Every Sunday, flights of lunacy from pulpits make sober Christians cringe. I guess, sooner or later, a maniacal statement was bound to go viral. For one thing, lunacy in preachers is so common. For another, the presidential campaign this year demanded a Republican sacrifice to balance Jeremiah Wright. And for another, the reliable men who provided self-satire in the past have either retired or gone to their reward. So, in the providence of God, John Hagee became the guy who took evangelical lunacy to the next level.
Major news organizations had been eying him suspiciously ever since he endorsed John McCain for president, principally because Hagee has described Roman Catholicism in the pungent terms of whoredom. But his elaborate support of Israel had been in his favor, at least freeing him from the taint of anti-Semitism. Alas, there was a sleeper.
Hagee had preached that the holocaust was part of God's plan to get the Jews back to the land. As reported in the New York Times, he said,
How is God going to bring them back to the land? The answer is fishers and hunters. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and forces you. Hitler was a hunter. . . . That will be offensive to some people. Well, dear heart, be offended: I didn’t write it. Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, "My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."
Late last week, McCain dumped him.
By Monday evening, Joe Liebermanwas pushed to answer whether he would speak to Hagee's group supporting Israel, becoming the latest politician to wish he hadn't consorted with preachers. (Lieberman said he will speak to the group.)
Hagee's comments about Hitler provoked debate that almost reached theology. There was, for instance, a post by Claire Hoffman on Sunday about the many "plans" God seems to have for the world.
The offense Hagee gave was in making God the author of Hitler's genocide. His statement as reported is exegetically indefensible. Jeremiah (the prophet from Jerusalem, not Chicago) never wrote that the murder of six million Jews would bring the Israelites back to the land. That idea is pure Hagee.
Doctrinally, Hagee's statement is loose -- at best. While he did say that God allowed, rather than caused, the holocaust, Hagee still explained the holocaust as God's calculation that Israel's return to the land was more important than six million lives. That explanation is, as theologian John McCain might say, "crazy and unacceptable." (Necessary qualifier: it is possible that Hagee makes other statements elsewhere in the sermon, or in other sermons, that clarify his understanding of God's wisdom and justice.)
But a neglected aspect of Hagee's offense is pastoral. His statement minimizes the unspeakable human cost of Hitler's genocide, a cost that is still within living memory. It's a clichéd spiritualizing of loss to say to the grieving that God had better things in mind for them than living with the ones they love. God does not call his pastors to glorify him by trivializing human suffering.
Inhumanity is entirely human. God has no complicity in it. The only reason there are not holocausts in every nation, every day, is that the good hand of God restrains human malice.
It is tempting to pronounce woes against the gotcha culture that has claimed Hagee. But I think the current animosity against preachers could be part of God's plan. Preachers must now remember that we can be YouTubed, and that our fulminations can reach those who won't interpret us charitably. We may learn how significant our words really are. We may discover a godly caution that is appropriate to teachers (James 3), and may find boldness in truths instead of self-indulgent abstractions.
But that, of course, will require us to study.