Playing the Christian "Bass" with the skill of Cream-era Jack Bruce: Like his notorious predecessor in Arkansas, Mike Huckabee is a high-viscosity politician advised by Dick Morris. Like too many other Republicans, he's a Christian "pro-lifer" not unduly burdened by the death of thousands of children in needless foreign wars.
One is a former Southern Baptist Pastor, the other a one-time Mormon Bishop. One established a niche as a hard-line social conservative who is surprisingly “progressive” on welfare state issues; the other began his political career trying to out-flank Ted Kennedy to the left on abortion and gay rights, only to re-tool himself into the very model of a modern moral majoritarian.
There's a polygamy joke in here somewhere: A low-res photo of Mitt Romney with Reich-wing succubus Ann Coulter.
They are separated by a vast political gulf and have followed very different political vectors, but GOP presidential aspirants Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are now the chief contenders for the support of the Christian Right. The only authentic conservative in the race, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, disqualified himself in the Christian Right's eyes by taking the teachings of the Prince of Peace too literally, and applying the Golden Rule to foreign policy. The Mullahs of the Mega-Churches, and many of their followers, are mortally offended by the notion that decades of bellicose interventionism by Washington might have something to do with the antagonisms that breed and feed anti-American terrorism.
Romney has already received an unction from some prominent Evangelicals, largely on the strength of his unqualified commitment to continue (and most likely to escalate) Bush the Lesser's war against the Islamic world. But as Romney faces the prospect of being eclipsed by the more orthodox Huckabee, he has made a pilgrimage to holy ground – the George H.W. Bush presidential library – to offer a speech on “Faith in America.” Romney's purpose is to assuage concerns that a follower of Joseph Smith would be an unsuitable vessel for the political purposes of the Christian Right.This isn't quite like Henry IV standing bare-headed in the snow outside Canossa, but Romney's gesture displays an element of plaintive desperation nonetheless.
On this day (December 5) when Romney's theological convictions and religious affiliation take center stage, we would do well to consider some of Huckabee's baggage – specifically, his attachment to the Rev. John Hagee, Pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, Founder and Director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and the most impassioned advocate of open-ended war with the Israeli government's enemies, beginning with Iran.
Hagee almost seems to be a genetically engineered caricature of the televangelist culture. As orotund as he is rotund, Hagee looks like a late middle-aged version of JB's Big Boy and behaves a bit like Elmer Gantry. Both his physique and lifestyle testify that Hagee is a stranger in the house of self-restraint. And this is quite odd, given the fact that he ardently believes in the Rapture, during which believers would be taken away to heaven, leaving behind all material encumberances, including the clothes they would be wearing at the time.
As C.S. Lewis noted, wealth knits a man to this world. Despite repeatedly admonishing his flock to prepare for the fast-approaching Rapture, Hagee remains thoroughly enmeshed with the world. He may well be the wealthiest of the war-obsessed clergymen we could call War Propheteers.
Stephen Strang is the human vinculum between Huckabee and Hagee. Strang, a long-time friend and business associate of Hagee, presides over a Pentecostal publishing empire; among Strang's imprints is Front Line books, which has published several of Hagee's books, including his latest, In Defense of Israel.
Late last Summer, a cover story in Strang's New Man magazine anointed Huckabee as the heir apparent to George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. In recent weeks, Huckabee has tapped Strang to serve on his “Faith and Values Coalition,” which is intended to attract money from, and consolidate support within, the Christian Right. Strang served a similar role in the early days of Bush the Lesser's first presidential campaign.
Strang is also a regional director of Hagee's Christians United for Israel, a pressure group that describes itself – without a detectable hint of irony – as a “Christian AIPAC,” as if one such organization weren't a sufficient burden and blight upon our land. Each year CUFI holds a "Night to Honor Israel" in dozens of cities nation-wide, events often organized in cooperation with the Israeli government. And each summer since its founding CUFI has dispatched thousands of its members to Washington to lobby Congress on behalf of a foreign power that is hardly without its own influence in the Imperial Capital.
Whatever one thinks of AIPAC and its works (which include espionage), the attachment of American Jews to the nation-state of Israel is organic and understandable. Hagee's devotion is largely abstract and theological, and colored with more than a hint of opportunism.
The Reverend is more or less a standard-issue radical dispensationalist of a familiar variety, but distinguishes himself by the near-monomania he displays in promoting the interests of Israel – at least as he and some Israeli factions perceive them. And there is a certain duplicity at work here, since the eschatology embraced by Hagee dictates that Jews have an obligation to gather into Israel as a prelude to an apocalyptic war in which most of them will be slaughtered.
By this time, as Hagee foresees it, he and his brethren will have been evacuated from the earth via the Rapture, and thus be able to observe the bloodbath from the safety of a celestial skybox.
Although he stoutly denies it, Hagee's convictions dictate that he do what he can to foment war, rather than promote peace. For several years he has been urging that the US wage a war of aggression against Iran for the purpose of preempting its nuclear program.
Rev. Hagee makes the case for endless bloodshed to Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose voting records suggest they were a receptive audience.
Hagee would doubtless insist that the recently published National Intelligence Estimate, which concludes that Iran froze its nuclear program in 2003 (the year Tehran offered to re-open diplomatic relations with Washington), was ghost-written by Satan. Other key voices of the War Lobby, such as Norman Podhoretz and Rush Limbaugh, are content to posit a wide-ranging conspiracy of “wreckers” in the CIA who produced the NIE, thereby undermining the drive for war. Only Hagee has the courage and insight to stalk the truth to its demonic lair: This is nothing less than a vast conspiracy led by the Devil himself.
For indeed, is it not written that the heathen will rage, the people imagine a vain thing, and the kings rulers of the world will take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed? Most Christians understand that passage from the second Psalm to be a prophecy of the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we worship as the Christ, or messiah. Rev. Hagee, however, has repeatedly and passionately insisted that Jesus is not, and never claimed to be, the messiah.
Hagee visits General Ariel Sharon during one of his many trips to Israel.
There is “not one verse of Scripture in the New Testament that says Jesus came to be the Messiah,” writes Hagee in his new book In Defense of Israel (page 136), reporting a discovery unique in Christian history. Even “after his resurrection,” Hagee continues, Jesus made “repeated denials” that he was or would be the Messiah (page141).
All of this would be quite startling to the countless thousands of Christian believers -- including those who embraced the Gospel in the early first century -- who could have spared themselves the pains of martyrdom if they had been willing to disavow the Messianic status of Jesus of Nazareth.
After elaborating on this notion at length, Hagee makes passing reference to the fact that he and a long-time friend, Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Schienberg, “agree to disagree” regarding “the nature and identity of the Messiah” (page 171), and that “when we stand in the streets of Jerusalem and see the Messiah walking toward us, one of us will have a major theological adjustment to make!”
Similar disingenuous comments are sprinkled through Hagee's book, intended to inspire a knowing chuckle from Christians and reassure Jews. But I think Hagee himself would also have to make a radical theological adjustment under the circumstances he describes, since he is careful only to insinuate that Jesus is the Messiah, and refuses to announce that conclusion clearly and unambiguously.
Arab Christians celebrate the birth of their Messiah at the Church of the Nativity in Gaza: From Hagee's perspective, these folks must not be considered "true" Christians.
It's also significant that a large section of In Defense of Israel consists of lambasting the Christian Church -- beginning with the New Testament itself -- for what he describes as history of relentless anti-Jewish persecution. Hagee describes the purported beliefs of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a collection of classic anti-Jewish notions, including the view that Jews "are essentially scheming to take over the world.... [and] are responsible for every negative situation in the world and that they are behind every international event or crisis, including the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany."
"If this sounds familiar, it is," he concludes. "It is no different than the teachings of the Christian church prior to the Holocaust." (Page 74.)
One of the reasons why Mitt Romney is unappetizing to many conservative Christians is the Mormon teaching that historic Christianity, prior to the advent of Joseph Smith, was hopelessly mired in apostasy. John Hagee teaches exactly the same thing, while placing the UN-created nation-state of Israel in a central position akin to that occupied by Joseph Smith in the Mormon view of history. This might help explain, among other things, why the Rev. Hagee has little if any sympathy for Arab Christians residing in the West Bank and Gaza.
How closely would Hagee be tied to Huckabee, were the latter to win the White House? During the reign of Bush the Lesser, Hagee has been on the presidential speed-dial. He has been among the most passionate defenders of the doctrine of the all-powerful president who can make war according to his sovereign whims. In an interview with the estimable Charles Goyette, Hagee declared: "We do not have a war declaration for Iraq, and neither does the president need one to expand it [the war] into Iran."
I suspect that if Mitt Romney is elected president, Hagee would have no difficulty reaching across the theological divide -- as long as Romney remains true to the gospel of militarist bloodshed. If Huckabee makes it to the Oval Office, it's likely that Hagee would be part of the Inner Court. Either prospect would be troubling to the Christian Right, were it more interested in defending Christian principles than in accumulating and preserving political power.
Dum spiro, pugno!