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Here's a news flash from the recent Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit in Washington: It really isn't about Armageddon.
Or at least that's what John Hagee, who runs CUFI, and CUFI's executive board tried to convince a group of reporters at a press conference this week. Journalists (including this one) had questions about Hagee's writings and sermons. Does his discussion of God's punishment of Jews suggest his own anti-Semitism? What about the Second Coming, when everyone will either accept Christ as their savior or perish? What, exactly, does Hagee think is going to happen at the end of days?
The reaction of Hagee and his board -- former Reagan administration official and Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, former Promise Keepers chair George Morrison, self-described "Christocrat" Rod Parsley, former Republican Senate candidate Bishop Keith Butler and Mac Hammond, a close friend of Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Fool for Christ) -- ranged from mock outrage to patronizing amusement. Hagee insisted that "our support of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with end times prophecy. It has absolutely nothing to do with eschatology." Hammond maintained that we were getting "distracted" by the discussion. Followup questions were cut off. They sighed in exasperation at questions about the end times, which they insist are near. When a reporter from the Associated Baptist Press asked the group if they considered themselves premillenial dispensationalists -- people who believe that we are fast approaching a final showdown between Christ and the Antichrist at Armageddon -- they smirked and looked at each other as if to say, "What was that big word?"
Their where-in-the-world-did-you-get-that-idea method of deflecting questions was straight from White House press flack Tony Snow's playbook.
They insisted that they came to Washington to talk politics, not eschatology. But when someone asked about CUFI's position on the proposal Bush had laid out the day before to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, they were stumped -- it turned out that they had not yet reviewed a major presidential announcement on their raison d'etre. A few hours later, Hagee told his minions that CUFI was "deeply disappointed" by Bush's speech, particularly by his use of the term "occupation." (Specifically, Bush said -- heretically to their cause -- that "Palestinians should not have to live in poverty and occupation.") Almost simultaneously with Hagee's announcement, Tony Snow played down Bush's statement, telling reporters, "even though I know I used the term 'conference' this morning, this is a meeting ... I think a lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It's not."
Just as it had been during Hagee's appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last spring, every effort was made to whitewash his apocalyptic religious beliefs (which include enforced Christianity for his Jewish allies at the end) and present him as a good friend of Israel and Jews. But Hagee's most recent book, Jerusalem Countdown, reissued with new material earlier this year, is all about the end of days and how nuclear war with Iran will ignite it. Hagee frequently talks about how Jesus Christ will rule the world from a throne on the Temple Mount after the battle at Armageddon. Hagee admits he has "written extensively about why I believe that the generation that is alive today will see the mass ingathering of believers commonly called the Rapture." He has claimed that "when you see what's happening in America and the world it doesn't take long to realize that God is proclaiming through the voice of nature that we are approaching the coming of Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven." In September Hagee preached that "World War III has begun" and released a sermon series that purported to "show the historical and Biblical foundations that explain the war we are in now and point us to Armageddon." In January he wrote about the Book of Revelation and its prediction that "Jesus Christ rules the world with a rod of iron from the city of Jerusalem." And in March, he sermonized about "the edge of time ... the final countdown has begun."
Sarah Posner has covered the religious right for the American Prospect, The Gadflyer and AlterNet. Her book God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters will be published by PoliPoint Press next year.