In the war between Israel and Hamas, some of Israel’s most outspoken American supporters are evangelical Christians – so-called Christian Zionists.
San Antonio Pastor John Hagee is among their leaders. He is pastor of Cornerstone Church, a megachurch with more than 10,000 members. Hagee also leads a political group, Christians United for Israel, which works to lobby the U.S. government to maintain its support of Israel.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Before we get into Hagee specifically and what you observed at the service that you went to in support of Israel, can you tell us about Christian Zionism as a concept? What are its goals and what are sort of the main tenets of supporter’s beliefs?
Josh Alvarez: Christian Zionism has a deep history that actually goes back even to the 1800s, if not even earlier.
The general idea is that these are Christians, and it’s not all Christians, there’s this particular thread within Christianity that believes that Jews are the chosen people and that the covenant that they made with God in Genesis still holds today, that the Jews have a particular claim to their biblical land of Israel as outlined in the Bible in the Old Testament.
So within Christian Zionism, there’s different kinds of threads of interpretation, but the general gist of it is that the resettlement of the ancient kingdom of Israel is an essential component to create the conditions for the return of Jesus, for his return, and then for the beginning of the end times. So in that regard, Christian Zionists is broadly agree on that. To the extent to what happens with the end times is where things vary.
As I wrote in my piece, the most extreme Christian Zionists believe that once Jews reclaim this land of theirs, that Jesus will return. And then, you know, right-thinking Christians and therefore Jews who repent and then convert to Christianity will be raptured to heaven and leave everybody else to suffer the wrath of Armageddon. And Pastor Hagee’s interpretation is a little less extreme in that he holds that since Jews are chosen and that’s permanent.
In other words, there’s always going to be a place in the kingdom of heaven for Jews, that there’s no conversion required.
To what extent has Pastor Hagee been the leader of this movement, or a leader?
He started A Night to Honor Israel, and this was the event that I attended. He started it 43 years ago. It started off small, but this sort of theological interpretation that Hagee was offering picked up a great big bit of steam within a few decades.
And really the popularity of this event, this Night to Honor Israel – which is not really a church service, it’s almost kind of Christian evangelical affirmation of, you know, supporting Israel with this theology in mind… That to support Israel is to be, you know, performing a holy duty. The popularity of that event is actually what led to the creation of this lobby organization called Christians United for Israel, which appears to be the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States and quite possibly one of the biggest lobbies in the country with, as Pastor Hagee says, a membership exceeding 10 million Americans, which is quite significant.
So this has led him to become… I describe him as a Republican kingmaker of sorts. And Republicans are paying attention. Quite prominent figures in the party have been appearing at these events and at that cushy Christianity for Israel events over the years.
And Israeli politicians, for that matter, are aware of the power of this organization as well. You know, Benjamin Netanyahu himself gave a taped address to the 2019 CUFI summit held in Washington, D.C. and in this year’s Night to Honor Israel event, you had two Israeli diplomats, including the permanent representative to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan.
If you don’t mind, can you describe what the Night to Honor Israel was like, the one that you attended recently?
Sure. And I just want to clarify, too, that, you know, this event started in San Antonio, but now these events are now held all around the country – many evangelical churches host them. They are organized and sponsored by CUFI. But the originator, the progenitor of all of them, was held here in San Antonio and with Pastor Hagee.
So I went to this year’s event, and it’s usually held in late October. And so it just so happened the timing of it was such that it was held just shortly after the Oct. 7 pogrom perpetrated by Hamas.
So typically, these events, again, are just a pretty straightforward reaffirmation of the evangelical movement’s commitment to Israel. But this time it, of course, carried an enormous emotional weight of what had just happened. And so the mood was much different in that regard.
And, you know, the speakers really just focused on the necessity of maximal support for Israel in its war against Hamas. And this is where the political goals and the theological goals of Christian Zionists, you know, enter into a fraught place because this is obviously a complicated issue which, you know, not only involves a war against a militant group, but because of Gaza and the way that it’s so tightly populated – it’s 2 million people in a very small space – there’s obvious concerns around Palestinian civilians and their fate.
But in this event, it was rather remarkable, and I couldn’t help but note that this was something that was not really given much consideration. The focus was really that the U.S. must provide any and all means for Israel to do whatever it has to do in order to achieve victory through whatever means necessary.