The Real Lessons of the Hagee Case Print
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 06 June 2008

Pastor John Hagee partly deserved what he got in the recent kerfuffle over his lurid remarks about the Catholic Church. If you are going to throw punches at Catholicism in public, you can expect to get a few thrown back at you. But the actions taken against him by some Catholics went too far, and may come with a hidden cost for Catholic-Evangelical relations and for John McCain, too.

Hagee’s claim that the Church is the Whore of Babylon mentioned in the Book of Revelation brought the wrath of both the left and the right. It is easy to see why the left attacked him. They don’t give a hoot if the Church is maligned, but looked gleefully at the chance to bloody McCain and perhaps conservative Catholics and Evangelicals in general. Most of the public criticism of Hagee came from the hard left like Rachel Madow of the Air America radio network and the increasingly hysterical Keith Olberman of MSNBC. Moreover, the left is truly flummoxed by the Catholic-Evangelical alliance. Even those who usually trumpet ecumenism like the Catholic liberals at Commonweal express disgust at this truly ecumenical alliance.

So, what accounts for the attacks on Hagee from groups like the Catholic League? I admire Bill Donohue greatly. He has done yeoman service in defending the Church. Hagee is certainly not the first Evangelical to think such things or even to say them in public. Because the usual targets of Donohue and the Catholic League are the liberal media and Hollywood, Donohue is accused of a pro-Republican bias. Everyone who works on the right side of the culture wars is so accused. Perhaps Hagee and his endorsement of McCain presented an opportunity for Donohue to burnish his non-partisan credentials.

But then something funny happened. After McCain distanced himself from Hagee’s comments and the fire had died except for some lingering embers on the far left, efforts commenced to “broker the peace” between Donohue and Hagee. Hagee was made to apologize for something that many Evangelicals believe: that the Catholic Church is wrong, and even damnably wrong, on fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Doctrinal disagreement is old news. What's new is how harmoniously orthodox believers of all faiths, even despite our profound differences, have banded together in modern times to fight a greater threat than each other: radical secularism. The strength of this alliance lies in our common view that beliefs should not be watered down or apologized for. They are bracketed, while all sides join together against a common foe.

This did not happen by accident. Great strides have been made in the past quarter century between Evangelicals and Catholics. Where once there was open hostility - aimed mostly at Catholics - there is now a closeness and common purpose that can only be considered providential. Human agency has helped, of course, most notably “Catholics and Evangelicals Together,” the majestic project of Father Richard John Neuhaus, Charles Colson, and others, which meets regularly to work out common understandings or civil disagreements over doctrinal issues.

A parallel development has been the great coming together of Evangelicals and Catholics in the fight against abortion. This coalition has grown into a potent force that has changed the face of American politics and kept such issues as abortion and marriage on the hottest burner in American politics – and even encouraged similar efforts internationally. But it has done much more. It has nurtured greater friendship, understanding, and even love between Evangelicals and Catholics.

The Catholics I know who work on these and other equally important cultural questions often assume that some of their Evangelical allies believe the Church is the Whore of Babylon or that we worship Mary or other such things. And so what? They’re wrong. We know it. Following the teaching of recent popes, we work for Christian unity, knowing it will not come soon. In the meantime, we have other fish to fry.

And so what was the price for making Hagee dance? Did anyone think how the typical Evangelical pew-sitter might view one of their own being forced to apologize for beliefs that are not uncommon in their own circles? One Evangelical leader in the movement said privately that it was offensive; tantamount to making Hagee apologize simply for being an Evangelical pastor.

More than the end of abortion or the triumph of traditional marriage or the election of John McCain, God wants His children to be united with Him, in this world and the next. Out of the evil of abortion and attacks on the family, He has brought this great, unprecedented coming together of His Protestant and Catholic children. And it has happened by all sides working closely together even though profound theological differences separate us. Not by demanding apologies.


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