Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hagee in the Forward

I'm a bit behind on this one, but I recently got an email from Zeek asking if I'd like them to continue their presently suspended coverage of Hagee. A few weeks ago, the Forward published an op-ed by John Hagee in which Hagee defended "Christian Zionism" from charges that it's antisemitic. I have a lot of problems with Christian Evangelical support for Zionism. (For starters, I don't like the term "Christian Zionism.") That includes the hawkishness. Jews who have engaged in dialogue with Evangelicals have said the support for Israel and for Jews was sincere, but many of the charges against Hagee claim that he (and the whole movement, I guess) is flat out lying on a number of issues. This goes beyond questioning whether the movement is as sensitive as it should be toward Jews or whether it is helpful. I don't believe that it is either of these to a sufficient degree, but if that's the nature of the problem, then I've had enough with too many despicable attacks on some Jews because they have found him to be sincere.

Some of the charges against Hagee are far more serious than what I'll deal with here at this time. But if Hagee's followers can be shown that these charges are true, then they will disown him. The goal of discussion should follow from that, but instead, criticism of Hagee is used to prove a whole range of antisemitic stereotypes to discredit "bad Jews" and promote "good Jews."

There is one point where it seems particularly clear to me that Evangelicals are wrongly maligned. Hagee writes:
Like all people of faith, we Christians firmly believe that our religion is true. But we also believe in religious freedom and have enormous respect for the Jewish faith. The first rule adopted by Christians United for Israel was that there would be no proselytizing at our events. CUFI exists only to honor and support the Jewish people, never to convert them.
I don't think it's controversial to say Hagee is, here, both defending himself from real attacks and addressing real concerns among Jews. Neither do I think it's controversial to say that there is work to be done among Christians to more fully realize this goal of refusing to proselytize. I think especially of the disparity between Orrin Hatch's Hannukah song (and that he wears a mezzuzah-inspired necklace) and the continuing Mormon practice (Hatch is Mormon) of baptizing Jews by proxy without consent. Christians who claim to support Jews in the way Hagee and Hatch do could, for instance, lobby the Church of LDS to stop that practice. But I do believe the desire to be sensitive to Jewish concerns is sincere.

My view on this is partly shaped by having had a roommate in college who was a member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He appeared in every way typical of the conservative Evangelical movement. [UPDATE: At least, the younger part of the movement. In comments, Rebecca mentions Falwell and Robertson. I don't think this post would be true if it were about them.] I had a lot of disagreements with him, including that he thought I was going to Hell. But the reason wasn't that I wouldn't convert to Christianity. His view, the dominant view in conservative Evangelical circles, is that Christ came to broaden the message of G-d, but that His covenant with Jews remained as valid today as it had ever been. In other words, I was going to Hell because I wasn't a very good Jew. If I'd kept kosher and observed the Sabbath, believing in Jesus was optional. That doesn't mean he wouldn't have preferred me to be an "Evangelical Jew" but it wouldn't keep me from Heaven if I didn't believe in Jesus. This replaces the incredibly problematic and historically dominant supercessionist view, that Christianity had replaced Judaism and that the Covenant with the Jewish people had been broken. There is still Supercessionism around, but mainstream Evangelicals have used "supercessionist" as a charge with which to discredit. If Hagee can indeed be shown to be a supercessionist, he will be discredited among his own followers.


Rebecca said...

I'm not sure how representative your evangelical roommate was. From listening to people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, it seems that a lot of evangelicals still believe in Christian supersessionist theology.

On the other hand, the evangelical students who have taken my classes have never tried to convert me, and have never indicated in any way that they regard me as "lesser" because I'm Jewish. They have usually been very interested in learning more about Judaism (that's why they're taking my classes), and are very respectful.

Matt said...

Well, I wouldn't expect your students to try to convert you, because you're an authority figure there in your own classroom. It would be disruptive and presumptuous.

But, to be clear, I do think these Christians have further to go. There's more work for them to do in that regard. But I think the desire to be sensitive on that issue and the desire to construct their theology in such a way is sincere.

I, personally, don't spend a lot of time listening to Robertson and Falwell, but those two are also associated with an "Old Guard" in Evangelical circles. They probably have more holdover habits, even if their desire is as sincere as their younger co-religionists. And their desire might not be as sincere, but still Hagee gets a lot more criticism because of CUFI.

The thing I'd like to disentangle most of all is how, supposedly, the Christian Zionists make the Israel Lobby ultra-powerful with their antisemitism in such a way that you have to attack the Jews who support Israel.