Back with Max (and Hagee)
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Back with Max (and Hagee)

Max Blumenthal wants me to correct my correction of his blog post on his references to John Hagee and Elie Wiesel at a panel on the outskirts of the J Street conference:

You said in your post defending Hagee that Hagee had apologized for his notorious 2005 "God sent Hitler" sermon. That is false. He apologized to the ADL for another remark he made in 1999 and is still selling tapes of the notorious 2005 sermon for which he was criticized.

Nuh-uh, although a rainy day of research has raised for me other vexing questions about Hagee’s views on the Jews.

First, the nuh-uh. It’s clear that Hagee, in 2008, is apologizing for the role the Holocaust has played in his theological explication of history. The Hagee-ologist Max points me to, Bruce Wilson, wrote at the time that Hagee was being crafty in his reply by focusing on a 1999 sermon instead of another in 2005; but the fact is, it is Hagee’s critics who during last year’s controversy (played out against Hagee’s endorsement of Republican candidate John McCain) identified the offensive "God Sent Hitler" sermon as the one delivered in 1999. I remember it playing over and over on CNN; It’s no wonder then that Hagee launched his apology by referencing that sermon.

Not just Hagee’s critics, but Wilson’s colleagues. Here is Frederick Clarkson, on Talk to Action, where Wilson also posts, addressing a separate Hagee explication last year:

What Hagee does not address is the original controversy, while furiously tossing red herring in all directions.  The controversy that led to a mutual rejection by Hagee and John McCain, stemmed from Bruce Wilson’s posting of the audio of a sermon he preached in the late 90s, in which he said:

"Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun, and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. … How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, ‘My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’"

So why should Hagee not start out by referring to the 1999 sermon, since that is what his critics had made the crux of the matter? Here’s his letter to the ADL’s Abe Foxman (who had made it clear he was seeking an answer to the "totality" of Hagee’s references to the Holocaust):

Also central to my faith is a belief in an omnipotent, sovereign God.  In a sermon in 1999, I grappled with the vexing question of why a loving God would allow the evil of the Holocaust to occur.  I know how sensitive the issue of the Holocaust is and should be to the Jewish community and I regret if my Jewish friends felt any pain as a result. I have always believed that the Holocaust was a tragedy unique in its evil and horror and I pledge to you that I will always work with the Jewish community and others of good will in fulfilling the words, “Never again.”

I cannot deny the tenets of my faith.  However, I will work to express my faith in a way that is sensitive to and respectful of others, including the Jewish community.  This includes acknowledging the limits of our understanding in seeking to comprehend the mind of God.

So Max and Bruce Wilson damn him when he mentions the 1999 sermon; Clarkson when he does not. And on the same website.

More to the point, Hagee cites the sermon which had become the cornerstone of criticism of his theology, but addresses, more broadly, how he has used the Holocaust to express his faith — and pledges not to do so again.

So, like I said in my original post, Max should have cited the apology and the pledge to end citations of the Holocaust — and then added whatever caveats he saw fit.

But it’s more complicated than that, even.

First of all, because, as Max notes, the series he and Wilson cite as offensive, "Jerusalem: Countdown to Crisis" that also includes Holocaust references, is still for sale on the John Hagee Ministries website.

Except, the series does not, as Max or Wilson claim, repeat the "God sent Hitler" assertion — at least not in the portions they’ve excerpted from that work and others.

Except — and this is what is most vexing — what it does say may be even more problematic in terms of Hagee’s views of the Jews.

Let me first dispense with the 1999 sermon. This should never have been controversial. It’s hardly out of the ordinary to explain history in terms of a divine plan, and in no way does Hagee — in claiming that Hitler was "sent by God" to drive the Jews into Zion — suggest that the Jews deserved this fate, as he eloquently explains here.

There is, within Judaism, a debate as to whether the Holocaust can or even should be understood within any contemplation of God; it has yet to be settled. I reserve the right to complain when Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel and current spiritual leader of Shas, claims to understand the divinity in the Holocaust, because Yosef and I share Judaism. A long time ago, an old friend, a teacher I loved and respected, told me the Holocaust was "siya’ata di’shemaya" (with heavenly assistance.) I gagged, not because of her understanding of the Holocaust, but because of her understanding of a furious, imperious God.

Critiques of how Hagee understands God and history are best left to other evangelicals.

Except: Jews do play a role in these beliefs, and we have a right and a duty to address images of Jews when they arise.


When? It’s a little like pornography: You know it when you see it.

This is the "except for Jews and women" rule. There are some broad lines in defining bigotry, most commonly in how broadly or narrowly the purported offender frames a generalization. Is Islam naturally violent? No, and to claim it is would be outrageously bigoted. Is Salafist Islam liberal in its embrace of violence as a means of enforcing observance? That is not such a stretch.

Another easy call is whether the bigotry objectifies a category of human:  Are all the Native Americans depicted in a book or movie noble savages, are the Africans bloodthirsty,are the Asians wily? Then it’s easy: The writer, the filmmaker is bigoted, period.

Except for Jews and women. These are the only two groups (I can think of, tell me if there are others) that are expected to tolerate a degree of objectification in the broader cultural context.

Think about it: Were a movie to depict women predominantly as whores and virgins, a feminist could go on a talk show, make the case the movie is garbage, and no one would utter a peep. Were she to walk into a chapel and make the same case about the New Testament, she would be driven out with sticks, and to general approbation. Same with the Jews: Depict us as deceitful and bloodthirsty, and the ADL is on the case, but — even though the same offensive stereotypes are not inorganic to the New Testament — we leave belief alone.

Judas’ kiss persists into this century, and yes, there are efforts to remove it — but I don’t see that happening and Christianity remaining Christianity. The best I can ask for is to keep the kiss out of the common, the public place we share.

Modern faiths have been able to leave behind 19th and 20th bigotries — against blacks or Native Americans —  because these were never organic to the origins of the faith. Not so with Jews and women.

And that makes it very, very hard to know when to speak up. It’s part intuition, part experience; the only verifiable line I can define is, When is the purported offender talking about Jews in the real world, and not in his faith’s collective imagination? When is it likely that what he is saying will have real world consequences of violence and ostracism?

I think Max and Wilson and their fellow battlers are way too catholic (forgive me) in where they find offense in Hagee’s works — who cares if someone thinks Hillel was mean to Jesus? What does it matter if they ascribe modern suffering to the bullheadedness of the ancients (something Jews do as well, see Second Temple, Destruction of)?

Hagee’s theories about the "New World Order," in a series of 2003 sermons and in some of his books, are more troubling. It is true that he nevers makes the leap to ascribing financial control to the Jews, but, the truth is, it’s not such a vault from one-government theories to toxic diatribes about Jewish control.

Especially shocking is his repeated invocation of the Rothschilds:

"The Federal Reserve has never been audited, and yet it controls the value of money in this country…While most of the stockholders are members of the so-called Eastern Establishment, allegedly the four largest stockholders are not even Americans but members of the Rothschild family of Europe."

God says in the book of Haggai, "The silver is mine, and gold is mine." He is not controlled by the Eastern Establishment, He’s not controlled by the Rothschilds…

Look, I’ve been reading these theories my entire adult life, and I can tell you this: Narratives about a powerful, secretive group controlling the world’s finances are never, ever good for the Jews.

I’d like to know more. So I’m ordering the books and CDs.