Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Justifying and Deconstructing Hagee and Ourselves

Posted by Ellen W. Horowitz

It simply feels wrong that liberal American Jews continue to relentlessly pursue and cast stones at John Hagee in order to further their political agenda. But Pastor Hagee’s rhetoric and gestures do present the Jewish people with certain halachic and moral challenges, and before Israelis can authentically approach these issues, we need to reinstate our unique status and clarify our ethical obligations as Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. Only after we set our priorities straight will we be able reconcile the magnanimous political, humanitarian, and even theological support that the Jewish state is receiving from Pastor Hagee and the American evangelical community.

While John Hagee is a well-intentioned, very generous and determined philo-Semite, he is also a devout Christian mega-church leader who is wrestling with his evolving theology, and trying to make adjustments. That being said, we Jews need to remain vigilant because it is an historic truism that philo-Semitism can be a mere hair away from anti-Semitism, and when the church and Christians make sweeping and bold moves towards reconciliation – and Jews reciprocate in turn - sometimes things can go terribly wrong. So the Talmudic formula of "respecting and suspecting" would seem to be the wise approach.

While we can, and perhaps should, exhibit a certain reserved degree of support and encouragement toward those church leaders and denominations who are grappling with Christianity’s past, I don't think it's the role of the Jew to play “theotherapist”. Nor should Jews be put in the position of feeling that they have to defend or understand a Christian pastor's theology, theodicy or eschatology. This is forbidden halachic ground. But the current American and Israeli political reality has unfortunately put many Jews in the ridiculous and impossible position of either wholeheartedly justifying, or brutally trashing, a megachurch leader’s spin on scripture.

Partisan political agendas and allegiances have, at times, seemingly overshadowed our commitments to G-d and to our faith. I find it confounding that so many purportedly Torah observant Jews adhere to political pundit Ann Coulter’s view that, "the survival of Israel is inextricably linked to the survival of the Republican Party and its evangelical base." I, too, am concerned about the outcome of the Presidential race and how it will affect Israel, but isn’t it high time that the people of Israel learn how to roll with the punches and come up on top - regardless of shifts in American foreign policy and changes in the White House Administration?

Israelis have the responsibility and need to take this debate out of the realm of U.S. partisan politics, and bring to the fore authentic and pressing issues of concern. Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is a problematic organization. I don't believe this is what Pastor Hagee intended, but he simply cannot - as he had hoped - control the minds, hearts and agendas of 50,000,000 American evangelicals. It seems he can't even control his own executive board members and regional directors – some of whom are promoting a Jewish Messianic (Christian) restoration in Israel, are signing recent statements calling for the conversion of Jews, and are giving air and press time to those accusing the Orthodox Jewish community of violence and church persecution.

I believe that Pastor Hagee is a mega-maverick who sincerely believes that if he could rid the church of anti-Semitism, then the path for a theological reconciliation and fusion of Judaism and Christianity would be attainable. He likes to refer to the “Judeo-Christian faith”, has been known to don a tallit at church services, and sees “Christians and Jews coming together to stand together and be together forever." So it’s our responsibility as Jews to inform the good pastor that while we appreciate his enormous altruistic efforts, he needs to understand that even in the absence of anti-Semitism, any theological Jewish-Christian reconciliation remains an impossibility.

While it may be unjust to go into his church and dredge up sermons to be used as political fodder, Hagee himself has chosen to enter the public political arena, and as a mega-church leader he has become a visible part of America's cultural and entertainment scene - where nothing is sacred. His take on the End of Days and other theological issues are readily available in Wal-Mart, on Cable, DVD, CNN, in featured films, and in Cyberspace.

So when this Torah observant writer views a popular YouTube clip of the pastor explaining the fully illustrated Book of Revelations, which depicts Israel as a woman pregnant with the child Jesus, surrounded by the sun, moon, and stars, and towering over a great red dragon; I tend to become very “pro-Choice” - and would opt to terminate the pregnancy.
Rather than interpreting this as a swipe at Christianity, (I react the same way to the pictures in the Bhagavad Gita), consider it is a reaffirmation of my Jewishness. While I find common ground, share interests with, and enjoy people of other cultures and faiths; I hope and pray that I always find alien theologies and mythologies somewhat disconcerting - because that indicates that my head, heart and soul is in the right place, and that I remain fiercely loyal to one G-d and the Torah.

On the political front we have to remember that Pastor Hagee has been among those who have led the charge to smash the wall that separates Church and State in America. Most mainstream Americans were satisfied with "one nation under God" and being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. Generic monotheism was fitting for a multicultural melting pot, and good for the Jews. I personally believe this was a source of blessing for America. But now Jesus is out of the cloisters , and sitting exclusively and squarely on Capital Hill. “Bible believers” may see that as progress against liberal secularists, but a number of loyal, G-d fearing U.S. citizens deem that a serious cultural, religious and political regression – and it frightens them.

Common sense should tell us that we Jews do not need to excuse the over-the-top religious rhetoric which has become the primary campaign issue in America, and has all but busted the God-O-Meter. As far as we're concerned, theodicy is theoidiocy , and some things you just don't say - even if your mind and heart has toyed with them (and I admit that a lot of us play with the same type of toys as Pastor Hagee).

No need to defend Hagee when he offends, as that's not part of the "unconditional" deal. The grand gesture of 30 million dollars in donations to Israel should not immunize the good pastor from Jewish critics on the Left, Right and Center of the political and religious spectrum. One would hope that partisan politics and money would not blind the discerning eyes of the Jews. Journalists and media organizations in the Zionist camp need to address the issue of our relationship with the evangelicals in a fair, honest, and accountable manner - even if that means leveling criticism and exposing problematic areas in that friendship.

But not to worry, because John Hagee is a big boy and he has an excellent Jewish spinmaster named David Brog, who I imagine gets paid well for damage control – David even knows how to quote Matthew as well as invent institutions like “a rich Judeo-Christian tradition of theodicy”.

Hagee also has a rabbi who had the audacity to compare the pastor’s Hitler comments to those of Holocaust martyr, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, author of Eim Habanim Semeicha.
But juxtaposing the introspective and humble thoughts of a condemned Torah scholar, who was hiding in a ghetto cellar, to a wealthy and secure preacher confidently booming prophecy through the rafters of a megachurch is a little… shall we say… sacrilegious?

Pastor Hagee may claim to have all the answers, but the Jews, admittedly, have none of them. But we do have a lot of questions. And primary among them is not whether G-d punished or abandoned us, but rather did we abandon G-d? And that is not a despondent question, it is a redemptive one.

More than partisan political differences, the brouhaha over Pastor Hagee’s recent statements clarifies and defines the very contrasting worldviews and approaches of Judaism and Christianity. And it validates the position of the halachic giant Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who consistently opposed theologically-based interfaith dialogue, and any references to a “common tradition uniting two faith communities such as the Christian and the Judaic”.
Perhaps it’s best to conclude with an excerpt from the Rav spoken and published in 1945:

“When a minister, rabbi, or priest attempts to solve the ancient question of Job's suffering through as sermon or lecture, he does not promote religious ends, but, on the contrary, does them a disservice. The beauty of religion with its grandiose vistas reveals itself to men, not in solutions but in problems, not in harmony but in the constant conflict of diversified forces and trends.”
(from "Sacred and Profane, Kodesh and Chol in World Perspective," Originally a Yahrzeit Shiur, which appeared in Hazedek, May/June 1945.)
The writer and her family live on the Golan Heights. She is the author of The Oslo Years: A Mother's Journal and is working on a new book which takes a critical look at the Israel-Evangelical relationship.


Daniel said...

If there had been more Hagees during WW2 the social pressure for FDR to bomb the rails to Aushwitz would have been too great to ignore. Unfortunately the largely liberal Jeweish community PUT NO PRESSURE on FDR.
If all the jews that marched for the Rosenbergs, civil rights, against the bomb, against Vietnam etc, joined the 400 rabbis that marched on DC, perhaps FDR would have woken up.
I'll take Hagee over secular Jewish liberals any day.

Anonymous said...

Naw... I still have a soft spot in my heart from my people.

Too bad some of us feel that we have to choose between liberal Jews or Christian fundamentalists.

I kind of resent this selection process - doesn't seem very Jewish.

Your portrayal of "liberal Jews" throughout history doesn't seem too fair or Jewish either.

Daniel said...

"Your portrayal of "liberal Jews" throughout history doesn't seem too fair or Jewish either."

you're right.
The million Jewish march of Oct. 43 coupled with the nationwide federation sit down strike, led the Washington politicians to bomb the rail lines and also communicate through back channels via the Swiss and Swedes to get German officials to stop the killings. American iberals would never have stood by their brothers blood!
Yet they sure know how to march for Arab rights and abortion rights.