communicate to them every Monday morning about the issues facing America. ... We have something over 16,500 leaders on our 'call to action' list, and some of those leaders have more than a million people on their e-mail and fax address.
We're going to have a 'Night to Honor Israel' in major cities in America just like we've been having here for 25 years. That forces Christians to become educated about the concerns of the Jewish people and for the Jewish people to get to meet a new breed of Christian that's on the streets of America.
How broad-based is Christians United for Israel? Are there other Christian groups and leaders you'd like to see join that haven't?
Israel is the only thing that every evangelical can agree on. I assure you that if you get a group of evangelicals together and start talking about the moral agendas, that there will be a dogfight in 15 minutes, because there is a plethora of opinions.
And I have said to our organization, Christians United for Israel, we represent one issue: Israel, and Israel alone.
While I was in Washington, I was asked to comment on a number of other issues about which evangelicals are concerned. And when I speak to my congregation over the national television, I address those issues.
But why should evangelical Christians make Israel the top priority as opposed to the other issues they've taken up, from opposing abortion and homosexuality to worldwide mission work?
Everything that Christians have came to us from the Jewish people. The Word of God. Every word in the Bible is written with Jewish hands. The Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Jewish. The Prophets: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. All of those are Jewish. The first family of Christianity: Mary, Joseph, Jesus. Jewish. The Disciples, the Apostles, were Jewish.
That's why Jesus said in (John) 4:22 'Salvation is of the Jews.'
The point is if you take away the Jewish contribution to Christianity, there wouldn't be a Christianity. Therefore it's time for the Christians to stop praising the dead Jews of the past - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - while resenting the Jews across the street.
The Jewish community's response to your work has been mixed - from supportive to dubious to dismissive. To what do you attribute this?
I think if I could put a dividing line, the Orthodox and Conservatives who have a Torah appreciation give us wholehearted support. The rest who are not driven by the Word of God have a liberal agenda.
And the liberal agenda is they are pro-abortion. They're pro-homosexual. They're pro-gay marriage - they want men to marry men and women to marry women - and their difference with me is not really what I'm doing with Israel. Their hostility to me is poisoned by their liberalism. They take a liberal position that poisons their view of what we could be doing for Israel.
You've been putting on a 'Night to Honor Israel' for 25 years as a way to show appreciation for Jewish people and Israel. It's been well attended by Jewish people but not all. Is there still skepticism about your motives?
If you've been doing an event for 25 years and haven't (sought to convert), you're beating a dead horse. It just hasn't happened. That's why we've had Orthodox rabbis present in every Night to Honor Israel we've ever had, so that there would be an eyewitness account that that has never happened. Never.
Is it possible for evangelical Christians to set aside the biblical mandate to spread the Gospel to all people while partnering with Jews to support Israel?
That's a very good question. In the history and evolution of that question, when I first started doing a Night to Honor Israel and said it would not be conversionary, I was blasted by some evangelical pastors. One even called me a heretic. I was called every name that could be called that you certainly couldn't print in a newspaper or say over the radio or television.
But God has given me a media platform in radio and television to which I had the opportunity of opening the Bible and, chapter and verse, explaining why it is imperative that Christians be supportive of the state of Israel and the Jewish people and to love them unconditionally.
Because of the power of television where I have the ability to go into the homes of the people, I jumped over that denominational wall electronically and they heard the truth of the Gospel and became convinced by my message that indeed it was the truth.
Israel and Hezbollah are locked in heavy combat under the watchful eye of the Arab world and western nations. How do you see the developments playing out and are they fulfilling biblical prophecy?
Very clearly, the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel Chapter 38, verse 5 mentions Persia (which is modern-day Iran) as being at the head of the class leading the torment against Israel. It starts listing the Islamic nations that will come against Israel. ... The president of Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and is doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons to make that possible.
Russia is going to ingratiate itself to the Islamic nations and is going to say to them we will give you the military leadership if you will give us the oil. The oil will make Russia a superpower and he will say to the radical Islamic nations, we will give you the military know-how to attack Israel and you can crush the state of Israel and control the city of Jerusalem.
Now the only problem is the city of Jerusalem belongs to God. God makes it very clear in Ezekiel 39 that he's going to totally destroy that army. It'll be the most supernatural display of the might and power of God to protect Israel and the Jews since God destroyed Pharaoh in the Red Sea.
But God is going to defend Israel in such a way that it is going to bring a spiritual awakening in Israel. People will go back to the reading of the Torah. Synagogues will be packed on Friday nights and there's going to be a spiritual revolution because the prophet Ezekiel says 'and then shall the house of Israel know that I am the Lord.'
You've been critical of followers of Islam bent on attacking Israel, but do you think distinctions can be made between the radical branches of Islam and perhaps the more moderate factions?
Absolutely. There are the radical Islamics who believe they have a mandate from God to kill Jews and crush the state of Israel, and there are peaceful Islamics who want peace as much as you do or I do.
But the point is there are about a billion people who follow the Islamic theology, and about 20 million of them are the radical Islamic people. Twenty million people can turn the world upside down.
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