Hagee didnt deserve to be raked over the coals

The long knives are out for the Rev. John Hagee, the fiercely pro-Israel evangelical leader who, until recently, was supporting Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Not only is he being branded an anti-Semite, most of the media is tagging him with the worst possible association: Adolf Hitler.

Granted, Hagee raised the specter of Hitler in a sermon reportedly from a decade ago that was recently dredged up by a left-wing blogger, in which he said that God sent Hitler and “allowed” the Holocaust to happen “because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

Far from the ugly media-driven perception that Hagee was justifying — or even somehow praising — the Holocaust as heaven-sent, he was actually trying to answer the question with which countless rabbis and survivors have grappled ever since: How could there be both an all-powerful God and the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust?

While anyone could rightly be outraged at his theology or even his apparent hubris in purporting to know God’s motives, it cannot be said that he is anti-Semitic. The charge, in fact, is completely counter to what is most beautiful about Hagee’s ministry, that it has been so dedicated to combating Christian anti-Semitism.

Media elites have pounced on this story to help McCain’s likely general election opponent, Barack Obama, but Jews in America and Israel alike have been startled by the “Hitler” headlines. If the media coverage were even remotely accurate, the concern would be warranted. But put into context, Hagee’s “Hitler” sermon is, at worst, questionable theology.

In a probing and at times challenging one-on-one interview this March at a public gathering in Los Angeles, Hagee talked about how, as a young man, he was profoundly impacted by reading the book “The Anguish of the Jews,” by Father Edward H. Flannery. The book chronicles more than 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, going back to before the time of Jesus. It was, Hagee explained, a dark side of history to which he had not been exposed in all his theological studies.

Hagee was so haunted by the sins committed against Jews in the name of Christianity, he said, that he felt it was his calling to purge anti-Semitism from Christendom. Untold numbers of Christians have felt called by God to do many wonderful things, but it would seem too few have had the same yearning as Hagee. Which is precisely why Hagee has worked to rally other Christians not just to support Israel, but also the Jewish people.

A prominent theme in Hagee’s ministry, from his sermons to his books, is that the Holocaust was not an historical aberration, but rather merely the largest and most lethal manifestation of hatred against Jews.

Which brings us back to the sermon about Hitler. Hagee, like millions of other evangelical Christians, believes in an active, all-powerful God. When you preach often about the Holocaust, you had better give your followers an explanation of the Holocaust that jells with a theology revolving around an all-powerful Almighty.

The answer Hagee offered his followers was that it was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, specifically Jeremiah’s prophecy about hunters and fishers. This is hardly a commonplace interpretation, but that’s all it was. Hagee was simply trying to offer a reason for how the Holocaust could happen in a world with an omnipotent God. His answer is at odds with the most widespread Orthodox Jewish interpretation, that God’s actions are to be accepted, though not necessarily explained.

To be sure, Hagee spoke with a certitude many will understandably find offensive, as the obvious objection is that no man can read the mind of God. Fair enough. But that reasonable theological dispute in no way renders Hagee’s sermon anti-Semitic.

Stripped of context, a sermon claiming that Hitler was sent by God is indeed jarring. McCain heard it and ducked for cover. He’s a politician, and it’s not his job to know the truth; it merely is to know the perception. Not so for the media. In an ideal world, anyway, journalists should be in search of the truth.

In the real world, sadly, most journalists are too busy — and lazy — to meaningfully research Hagee’s theology and documented teachings. Even given this reality, however, it might seem appropriate that before rushing to reduce 40 years of a man’s career down to a convenient Hitler association, the media ought to spend 40 minutes to see if they’re actually getting the story right.

Joel Mowbray is a columnist based in New York City. This piece was written for the Jerusalem Post.