Let us state at the outset that John Hagee’s anti-Catholicism goes well beyond the kind of odium theologicum that derives from tough but honest differences over the right path to salvation. So far as he is concerned, this “false religious system” is responsible for the Holocaust. Setting aside the glee of the liberal blogosphere, it’s hard to see this as less objectionable than, say, Louis Farrakhan’s description of Judaism as a “gutter religion.”
Hagee is not the only high-profile evangelical to embrace the old-time anti-Catholicism—the various Bob Joneses have gone in for it as well. But it’s become an increasingly rare feature of latter-day evangelicalism. Conservative Catholics like former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum enjoye warm relations with evangelicals, for example. In Hagee’s case, the antagonism clearly has a lot to do with his consuming pre-millennialist theology: The Catholic church as the beast that will be consumed by the Antichrist prior to Armageddon. Well, what else is there to say?
Mike Huckabee said he was disappointed that Hagee should endorse his rival, which doesn’t speak very well for Huckabee. But Hagee’s McCain endorsement should not have come as too much of a surprise. Although McCain has never given any indication that his view of the world is premillenialist—nothing in the way of expectation of an imminent Rapture of the Saints, arrival of the Antichrist, Tribulation, Armageddon, etc. But his preoccupation with fighting against “Islamic extremism” for however long it takes—a millennium?—accords well with Hagee’s Israel-centric view of the universe.
How aware John McCain was of the anti-Catholic dimension of Hagee’s religious ideology is not clear. What is clear is that he has been cultivating the San Antonio pastor’s support for some time. Over a year ago, Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News quoted McCain as describing how he had gotten together with Hagee to express their shared commitment to Israel. This was simply part and parcel of his early and ongoing effort to render himself acceptable to GOP conservatives.
Giving McCain the benefit of the doubt, one can hardly say that his distancing himself from Hagee represents much more than a bowing to political necessityAs in: “[I]n no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.” Having sought Hagee’s endorsement, McCain couldn’t summon the wherewithal to denounce and/or reject it.
Behind all this is a lurking issue for America’s Jewish community. Hagee’s made his big claim in recent years as a huge supporter—and fundraiser—for Israel. In his 2007 book, A Match Made in Heaven, Zev Chafetz writes that “[n]o Christian Zionist in the United States is more red hot than Hagee.” According to Chafetz, he has raised millions of dollars for Russian Jewish immigrants, and extolled Israel in best-selling books. In 2006, he founded an organization called Christians United for Israel,” whose declared purpose is to be “a national organization through which every pro-Israel organization and ministry in America can speak and act in one voice in support of Israel in matters related to Biblical issues.” For his pains, he became the first gentile to receive the San Antonio B’nai B’rith Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Chafetz himself is anything but a critic of the Jewish-evangelical alliance for Israel that Hagee represents. In the usual manner of those Jews who regard this alliance as worthwhile, he urges his co-religionists to bracket off all that End Times theology stuff as irrelevant to the immediate need of the Jewish state to enlist all the allies it can. But by putting Hagee’s anti-Catholicism on the table, this episode confronts American Jews—and their communal organizations—with the challenge of standing against prejudice even at the risk of sacrificing support.
The ADL, for example, might recall its brief to oppose bigotry directed against faiths other than Judaism. It may be worth noting that, at the present moment, a chunk of the organized Jewish community is up in arms about the return, via the resuscitated Latin Mass, of the Good Friday prayer for the “perfidious Jews” that Pope John XXIII did away with half a century ago. How many Masses is Hagee worth?