The Wall Street Journal reports that pastor John Hagee, the man whose endorsement was worth so much to John McCain that he was willing to overlook a long history of vicious and heretical statements, is issuing a "letter of apology" to Catholics. You can see the letter here.
The letter is addressed to -- who else -- Catholic League president Bill Donohue, who accepted his apology. No doubt the two will be attending bake sales together in the near future.
I was raised Roman Catholic -- my mother was a Catechism teacher, that whole nine yards -- so as such am quite familiar with the history of anti-Catholic statements made by pastors like Hagee. So if Bill Donohue doesn't mind, or even if he does, I'm going to interject here.
First off: Bill Donohue is not the Batman of Catholicism. If you want to issue an apology to Catholics, there is an enormous list of people with actual important positions in the Catholic Church. There are Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and a currently-German guy we like to call "The Holy Father". If the Roman Catholic Church was the Justice League, Donohue wouldn't be Superman, or Flash, nor even the clever but distinctly non-super Batman, the guy with no actual powers but more personal gadgets than a CIA-funded Sharper Image store. No, Donohue would be the guy who shows up at the door in his own handmade suit and will not leave.
So by addressing his "apology" to Bill Donohue, Hagee immediately shows his distain for the actual Church by apologizing not to them, but to a frequently controversial, frequently itself criticized political lobbying group with no actual power or position in the Church other than to denounce whatever pop culture trinket Bill Donohue feels needs a good denouncing on any particular day. Donohue is hardly less controversial than Hagee, and himself is prone to calling people "whores" and opining about the sexual habits of "secular Jews". Perhaps they can apologize to each other.
But I find a certain profundity in Hagee's letter. It is certainly not the letter one would expect of a self-styled prophet -- though as actual apology, it manages to be predictably oblique in what it is Hagee is apologizing for. He apologizes for stupidities he himself gleaned and repeated from longtime anti-Catholic rhetoric, but leaves intact his underlying, core presumption -- that the Catholic Church will be a vehicle for the Antichrist in Hagee's interpretations of imminent apocalypse, because we all suck so very badly. I suppose on this rather central point, we are expected to agree to disagree... after all, Hagee is careful to note that not all Catholics will serve Satan... some will be raptured away, after all.
I will admit, I long ago became personally tired of hearing anything from John Hagee. He is the basest form of heretic; he preaches that God rewards his disciples with monetary wealth (which he himself indulges in), he propagates Rapture teachings, and he inserts his own prophetic "interpretations" that manage to pin End Times demonic affiliation on everyone from the Russians to the Chinese to the ACLU. As Matt Taibbi recently wrote an entire book discussing, his own church is about one strawberry flavor packet away from being a full-fledged cult. (Once you've got your disciples casting out "the demon of handwriting analysis", you've lost the plot.) His "end times" rhetoric is based entirely on the propagation of his own bigotries; a single letter declaring special dispensation for we Catholics to not take him seriously hardly smacks of a reformed mind. His love for the Jewish people is less true respect than premeditated sociopathy, predicated on the notion that they will Really Soon Now all be killed or converted by the Second Coming.
And because of all this pandering to bigotries, Evangelical exceptionalism, American exceptionalism and the like, he is predictably a quite powerful figure in America. What a surprise.
Here is the letter. If John Hagee can make a fat living from painstakingly reinterpreting every passage and phrase and syllable of the Bible into meeting his own needs, I am sure he will not mind if I subject his own letter to a far more gentle disassembly.
Dear Mr. Donohue,
Insofar as some of my past statements regarding the Roman Catholic Church have raised concerns in your community,
Yes, calling someone "the great whore" and asserting they will be in league with the Antichrist when the end times come tends to put a hell of a zing in community relations. I'd say that's a big ol' fart in the cathedral, right there.
I am writing in a spirit of mutual respect and reconciliation to clarify my views.
Out of a desire to advance greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful. After engaging in constructive dialog with Catholic friends and leaders, I now have an improved understanding of the Catholic Church, its relation to the Jewish faith, and the history of anti-Catholicism.
This passage fascinates me. After years of rhetoric, just now he has had a dialog with "Catholic friends"? Who on earth are they? Where were they before now? Eating babies? Conspiring with Muslims? One moment John Hagee is a hateful blowhard, the next he has "Catholic friends". Is this like a Stephen Colbert thing? Is there someone out there in America who has had their picture taken with Hagee, as His New Catholic Friend?
In my zeal to oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its ugly forms, I have often emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of the Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews. In the process, I may have contributed to the mistaken impression that the anti-Jewish violence of the Crusades and the Inquisition defines the Catholic Church. It most certainly does not. Likewise, I have not sufficiently expressed my deep appreciation for the efforts of Catholics who opposed the persecution of the Jewish people. It is important to note that there were thousands of righteous Catholics -- both clergy and laymen -- who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. According to many scholars, including historian Martin Gilbert and Rabbi David Dalin (author of The Myth of Hitler's Pope), Pope Pius XII personally intervened to save Jews.
No comment. Other than we seem to be veering towards an apology letter that comes perilously close to having its own footnotes.
In addition, I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the "apostate church" and the "great whore" described in the Book of Revelation is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary.
Again, I do not know quite how to parse this. He is not quite apologizing for his past statements... only for the fact that his past statements somehow managed to coincidentally hit upon the same spiritual libel as a thousand anti-Catholic figures before him. Which in spite of all his learning, he did not realize until now.
I hope you recognize that I have repeatedly stated that my interpretation of Revelation leads me to conclude that the "apostate church" and the "great whore" appear only during the seven years of tribulation after all true believers -- Catholic and Protestant -- have been taken up to heaven. Therefore, neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church.
And this is the nut of it.
This, I think, is why this apology grates on me as badly as any of his previous statements. Both in his sudden understanding that the Roman Catholic Church is not the sum of the Crusades and the Inquisition, and this new sudden comprehension that calling the entirety of the Catholic Church "the great whore" might be a bad thing, the apology is predicated on the supposition that he just discovered these things.
But Hagee is not a bank teller or professional bobsledder: he is a Christian preacher. And not just any preacher at that, but one who has based his own church on the notion that he has the ability to interpret random passages of Scripture better than any of the rest of us, and each of his interpretations guides him to a prophesy of imminent, violent apocalypse. He is obsessed with prophecy; the very reason his "great whore" rhetoric came about is because of his single-minded notion to set every passage of Revelations against a contemporary match, such that he could map the course of Armageddon for his terrified followers.
If he can do all this, and yet be so terribly imprecise in all those past interpretations, than is that not itself proof that those interpretations are no more divinely inspired than the menu at a Denny's? What does that mean, not synonymous with the Catholic Church? Are Catholics supposed to feel better because only some portions of the Church will be allied with Hagee's expected Antichrist? Or is Hagee truly denying his entire history of prophetic statements, all of which revolve around his assertion of the Catholic Church as a force of evil?
What I find so remarkable is that a supposedly holy man can be so obviously and transparently full of blather and nonsense -- yet another supposed Christian prophet who sees inspiration in every part of the Bible from Genesis to Ezekiel to Revelations, but always seems to manage to miss the parts with Jesus in it -- and yet he still can find people willing to buy into whatever brand of Godly inspired mayhem and destruction that he is selling. But it should not be remarkable, because it is, at this point, commonplace. Benny Hinn has made an entire career from outright false prophecy -- no, let me capitalize that, to emphasize the Biblical severity of the spiritual crime -- False Prophecy -- and yet is looked at as a man of God, thus proving that the only truly renewable resource on the planet is idiocy.
In recent decades, Catholics and Evangelicals of good will have worked together to defeat the evil of Communism,
Every litany of world evils must, if you are a particular sort of political preacher, begin with the specter of Communism. This is seldom explained -- most often it is just presumed as synonym for atheism or other ungodliness, though why this brand of Christianity finds itself arrayed more against Communism than any other political construct, all of which are just as prone to crazy non-Christianity as Communism is, seems suspiciously grounded in secular concerns.
promote what Pope John Paul II called "a culture of life" that protects every human life from conception to natural death,
... unless you are Iraqi, in which case you can suck it, or Iranian, in which case we have to use your blood to help open up the Jesus Gate ...
honors the institution of marriage,
... and that most cherished of Christian traditions, the divorce by fax machine ...
and defends the rights of the poor.
... by declaring that if God really loved them, they wouldn't be poor.
As I wrote in my tribute to Pope Benedict XVI after President Bush welcomed him to the White House, he "spoke for all of us when he said that 'any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted' and called for the Christian participation 'in the exchange of ideas in the public square.'" Both Catholics and Evangelicals have been engaged in an effort to assert the primacy of faith and values in our increasingly secular society.
A peace offering, here; the enemy of my enemy is the goddamn secularists. Let's join forces to better attack them, instead of fighting with each other!
My profound respect for the Catholic people has been demonstrated in my own ministry. For example, when the Ursuline Sisters of San Antonio were on the verge of losing their home, our church bought the property for our school and allowed them to continue living in their home free of charge for twelve years. The sisters were part of the daily life of the school, walking the grounds and the hallways where the children would embrace them and hold their hands in friendship. The love of our school children for these sisters symbolize my own feelings as well. I pledge to address these sensitive subjects in the future with a greater level of compassion and respect for my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is with this sense of Christian fellowship I hope to reestablish with Catholics with whom I and all Evangelicals must unite to be a voice for life, the family, marriage, and Christian values to our nation and the world.
Pastor John Hagee
I will admit here to feeling less like someone being tendered an apology than like a lamb being led to the slaughter. Hagee and Donohue, deciding together who to properly hate, and how much, and whether or not it is the secular Jews or the gays or the Communists or the Muslims or South Park that pose the greatest threat to good, God fearing, rapture-ready Christians. Sigh.
The Christian thing to do, of course, is accept any sincere apology offered, no matter how grave the past offense or how angry you may still be. But despite popular belief, gullibility is not one of the central tenets of the religion, so Hagee will have to forgive some of us if we see his politically timed apology to a political figure as a suspiciously political act, rather than a spiritually sincere one. I can no more accept Hagee's apology on behalf of all Catholics than media gadfly Bill Donohue can, but for my own self: fine. John, you're a new man, you've seen the error of your ways, you're forgiven.
Now as it says somewhere in the Book you have so avidly parsed to so little reflection: go forth and sin no more.