The following is adapted from Sarah Posner's new book, God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters out now from PoliPoint Press. Posner's column, "The FundamentaList" appears every Wednesday at TAP Online.
Although over the past two years John Hagee has gained international notoriety for his agitation for an Armageddon war with Iran and his evangelical Zionist project, Christians United for Israel, back in 2000 he was little known outside Pentecostal circles. But for many years Hagee had been a mainstay on religious television, a Word of Faith televangelist with a large and devoted following. Known also as the prosperity gospel, Word of Faith is a nondenominational religious movement with no membership or doctrinal requirements. Its main tenets are revelation knowledge, through which the believer derives knowledge directly from God, rather than from the senses; identification, through which the believer is inhabited by God and is another incarnation of Jesus; positive confession, or the power of the believer to call things into existence; the right of believers to divine health; and the right of believers to divine wealth. It is through revelation knowledge that the Word of Faith movement has created its alternate universe in which rational thought is rejected and where the media, intellectual thought, science, and any type of critical thinking are scorned. Drawing on the Pentecostal tradition of casting out devils, pursuits associated with the Enlightenment, especially secularism and humanistic thought, are denounced as the work of Satan.
When preparing to run for president, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush knew that the San Antonio televangelist had a large television audience, which Bush family evangelical adviser Doug Wead estimated at seven million strong. Wead had ghostwritten Hagee's 1997 conspiracy-theory book, Day of Deception, which claims to take "a probing look inside the United States government and expose blatant acts of deception designed to destroy democracy in America." Those "acts of deception," according to the book, were carried out by the Antichrist in his effort to install a "one-world order." Evidence of the one-world order, according to Hagee, includes "the Eastern Establishment," the United Nations, the National Education Association (NEA), the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Illuminati, the imaginary, shadowy group of international financiers that has long been fodder for conspiracy theorists. Hagee didn't mention that many Illuminati theorists believe in a connection between the Illuminati and the Yale secret society Skull and Bones, to which both Bushes belong. Nor did Hagee, who bills himself as a friend of the Jews, note that Illuminati conspiracies have often included anti-Semitic narratives about Jewish bankers.
In his 1988 campaign biography of Bush Sr., Wead sought to dispel conspiracies that the Bush family was behind the supposed one-world order. But as a ghostwriter, Wead blamed his old boss for trying to bring about what Hagee believes is a satanic, demonic "new world order." Just one year after penning Hagee's conspiracy-laden screed, Wead was pushing Governor Bush and Karl Rove to arrange meetings between the governor and the pastor, and the governor enlisted Hagee to recruit other pastors to sign on to the Bush campaign effort.
Despite accusing Bush Sr. of collaboration with the Antichrist, Hagee delivered for George W. Bush in his 2000 book, God's Candidate for America. In that book, Hagee was unequivocal that Jesus would vote for Bush. "If you are concerned about the sort of America your children and grandchildren will grow up within," Hagee wrote, "then you need to cast your vote for George W. Bush and the Republican Party." God's Candidate, like Day of Deception, decries Satan's work through the United Nations and the NEA but omits references to a new world order created by international financiers and the "Eastern Establishment." Hagee continued to promote the book even after Bush took office, and he wrote a prayer for the president in the post-2004 election edition of Stephen Mansfield's campaign biography, The Faith of George W. Bush.
But for the vitriolic preacher, it wasn't enough to endorse Bush; Hagee had to equate the opposition with evil incarnate. The Democratic Party, Hagee wrote, "is the home of those who advocate homosexuality, abortion, free-sex, unlimited handouts, maximum taxation, little freedom from government control, and toleration of drug use." The GOP, in contrast, "is the home of social conservatives who believe in the sanctity of life, hard work, clean moral living, limited government interference in our lives, minimum taxation, and a return to Bible-based societal values." The book was published by his nonprofit Global Evangelism Television, which that year used tax-exempt donor money to pay Hagee nearly half a million dollars in salary and deferred compensation for sixteen hours of work a week. Hagee earned another $300,000 from his church. But in keeping with the Word of Faith credo that poverty is evidence of insufficient faith, Hagee went on to depict welfare as satanic:
Instead of faith, Satan offers fear; instead of commitment, Satan offers selfish promiscuity; instead of stable home lives, Satan offers multiple divorces. Instead of career and gainful employment, Satan offers laziness and quick-money schemes and gambling. Instead of Christian charity, Satan offers a lifetime on the public dole. God's will for each man and woman is to have positive self-esteem; Satan wants each man, woman, and child to feel insignificant.
Hagee offered up then-Governor Bush's taxpayer-funded, "faith-based initiative" as the best alternative to Satan.
The Bush-Hagee alliance possessed a certain cognitive dissonance as so-called compassionate conservatism collided with mean-spirited denunciations of demon possession. Hagee lauded the Republican Contract with America, spearheaded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who later admitted that he was committing adultery while pursuing the impeachment of Clinton. Nonetheless, Hagee invited Gingrich to be the keynote speaker for his 2007 Christians United for Israel Washington Summit. Mirroring the right-wing noise machine, while also reflecting the anti-intellectualism of Word of Faith, Hagee added that "the worldy-wise pseudo-sophisticates of the major news media will always put a positive spin on stories involving pet liberal issues while sneering at issues important to Christians and conservatives." Hagee's disdain for "pseudo-sophisticates" reflects the Word of Faith view that revelation knowledge is superior to the other truth-seeking pursuits and that any endeavor driven by critical thinking is to be not only scorned but mistrusted as the work of the devil himself.
In his writing and preaching, Hagee makes clear that people who engage in revelation thinking are controlled by God, not by their minds, and therefore will have more financial abundance in their lives: "Reason givers are controlled by their minds," he writes in his book, Mastering Your Money. "They do not ask God how much they should give; they ask their CPA. Revelation givers are controlled by the Holy Spirit. They see God as their supplier. Revelation givers do not give according to what they have, but according to what God can supply." Hagee continues that "you will never prosper until you believe and confess that it is God's will for you to prosper." He believes that there are two economic forces at work, those of God and those of Satan, and "you do not qualify for God's abundance until you become God's child." And exhibiting the anti-worldly, anti-government position of Word of Faith, Hagee maintains that "God Almighty controls the economy of America, and God controls your income! Your source is God, not the United States government. ... When you give to God, He controls your income. There is no such thing as fixed income in the Kingdom of God. Your income is controlled by your giving." Believing or not believing in these principles is one's choice, and if you make the wrong choice, you've clearly sided with Satan and will be cursed financially: "The difference between living a life of prosperity and a life of poverty is a matter of choice. ... Tithing is a choice. If you choose to not tithe, you will be living under a financial curse."
One former member of Hagee's church, fearful to talk on the record because Hagee is "really powerful" and has "got so much clout," described Hagee as "very angry" and "not approachable." The former member, who attended Cornerstone for about ten years, recalled that she had been going to Cornerstone for six years before she actually met Hagee. "I said, 'Oh, Pastor Hagee, I'm finally getting to meet you after six years,' and he said, 'Oh, I've been back here every Sunday' and turned and walked off." Her husband is bipolar, and when they went to marriage counseling, the church "told him he was a loser and an infidel." The counselors encouraged the former congregant to leave her husband, but "thankfully, I prayed enough. ... I began to see trouble, you know, I began to see things that wasn't right."
About the tithe, the former Cornerstone member recalled, "That's a shame issue there if you don't tithe. … We've heard him say, … everybody who's got their tithing envelope, wave it in the air. So that's shame on you" if you don't tithe. Yet Hagee, before he converted his nonprofit Global Evangelism Television into a church in 2004 (thus relieving him of the obligation to file a publicly available tax return), was known to be the highest-paid nonprofit executive in San Antonio, making nearly $1 million a year. Now, because of the conversion, his salary remains a secret. In 2000 his John C. Hagee Royalty Trust, whose trustee is Hagee's brother-in-law Scott Farhart, spent $5.5 million on a ranch in Brackettville, Texas. The property includes the Hagee-owned LaFonda Ranch, which has its own private airstrip, where televangelist and Hagee friend Kenneth Copeland landed his aircraft for a weekend of hunting rare exotic game.
Another component of Hagee's ranch is a cattle-raising operation. For that project, Hagee formed a nonprofit -- run only by himself -- called the Texas Israel Agricultural Research Foundation, which he claims works on joint research endeavors with an Israeli university. Water consumption is highly regulated in the parched section of the state where the ranch is located, but San Antonio legislator Frank Corte introduced a bill that would have exempted Hagee's outfit from the state's water use laws. To move the bill, Hagee enlisted the services of one of San Antonio's most powerful lobbyists, David Earl. Members of Hagee's church sent more than eighty nearly identical letters -- some from the church's fax machine -- to the Texas House of Representatives committee considering the bill, urging its passage. The letters argued that the bill would "protect Texas agricultural research projects that have entered into agreements to share information with Israeli organizations." The bill stalled in committee, and Hagee's lobbyists were forced to apply for permits from the local groundwater control board in Kinney County to pump water on the property.
Other Hagee ventures operate through trusts and companies run by Farhart and involve prominent San Antonio businesspeople. These ventures include a failed investment in a proposed hotel in downtown San Antonio and a planned development near his church. In another venture, Hagee crossed a group of local businesspeople who sought to market their beauty products made from salt from the Dead Sea through Hagee's ministry. They charged in a 2006 lawsuit that they entered into the deal after Hagee billed himself "as someone that had a lot of political connections," making the group "aware of his rubbing shoulders with people influential in the Bush Cabinet," according to the group's lawyer, Jesse Castillo. Castillo said that his clients claimed that Hagee backed out of the deal because the church was facing tax problems due to "a concern that they were mixing the business interests of the church with the business interests."
The former congregant whose husband is bipolar said that even though she and her husband wrote a big check to the church after they sold their house and tithed close to 10 percent of their income, "We never prospered there." Most of the people she knew there were struggling financially, including some who were evicted from their apartments because they couldn't pay their rent. Hagee, she said, has a "very powerful hold, and you don't even realize it. ... We were there ten years, and I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't figure out what it was." She even feared speaking to a reporter: "If I say too much about him, God's going to get me. ... [Hagee's] got so much money and he's so powerful, he could take everything we have in a minute."
Another former member told of tithing even when she had to borrow out of her 401(k) plan to make her mortgage payments. At one point, she said, "at Christmastime I didn't have gifts under my tree. Two small gifts for my kids, that was it. I was so broke, and I was tithing." At the time, she believed that tithing would result in her own blessing. Still another former member, a single mother divorced from an abusive husband, told of tithing out of her child support checks, even though she was living in an apartment with subsidized rent. Contrasting her small apartment with Hagee's home in an exclusive San Antonio subdivision and his multimillion-dollar ranch, she added, "I don't even have a house! My kids grew up on top of each other like sardines. ... I just want a little house." She added, "I thought something was wrong with me. Why am I still [living like this]. I've given and given and given and tithed and tithed and tithed." But while attending Cornerstone, she, like the others, felt guilt and enormous pressure not to question Hagee or his doctrine, and that atmosphere was reinforced through multiple church services each week and mandatory meetings with smaller cell groups whose leaders were vetted on the basis of classes, tests, and the faithfulness of their tithing. As a result, the former member said, "I looked to Pastor Hagee as a god."