Jerry Falwell carefully selected and discipled his successors at the two institutions most near and dear to his heart: his oldest son Jerry Jr. will take over the reins at Liberty University, and his younger son Jonathan will ascend to the post of senior pastor at the Thomas Road Baptist Church. But what about Falwell’s political successor? After creating the religious right, to whom did Dr. Falwell pass the baton?
While few pundits have recognized it, the correct answer to this question is becoming increasingly clear with every passing day. Falwell’s most prominent successor is Pastor John Hagee, the Texas preacher and television minister who is the most outspoken Christian defender of Israel in America today. Pastor Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel, is the most significant heir to the Moral Majority. And for evangelical Christians today, being pro-Israel occupies the place that being pro-life occupied in prior decades.
The social issues are, of course, still of the utmost importance to religious conservatives. They always will be. But September 11th shuffled the deck. In the religious conservative world, 9/11 catalyzed a subtle shift in priorities that has placed Israel at the forefront of a number of issues close to our hearts.
Before 9/11, it seemed to most religious conservatives that the greatest threat to our society came from secularists determined to narrow the role of faith in the public square and weaken the protections that our society provides to the most vulnerable among us. After 9/11, a growing contingent of religious conservatives now believes that the greatest threat to our society comes from militant Muslims who seek to destroy it.
To so many of us, it has become clear that we’re facing nothing less than a threat to the survival of Judeo-Christian civilization. And in this struggle Israel is a crucial outpost of our civilization that we dare not allow to fall. If militant Islam poses the greatest threat, then standing with our ally Israel as it fights our common enemies becomes our greatest priority. Once we ensure the survival of Judeo-Christian civilization, we can return our primary focus to the work of increasing the influence of our Judeo-Christian values within this civilization.
This shift in evangelical priorities is the only explanation for the explosive growth of Christians United for Israel. In the little over one year since its founding, CUFI has built a national grassroots organization that encompasses 48 states and over 90 cities. Last July, CUFI brought over 3,600 delegates to Washington, DC to meet with their Congressmen on this issue of Israel. CUFI expects even more delegates this July. Pastor John Hagee has assembled a leadership team which included Dr. Falwell, and includes many prominent Christian leaders including Dr. Michael Little, Gary Bauer, Pastor Rod Parsley, Dr. Kenneth Copeland, Pastor George Morrison, Pastor Mac Hammond and Bishop Keith Butler.
If this assertion – that Israel is the highest priority of the evangelical Christian community – strikes you as unlikely, then you simply haven’t been listening. From the start, supporting Israel was central to Jerry Falwell’s mission. When he created the Moral Majority in 1979, Dr. Falwell announced a fourfold platform for his new movement. One of these founding principles was to provide “support for Israel and Jewish people everywhere.”
When asked why he supported Israel so strongly, Dr. Falwell often mentioned Israel’s democracy and the fact that the Jewish State was a crucial American ally in both the Cold War and the War against Terror. Dr. Falwell was also fond of quoting Genesis 12:3, which promises blessings to those who bless Israel. As he once noted:
I firmly believe God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jew. If this nation wants her fields to remain white with grain, her scientific achievements to remain notable, and her freedom to remain intact, America must continue to stand with Israel.
But after 9/11, what had always been a priority for Dr. Falwell and evangelicals became the priority. Dr. Falwell expressed this shift in a 2002 interview for 60 Minutes. With all of the challenges facing Christians at that time, Dr. Falwell made his top priority crystal clear. He looked in the camera and declared:
There’s nothing that would bring the wrath of the Christian public in this country down on this government like abandoning or opposing Israel in a critical matter.
It would have been difficult for Dr. Falwell to be any clearer. When Pastor John Hagee founded Christians United for Israel with Dr. Falwell’s active assistance in February, 2006, he was taking Dr. Falwell’s theology and politics to their logical conclusion.
David Brog, a practicing Jew, is the executive director of Christians United for Israel (“CUFI”). He is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State. Prior to joining CUFI, Brog served as Chief of Staff for Senator Arlen Specter and as an executive at America Online.