John Hagee's Christians United for Israel Conference Mixes End-Times Prophecies With Lobbying Reporters Were Inside CUFI's Washington Conference

by, July 24, 2008

Even though televangelist John Hagee barred reporters from the conference of his Christians United for Israel (CUFI), reporters for covered most of the sessions of the conference at the Washington Convention Center, which concluded yesterday. These videos and audio recordings show some of what we saw and heard, despite CUFI's extraordinary efforts to shield the meeting from public scrutiny. Our reporters' observations are throughout this post.

According to a document distributed at the conference, "CUFI is a national, grassroots organization which unites all pro-Israel Christians in America under one umbrella." estimates that as many as 3,000 people attended the conference. According to the CUFI website, 4,500 attended its 2007 Washington conference.

In an apparent effort to avoid the derisive media coverage of previous CUFI events, the organization's leaders strove to keep conference attendees' focus on their key themes -- oppositon to Israeli-Palestinian peace, hostility to Iran, disparaging Islam -- political. However, according to our reporters, session audiences repeatedly turned the discussion to the "end times" prophecies that they attach to CUFI's political issues.

In a sermon opening the conference on Monday, Hagee himself used biblical constructs to express opposition to a land-for-peace settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for what he characterized as Iran's plan for a nuclear holocaust "to exterminate the Jews." (See first video clip.)

Hagee interpreted Genesis as God giving a "blood covenant" to the land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants -- specifically excluding the "Ishmaelites" (understood to be Muslims) from the deed. That land contract, Hagee said, was "based on God's integrity," not Abraham's. Hagee said that "God knew the day would come when there would be a global controversey" over ownership of that land. Please click here or use the player in the sidebar for an audio clip.

In his preaching on Iran, Hagee tangled together the biblical story of Esther and ancient Persia with present-day Iran, which he contended, aims to annihilate Israel. He enjoined attendees to emulate Esther when they went to lobby Congress, and to see themselves as "ambassadors of God," uniquely placed to advocate for the imperiled Jewish people "until victory comes." (See video clip.)

In the culminating "Night to Honor Israel" banquet on Tuesday night, Hagee expressed political, rather than "prophetic," opposition to trading land for peace, stating that Israel had not benefited from its withdrawal from the Gaza strip or Lebanon.

In Monday's sermon, Hagee repeated a major theme he emphasizes in CUFI's political work: that God will bless those who bless Israel. He called Israel the "gateway of blessings" for individuals, businesses and churches.

Hagee also warned of God's "judgment" on those who divide Israel's territory. He has similarly stated that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment for a gay parade that New Orleans planned.

Hagee also said that God has chosen Israel as his habitation on earth. "God has married the Land of Israel," he said, adding "He's very passionate about it."

While Hagee stressed the blessings that would come to those who did "practical acts" in support of Israel, he also repeated his teachings on the ultimate disposition of a "united" Jerusalem: It will be ruled forever by Jesus, who, Hagee says, will return "as a Jewish rabbi" with sidecurls -- not dressed in a gray flannel suit.

In a call and response, Hagee proclaimed that Jesus will "rule the nations of the world from Zion." He asked the audience: "Where is the Temple Mount?" And he answered with them: "In Zion."

Lobby preparations strictly political
In marked contrast, attendees at a briefing by CUFI Executive Director David Brog were instructed to keep their advocacy for Israel strictly political. The briefing was given in advance of visits to congressional offices yesterday. CUFI members were to stress legislation imposing sanctions on Iran and sustaining military aid to Israel.

In the preparatory session, Brog described Iran's military potential as capable of wreaking a second Holocaust on Israel.

Former Reagan official Frank Gaffney said in the breakout session on Iran that Tehran is developing a missile capable of destroying electrical power grids in the United States. "We have been at war with Iran since 1979," said Gaffney.

Hagee, in his Monday sermon, said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was planning a nuclear holocaust against Israel. Preached Hagee: "He is not going to stop because it's a religious belief that he is destined by his God." At the conference's closing banquet, Hagee called Ahmadinejad a present-day Hitler.

However, these intense sentiments -- and Hagee's injunction to lobbyists to see themselves as God's ambassadors (see video clip)-- were absent from CUFI's lobbying talking points. The printed lobbying guide went only so far as to say: "When Israel fights Hezbollah and Hamas, it's fighting our enemies."

Tutorials on the disparagement of Islam
Conference breakout sessions on "Iran: Eye of the Storm" and "Radical Islam: In Their Own Words," seemed to verge into each other's subject matter, since speakers at both freely characterized Islam and Muslims as bent on the destruction of the United States and Israel.

In the Iran session, panelist Clifford May compared Shia Islam to the Nazi movement. At one point in the comparison, which moved very fast between Nazis, the Muslim religion as a whole, and militant Islamists, May said that the latter believe that "no acts, no matter how vile and inhuman are forbidden them."

May, who is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, showed the breakout audience preview clips of a movie in which people with Middle Eastern accents plead with "the West" to wake up to the threat of radical Islam. May said that these clips will be part of a sequel to the controversial film Obsession. There is an audio clip of May's remarks in the breakout in the right-hand column.

The closing speaker in the Iran session, Reagan official Frank Gaffney, ranted against banks offering "sharia" (Islamic) investment products, calling those products a threat to "our capitalist system," and stating, "Sharia is sedition." We've posted the last 13 minutes of Gaffney's speech (mainly so it would not be said that the rant was "taken out of context") in the right-hand column; his remarks on Islamic banking start at 8:05 minutes.

During the panel on Islam, former Sen. Rick Santorum spoke of what he imputed to be the beliefs of Shia Muslims and Iran's President Ahmadinejad:

Because this an end of times kind of scenairo, these are people who are focused on this Mahdi - that disappeared. This a Mahdi returning at the end of times to lead them in an ultimate victory over the Sunnis and the rest of the world for the sake of the Shia. When you have people who have a very hardened escatalogical view of things -- Armegeddon -- letting them have nuclear weapons provides a very different point of view than having a bunch of Soviets [have nuclear weapons]. I was never worried about the Soviets doing something really stupid. Because the Soviets were athiests and they knew if they messed up they would be dead and that would be the end of it.

Gary Bauer, CUFI Executive Board Member, outside the Convention Center on Monday evening. Bauer predicted that Israel would experience violence (see our video Iran and the End Times at Pastor John Hagee's Washington Summit above.)

By comparison, Santorum said, Iran's leaders believe that the best way to be in heaven "with a posse of virgins is to destroy the infidels." (You can see a video clip of Santorum on this page.)

Senator Lieberman's speech omitted from broadcast
Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, a staunch Hagee ally who ignored a "Don't go, Joe" petition with over 40,000 signatures to appear as a featured speaker at the closing banquet, was enthusiastically applauded by the CUFI audience, according to press reports. However, Lieberman's address was not included in a delayed-broadcast on the religious cable channel Daystar. Instead, CUFI Executive Director David Brog hosted several members of Congress in what appeared to be a makeshift studio.

It is likely that CUFI decided not to air the speech because a woman disrupted the Jewish senator, shouting about "the rule of Lord Jesus." She began shouting just as Lieberman was concluding the story of Nachshon, the leader of the tribe of Judah who led the flight from Pharoah's army by stepping into the sea.

Sen. Lieberman's speech disrupted
The disruption comes right after the audience cheers Lieberman's point – that, as God tells Moses, the time for praying has passed and it's time to act — three minutes into the audio recording.

Senator Lieberman's office was not involved in deciding whether to include his speech in the Daystar broadcast, a spokesman in that office told CUFI's public relations representative Juda Engelmayer told that he'd phone with information about the omission of Lieberman's speech from the broadcast, but he never did.

Our Documentary About The CUFI Conference

Iran and the End Times at Pastor John Hagee's Washington Summit
Inside CUFI's July 2008 Washington Summit

Filmed, written and directed by

Media Clips From The CUFI Conference

Hagee instructs conference-goers to see themselves as "ambassadors of God"

In his conference-opening sermon, Hagee told attendees that when they go to lobby Congress (during the conference) they should see themselves as uniquely placed by God to advocate for the Jewish people "until victory comes."

In Two Minutes, Pastor John Hagee Stereotypes Jews and Backs Absolutist Claim on Jerusalem

In this two-minute video of the opening session of the conference, July 21st, Rev. John Hagee preaches that God has given "the Jewish people" an exclusive, eternal claim to Jerusalem. In the middle of that declaration, he tells a joke stereotyping women, Jews and Native Americans.

Hagee: God has given Jews a "blood covenant" to Israel.

A four-minute audio clip from Hagee's sermon during the opening session.

Former Senator Rick Santorum disparages Shia Islam

In the panel "Radical Islam: In Their Own Words," Santorum depicts Iran's government as more dangerous than the Soviet Union because the latter was run by atheists whereas Iran's leaders believe that the best way to be in heaven "with a posse of virgins is to destroy the infidels."

Clifford May compares Shia Islam to the Nazi movement

In this audio clip recorded at the breakout session on Iran, May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, portrays Iran as Hitler's Germany of the 1930s.

Frank Gaffney says "Sharia is sedition"

In the breakout session on Iran, Reagan official Frank Gaffney, ranted against banks offering "sharia" (Islamic) investment products, calling those products a threat to "our capitalist system," and stating, "Sharia is sedition." We've posted the last 13 minutes of Gaffney's speech (mainly so it would not be said that the rant was "taken out of context") in the right-hand column; his remarks on Islamic banking start at 8:05 minutes.

Reflections on the Christians United for Israel Conference

by a reporter, August 16, 2008

Ever since Senator John McCain denounced the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee because of his controversial comments about the Holocaust, Hagee and other members of his organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), have been on the defensive. At the third annual CUFI Summit in Washington D.C. last July, Hagee specifically denied the claim that CUFI's support for Israel is motivated by a certain eschatology and redirected most of the audience's questions about the Rapture to a coded interpretation of sections in Genesis. Hagee reviewed the Jewish claims to Israel as a biblical real estate contract couched in the words of blessing authorizing the agreement between God and Abraham's descendants.

Guess who is reading Rashi? – Not
Parts of Hagee's opening sermon were reminiscent of the 11th Century's premier Bible commentator, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki 1040-1105). Rashi witnessed the first Crusades while living in France. Rashi emphasized that Genesis established God's ultimate authority as creator to dispense blessings, land, etc to which ever nation he wanted. To Rashi's mind the perplexing issue was why Christians and Muslims were fighting over the land of Israel since neither had a claim. Hagee's preaching to the opening session of the CUFI conference repeats a version those arguments made by Rashi long ago but lays them a the feet of a special Evangelical Christian reading of the future, called prophecy.

Who are the Jews, who are the Christians, and who decides?
During the opening Q&A, Hagee dodged controversy about two groups of Christians: the so-called "Messianic Jews", who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Jewish Messiah and their Divine Savior, and the "Jews for Jesus", who seek to convert Jews to Christianity. Hagee encouraged audience members to read his latest book, In Defense of Israel. He insisted that anyone who read his book would clearly understand his position on these issues. Hagee sought to avoid a renewed public airing of the controversy over the "Great Commission," a claim that Christians must convert everyone to Christianity, which has already caused James Hutchens, the leader of the more right-wing group The Jerusalem Connection and a former CUFI regional director and board member, to leave the organization and denounce Hagee. Even though Hutchens was absent from the gathering, his sentiments were echoed by others who were committed to his ideas.

One attendee spoke her mind about the punishment awaiting Jews who continue to reject Jesus.

A conference attendee asked Hagee what he thought about the "Dual Covenant"—the belief that Jews can go to heaven by following the Torah, but non-Jews must convert to Christianity by accepting Jesus at their savior. Hagee insisted that while God had many covenants, there is only one true path to salvation. However, he coyly did not specify this path, leaving audience members to guess what he meant. When asked if he thought Christians should try to convert Jews to Christianity, Hagee insisted that conversion is not CUFI's purpose.

Jews and the Rapture
Hagee's vague assertion that there is only one path to salvation raises serious questions about his support for Israel and the Jewish people. If he believes that salvation can only be achieved in one way, and he loves the Jewish people, then why would he want to keep this path to salvation from them? It is a tough question for most Christians, and perhaps not a fair one to push exclusively on Hagee. But it is difficult to reconcile his love for the Jewish people with his constant emphasis on the Christian path to salvation.

While Hagee admitted that the word "Rapture" does not actually appear in the bible, he assured his audience that believers would be taken to heaven. Hagee said that those "who do not believe in the Rapture -- don't want to believe in the Rapture because they're not ready for it." He referenced two passages in the bible that he said proved his theory of the Rapture. "I assure you it's going to happen," Hagee told the audience. "Ready or not. Get ready. Like it or not, get ready."

It is surprising that Hagee would speak so explicitly about the Rapture, which is intimately intertwined with tribulation theology—specifically pre-tribulation theology. The Rapture makes no sense if you are not actually being raptured from something. And it is this tribulation theology that condemns the Jewish people to one of two fates: they must either convert to Christianity or die in the battle of Armageddon.

Hagee denies the belief that the ingathering of the Jews, the reunification of Jerusalem, and the building of the third temple are part of his theory of the End Times leading to the Rapture because he wants his followers—and critics, for that matter—to not be diverted from the belief that his support for Israel has nothing to do with fulfilling eschatology (end time) hopes. While this is extremely unlikely, it is not completely out of the realm of possibility. That being said, it is at the very least disheartening that the leader of a group that so passionately supports Israel believes in an eschatological system in which the Jewish people have no positive role but only a utilitarian role—especially given Hagee's alleged love and respect for the Jews.

The biggest danger behind CUFI's positions on these issues is that they establish a fantasyland in which the Jewish people are placed on a pedestal for Christians to regard with awe. At best, this is a case of philo-semitism, where the Jews are seen as God's chosen people. Because they are above the rest of humanity, they are to be slightly feared and accommodated at any cost. At worst, Hagee and others see the Jews as a means to end. In this line of thinking, the Jewish people are simply part of a holy formula, where they may benefit in this life, but ultimately, the blessing must be passed back to the "blesser" (the Christians). While CUFI's actions may benefit Israel and the Jewish people, these actions are motivated by self-interest. The problem with both of these views is that they create a web of conflicting feelings in which the Jewish people are denied their humanity and their agency.

In the first scenario, they are simply a means to an end and in the second, they are superhuman and consequently not permitted to fail or to be wrong. As if on a pedestal, they are restricted in where they can move and how they can act. Israelis might seek a territorial comprise with the Palestinians but any difficulties or hiccups in the agreement must be understood as God's judgment punishment.

TOPIC: Christian Zionists