John Hagee and the Catholic Church

John ArmstrongRoman Catholicism

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John Hagee, an influential Texas televangelist, is a huge supporter of the state of Israel. His theology is plainly dispensational and his support of Zionism is well-known. The same could be said about the views and practices of many other evangelicals. What has created considerable public conflict, in Hagee’s case, is his endorsement of John McCain. John Hagee’s anti-Catholicism, not his pro-Zionism, has been made an issue in recent weeks. Since McCain had previously accepted Hagee’s endorsement the media has made strong comparisons between Hagee’s anti-Catholicism and Jeremiah’s Wright’s anti-Americanism.

This issue became even more contentious when the association of Jeremiah Wright with Barack Obama was made an issue over the last few months. This support of McCain by Hagee has been compared to the Wright-Obama matter, even by Obama’s campaign on several occasions. It seems to me that fair-minded people, who are not blindly committed to either one of these two candidates, can see an obvious difference here. Whereas John Hagee met with McCain and then endorsed him, Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright go back together for more than twenty years. But all this aside, the debate over Hagee’s views about the Roman Catholic Church is actually worthy of further consideration.

So far as I can discern John Hagee’s anti-Catholic views are actually rooted in several real historical facts. The Crusades and the Inquisition, as well as the Holocaust, all have some connections with Catholicism. But Hagee has also blamed Protestants Hagee
for the having similar connections with the Holocaust, which they did, at least via the German Lutheran Church and the anti-Semitic statements of Martin Luther. Thus this kind of accusation is correct, at least in some sense. Yet even these connections are sometimes overstated by many who want to make way too much out of them. To say that there is some truth to these connections is not to fully embrace anti-Catholicism or anti-Protestantism. It is simply to be truthful with the facts of history, as I’ve said.

But John Hagee’s comments seemed to go beyond these historical realities to include the notion that Rome is still guilty of these terrible sins against the Jews and that this was as true of the Church today as it ever was in the past. (Many Christians, and many Christian churches, have openly admitted the sins of past anti-Semitism, including both the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant churches!) So this kind of confession is really not new.

Hagee put all of this to rest last week when he apologized after meeting with 22 religious activists, virtually all of them Roman Catholic. Said Hagee, "In my zeal to oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its ugly forms, I have often emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of Catholics and Protestant relations with the Jews. In the process I may have contributed to the mistaken impression that the anti-Jewish violence of the Crusades and the Inquisition defines the Catholic church. It most certainly does not."

William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, not only accepted Hagee’s apology but urged Catholics, and all others, to do the same. This should put the matter to rest but in a political season I would not bet on it.

I must admit that I am not a huge fan of John Hagee, whose theology and ministry are not all that close to my own on many points. But I have to say that I have to truly admire anyone who will sit down with offended parties and seek personal and open reconciliation. This is far more than what I have seen from many similarly conservative leaders within the evangelical world. I thus believe that John Hagee should be honored for his courage and humility. I have changed my own view of him considerably as a result of his actions this past week. I wish more Christians would follow this excellent example. If they did the unity of the Church in America would again be seen, by more and more of us, as a precious gift from God to be preserved as much as possible.