As Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the Christian Zionist lobby headed by John Hagee ended their convention in Washington DC this week, both mainline Christian and Jewish communities seemed to distance themselves from it.
Despite Executive Director, David Brog's claim that it is primarily an educational organization; "we devote the bulk of our resources to teaching Christians both the biblical imperatives of supporting Israel and modern-day political imperatives,” the group's political agenda is obvious. That claim was belied by an extensive set of congressional talking points that also included calls for divestment from Iran, increased U.S. foreign aid for Israel and a greater focus on Hezbollah’s violations of United Nations resolutions.
In addition, the Convention featured several prominent US politicians including Senator Joseph Liberman, Congressman Roy Blunt (Republican whip) and former speaker Newt Gingrich. Likud leader and former Prime Minister of Isarael Benjamin Natanyahu brought special greetings.
Indeed, CUFI is becoming known as the Christian AIPAC -- the powerful Israeli lobby.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Rev. Hagee denied the relationship between the apocalyptic prophecies described in his books and CUFI’s political activities. “Our support for Israel has absolutely nothing to do with end-times prophecy — it has absolutely nothing to do with eschatology,” he said.
I find this very interesting, because much of Hagee's own writing and much of the Christian Zionist movement is ideologically situated in a particular reading of the Biblical apocalyptic literature usually called pre-millennial dispensationalism. Its mythical scenario ends with armageddon (the battle of Megiddo) where a violent Jesus will destroy unconverted Jews in a bloody battle.
Jewish leaders didn't buy this disclaimer either. Writes James Besser of Jewish Week:
“As a religious person, I find that hard to believe," Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism said. "My own theological thinking and reading of the Bible and other sacred texts has a major impact on how I see the world, including the political world.”
Rabbi Yoffie said he is “not really interested in questioning” Rev. Hagee’s theological motivations. “What concerns me is what he says about politics. And based on what I read, there is no question that he is embracing policies that are contrary to the policies of the Bush administration, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, not to mention the government of the state of Israel.”
I’m sure he believes what he writes,” said Rabbi Barry Block, senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, the home of Hagee’s Cornerstone Church. “I can’t see how that is unconnected to his political activity. I think more Jews at every level need to know about his apocalyptic vision.”
Rabbi Block said that “I fear that when Pastor Hagee and his minions enter the halls of Congress, what they will tell our leaders, at least implicitly, is not to support any agreement that moves toward a two-state solution. That is something Pastor Hagee has written about quite clearly.”
Indeed, CUFIs position seems to be at varience with the Israeli government's commitment to a two-state solution.
CUFI's position of non-proseletization of Jews is a welcome change to many Jewish leaders who've seen offensive attempts at evangelism by Evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptists. Several mainline denominations reounced Jewish evangelism many decades ago, with the theological understanding that God has not "revoked the covenant" with the Jews.
Two other items in CUFIs rhetoric are deeply distressing. One is its on-going villification of Islam and the other its aggressive push to go to war against Iran. Both positions are seriously irresponsible.
First, most Muslim people are peace-loving and law-abiding people. American Muslim organizatoins have regularly condemned terrorist activities by extreme Muslims. Not too long ago, the most authoritative of American Muslim bodies, the Fiqh Council issued a fatwa (edict) against terror.
The NCC has consistently encouraged Christians learn about Islam and build relationships with Muslim people.
Second, war with Iran will be catastrphic not only to the stability of the Middle East but to the world and particularly to the security of Israel. To do the same thing and expect different results is nothing but lunacy. If Iraq is any indication of the catastrophic nature of war, Iran will be worse. The only answer to our disagreements with Iran is dialogue and diplomacy -- and in my view, religious leaders should be front and center of that movement.
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