Sunday, August 14, 2011

Preacher of War heading for Birmingham

AS a man and a youth go on trial for murder in Birmingham today, arising from the death of three young men knocked down by a car while defending neighbourhood shops during riots, people from the city's various communities are going to hold a peace rally.

But peace and tolerance are far from the agenda of a controversial American pastor heading for Birmingham next week.

Pastor Jack Hagee, who plans to hold a rally in the Symphony Hall, is the man who said that Hitler had been sent by God, as the "hunter" who would drive Jews out of the cracks and crevasses of German society, and force them to go to Israel.

Now he wants the United States to join Israel in a first-strike nuclear war against Iran, and claims this would be fulfilling divine prophecy.

Hagee claims Muslims are exhorted by the Koran to kill Christians and Jews.

It was after Hagee's sermon about God sending Hitler was publicised in 2008 that Republican presidential candidate John McCaine decided to repudiate the pastor's endorsement. But that has not ended the pastor's preaching prominence or political influence. Said to have had the ear of George Dubya Bush, Hagee serves as head pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and hosts his own television program, seen twice a day on the Evangelical christian network TBN which claims to reach 92 million American households and is expanding overseas.

The Texan preacher also appeared on right-wing broadcaster Glenn Beck's show a number of times, and offered prayers the evening before Beck’s “Divine Destiny“ event last year. Beck showed his own take on Hitler after the killing of young people attending a Labour Party summer camp in Norway, comparing the murdered youngsters to Nazis, rather than their killer. Formerly with Murdoch's Fox News, Beck is unsurprisingly known for opposing Muslims, alleged Lefties, and supposedly over-generous welfare payments.

If Pastor Hagee's brand of Christian preaching has little of the peace and love associated with his religion's founder, nor does his church have much time for vows of poverty. But it has a distinct angle on charity. The Word of Faith programme on TBN is a non-denominational Pentecostal movement, based on the power of the spoken word to claim one’s spiritual and material desires. The movement’s other central tenet,is that “sowing a seed”—contributing to the ministry—will result in the donor’s “harvest” of personal prosperity. Like the televangelists’ individual ministries, TBN is operated by a non-profit entity, so contributions are tax-deductible to the donor and tax free to the ministry.

While TBN reaps more than $100 million of revenue per year, mostly from viewer donations, Hagee’s organization reports annual revenues of about $15 million. In 2004, the San Antonio News Express reported that he was the highest-paid nonprofit executive in that city; his pay was nearly twice that of the next best-paid executive.

As for divine judgments, Hagee claimed that Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,800 people in 2005, was “the judgment of God against New Orleans” because of a planned Gay Pride parade. He also said it was "no
accident" that the Icelandic volcano erupted to disrupt UK flights and hurt the economy, the day after the Advertising Standards Authority here ruled against an Israeli government tourism poster depicting the Dome of the Rock and old city of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Shlomo Odze of Birmingham Central Synagogue has been quoted by the Birmingham Post, accusing Pastor Hagee of antisemitism. But if the pastor's theme of Hitler-the-hunter sending Jews to Israel was not enough to bridge the divide between Bible Belt bigots and worried Jewish people, even religious Zionist allies, the cheques and lobbying support from his Christians United for Israel (CUFI) seem to have endeared him to Benyamin Netanyahu. Just when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) seemed to be weakening, and facing dissent from American Jews, Hagee has ridden to the rescue with big bucks and the mobilising muscle of right-wing Christian evangelism.

Ironically, some of this Christian money has gone to right-wing Zionists in Israel to help them campaign against civil rights and peace groups which they denounce for receiving foreign funds! But the vision of Jack Hagee and evangelists like him goes beyond their insistence that Israel must hold on to occupied territories and deny equality to Palestinians. These Armageddon preachers seek an end-time war with Iran, which they claim was biblically prophesised, and will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ - along incidentally with the extinction of those Jews who fail to convert in time. There's a price for everything.

Apparently this won't be the first time Hagee has been to the UK. He held a rally on May 14-15, 2010 at Westminster Central Hall, organised by the John Hagee Ministries UK-registered charity, and attended by over 2,800 delegates. JHM UK is based in an office in Swindon, in the west of England, and is headed by a certain Des Starritt, who provides management services for a number of organisations and religious ministries.

Maybe it is not too much to ask that those who are concerned about Muslim fundamentalists and their influence should take a look at the well-funded American Christian original? And to ask whether someone like Hagee is what is wanted in Birmingham right now?

Labour MP Richard Burden (Northfields) has compared Hagee's case with that of the Palestinian Muslim Raeed Salah who was arrested at the start of a speaking tour and told he was not allowed in this country. The MP urges Birmingham council to refuse Hagee the use of its premises.

Acknowledgements to Richard Bartholomew for first bringing attention to this in his blog last month.

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