Deal Hudson: Meeting Reverend John Hagee
A few days ago I met with Hagee and his wife, Diana, in New York City for a three-hour conversation.Since I had been critical of Hagee myself, I thought it reasonable that I sit down with him and discuss the anti-Catholicism charge.
A few days ago I met with Hagee and his wife, Diana, in New York City for a three-hour conversation.
The meeting came at the suggestion of a mutual friend who was concerned both for Hagee's reputation and the relations between Evangelicals and Catholics. My friend, a national religious leader himself, told me, "John Hagee is my friend, and he is a good man. Also, it would be a pity if a wedge was driven between conservative Catholics and Evangelicals on the eve of the 2008 election."
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is the man who first pointed out what he described as anti-Catholic elements in Hagee's writings and videotaped lectures. Donohue initially brought attention to Hagee in December, when Gov. Mike Huckabee announced that he would be preaching in Hagee's Cornerstone Church. The Hagee quotes Donohue collected were indeed disturbing. When Huckabee refused to cancel the speech or respond to Donohue's criticism, he was tainted by the issue of anti-Catholicism for the remainder of his candidacy.
The publicity surrounding the Hagee-Huckabee controversy made Senator McCain's enthusiastic embrace of Hagee's endorsement even more surprising. Donohue immediately admonished Senator McCain, just as he had Huckabee. I had also been critical of Huckabee's appearance at Hagee's church, and I joined Donohue in asking McCain to repudiate the anti-Catholicism of Hagee's writings.
The McCain campaign was slow to respond. Its first statement was weak, and its failure to satisfy Donohue was predictable. It was more than a week later when Senator McCain directly repudiated the anti-Catholicism attributed to Hagee, at which time Donohue announced "case closed."
The issue had only begun to die down when the furor over Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, began to heat up. Comparisons were inevitable and Hagee was back in the headlines, with the likelihood that he would stay there through November. That was when I received the call asking me if I would meet with him.
Since I had been critical of Hagee myself, I thought it reasonable that I sit down with him and discuss the anti-Catholicism charge. As a young man I was also an Evangelical from Texas, and I knew I could find some common ground with him -- and maybe find out more about what appeared to be an open-and-shut case. (I called Donohue to tell him that a meeting had been proposed, and Bill said he appreciated my letting him know.)
Next, I contacted Hagee. He seemed genuinely hurt that he was being seen by the nation as anti-Catholic. He said, "Deal, how can people think I am anti-Catholic when my wife is an ex-Catholic, and a third of my congregation are former Catholics?" I bit my tongue. We really needed to talk; there were some things about Catholics he truly didn't understand.
When we met later, I told Hagee about "biting my tongue," and he looked surprised. I explained that Catholics don't like being reminded of all those who have left the Church. As he started to nod in agreement, his wife Diana said, "He's right, John." She would repeat that sentence several times during our long conversation, and each time her husband would acquiesce in agreement.
For example, she agreed when I told Hagee that his account of anti-Semitism seems aimed entirely at the Catholic Church. He explained that he had written extensively about the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther and other Protestants and had praised the statements of Pope John Paul II that were critical of anti-Semitism.
When I asked him why so many of his examples were from the Catholic Church, he said his main source was the book The Anguish of the Jews by Rev. Edward Flannery, which he had bought on his first trip to Israel in 1978. (Father Flannery was first director of Catholic-Jewish relations at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and a pioneer in Jewish-Christian relations.)
Hagee not only recognized why his account could look one-sided, but he also admitted that he knew little about the heroic efforts of many Catholics to defend the Jews, especially during World War II. I gave him a copy of the encyclical read from the pulpit of every Catholic Church in Germany in 1937, Mit Brennender Sorge, of Pius XI. I explained to him that the author was actually Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII, and how Jews welcomed his election because he was already known as their defender.
Rev. John Hagee is a powerful man. His ministry encompasses not only a congregation of over 19,000 but also a radio and ...
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