NAE to Pressure Israel for Palestinians?

Jeff Sharlet at The Revealer brings to attention

confusing news from the Jewish Forward: the National Association of Evangelicals is set to announce a new, more pro-Palestinian policy on Israel. Why? Because it wants to counter liberal churches that are putting economic pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestianians. Wait — that doesn’t make sense. And it gets trickier. How is the NAE signaling its new openness? By sending its president, our friend Ted Haggard, to Israel to meet with Sharon, whom he says was chosen by God, and pledge to support Israel “come hell or high water.”

Haggard’s original comments were carried in the Jerusalem Post back in May:

“We want you to know that we stand behind you in efforts to bring peace,” an official in Sharon’s office quoted Haggard as telling Sharon.

Haggard told Sharon that the official policy of the organization he represents is “to support the state of Israel come hell or high water. We are staunch supporters. We believe that you were chosen by God to lead the people of Israel in this difficult period. We fully support you, because we believe it is God’s will.”

He said that Bush used those exact words – support for Israel ‘come hell or high water’ – during a meeting the President had with Evangelical leaders prior to November’s elections.

Haggard added that opposition to Sharon does not represent the grassroots opinion of the Evangelical community. When Sharon was in Crawford, Texas, last month, a group of Evangelicals protested against the disengagement plan.

However, the Forward now reports that some other Evangelical figures felt that Haggard had overstepped his authority, as the NAE does not have an official position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Haggard immediately denied making the comments, but not in time to stop them from being carried in American Christian newspapers…In an interview this week with the Forward, Haggard repeated his denial of comments reported in The Jerusalem Post. “These were not my words,” he said.

…Still, Haggard told the Forward, he would be open to adopting an official statement that recognized both the evangelical community’s commitment to Israel and the need to achieve justice for both sides.

So why the discrepancy? Sharlet suspects

…the sneakiness of Ted Haggard. Ted first announced his mission to Israel in the now infamous memo in which he warned his congregation to not “act weird” when Tom Brokaw came to visit the church…There are things, he said, that “are too wonderful for us to know.” A euphemism, he suggested, for the secrets leaders must keep from those who could never hope to understand. Such as other NAE bigs, for instance, who, according to the Forward, are confused and outraged by Ted’s Israeli adventure.

In fact, Haggard’s “sneakiness” regarding Israel has a bit of history. As the Colorado Springs Independent reported in 2003:

…New Life [Haggard’s church] does have a small “Israel prayer group,” which meets weekly. The group practices Israeli dances; has adopted an Israeli settlement, Beit Haggai; and holds garage sales to raise money for the settlement.

Three years ago, the prayer group even invited Gershon Salomon, a radical Jewish Zionist, to speak at the World Prayer Center. The group took up a collection for Salomon’s Israel-based organization, the Temple Mount Faithful, which advocates demolishing the Dome of the Rock — the third-holiest site in Islam, located on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple that once stood on the mount but was destroyed in A.D. 70.

…Pastor Haggard himself, however, who in March was elected president of the National Association of Evangelicals, isn’t among those who believe Christians must “force the hand of God” by actively backing such efforts to bring about the Second Coming…”There is a segment of evangelicalism that believes that [the Book of Revelations is about to be fulfilled], but that segment is not in our most prestigious evangelical seminaries,” Haggard says. “I would be shocked if there is a rebuilding of the temple [on the Temple Mount] within the next 200 years.”

Haggard says his support for Israel is “predominantly political.”…Yet for now, he supports efforts to make the road map work, and he backs the two-state solution.

This looks like Haggard is just imitating Sharon’s line of blarney: Sharon talks vaguely about a final settlement to please Bush as Israel consolidates its grip on the West Bank; and so Haggard offers some platitudes about justice for both sides while his plausibly deniable “Israel prayer group” finances an illegal settlement and the Israeli far-right. One wonders how Haggard’s rhetoric might change if (when?) Netanyahu takes over the helm.

On the other hand, I think we can accept Haggard’s claim to be “predominantly political” in his support of Israel, rather than a Hal Lindsey-style apocalyptic Christian Zionist. It is possible that the official from Sharon’s office was alarmed by anti-disengagement rhetoric from the likes of Pastor Jim Vineyard; this may have inspired a few gushing quotes that could be falsely attributed to the leader of the NAE.

2 Responses

  1. […] to square that with his church’s “adoption” of the illegal settlement of Beit Haggai; I speculated back in July that Haggard was probably just following Sharon’s vague platitudes about a […]

  2. […] is a more significant figure. Haggard, who heads the National Association of Evangelicals, is a strong supporter of Israel, and his New Life church helps to fund an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. […]

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