Evangelical Civil War Over a Palestinian State?
Sunday's New York Times reports a new fissure within the American evangelical movement. Already increasingly at loggerheads over global warming, evangelicals may be witnessing a new schism over the issue of a Palestinian state. And that means Pastor John Hagee and his end-of-times friends at Christians United for Israel (CUFI) are not happy.
On Friday, a group of 30 evangelical leaders sent a letter to President Bush calling for a greater U.S. role in the creation of a Palestinian state. With the Bush "road map" for a two-state solution moribund, the letter argues that Israelis and Palestinians alike have "legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine." The effort, which grew out of the February U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, targets global Muslim opinion as well as the Bush State Department.
But the missive apparently has another target as well: the evangelical group's erstwhile Christian Zionist brethren. As the Reverend Joel C. Hunter put it:
"There is a part of the evangelical family which is what I call Christian Zionists, who are just so staunchly pro-Israel that Israel and their side can do no wrong, and it's almost anti-Biblical to criticize Israel for anything. But there are many more evangelicals who are really open and seek justice for both parties."
For Texas Pastor John Hagee, Hunter's words are anti-Bible indeed. Unyielding support of Israel is seen as essential to the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy and the book of Revelations. For CUFI, Israeli compromises with the Palestinians (or the Iranians, for that matter) delay the final conflict and the Second Coming of Christ, when the Jews will be either be converted - or killed. (For more on why Israelis might ask themselves, "With friends like these, who needs enemies," see Max Blumenthal's "Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour.")
As I wrote last June, theirs is Armageddon as foreign policy:
Hagee is at the bleeding edge of a Christian Zionist movement seeking to accelerate the Second Coming of Christ and the final battle in Israel. Since the 1990's, Hagee and his group CUFI (Christians United for Israel) has tried without success to breed the "red heifer," the perfect calf that will signal the Second Coming. As Sarah Posner writes in the American Prospect, "for Hagee's new project - agitating for war with Iran - his influence over Washington is less important than his influence over his audience." His book "Jerusalem Countdown" sold over 500,000 copies. And as Posner reports, Hagee is not alone.
Hagee calls pastors "the spiritual generals of America" an appropriate phrase given his reliance on them to rally their troops behind his message. The CUFI board of directors includes the Reverend Jerry Falwell, former Republican presidential candidate and religious right activist Gary Bauer, and George Morrison, pastor to the 8,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, and chairman of the board of Promise Keepers. Rod Parsley, the Ohio televangelist who is rapidly becoming a major political figure in the Christian right, signed on as a regional director.
The dispensationalist Hagee is not happy and he clearly has friends in high places, including Joe Lieberman, Tom Delay, and his fellow Texas in the White House. Hagee thundered at Friday's letter:
"Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason. What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?
"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact. The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."
This evangelical civil war over Palestine is great viewing and probably would provide most Americans with an endless source of schadenfreude. That is, if all involved weren't so deadly serious and the stakes so great.
For more background, see "Bush, Iran and the Second Coming."
UPDATE: Fox News this morning provides additional disturbing background on CUFI, including the group members' recent meetings with "California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell and Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who received a standing ovation from CUFI's Texas delegation." The quote of the day comes from Pastor Greg Stephens, "We are not warmongers, but the bible tells us there is a time for war and there is a time for peace."