“These proposals included cries for billions of new money for social assistance in the name of “child poverty” and for more business subsidies in the name of “cultural identity”. In both cases I was sought out as a rare public figure to oppose such projects.” (Stephen Harper, The Bulldog, National Citizens Coalition, February 1997)
I have lived in the same neighborhood for more than twenty five years. When we moved here there was a little church around the corner, that I was told had been there at least twenty years before we arrived. I had never been inside and could not tell you what denomination it was. But it was a familiar landmark. "Go past the little church on the corner" ... "turn right at the little church on the corner".
And besides the Sunday services, it was often a hub of activity. School buses lined up to take members of the congregation on picnics. Evening meetings, where voices were raised in song. There always seemed to be something going on.
And every year they held a lawn and bake sale on the parking lot, and every year I attended. (Someone made the best banana bread on the planet). But last summer the sale seemed to be bigger than usual, with furniture, folding chairs and even a piano. I asked the woman at the table if they were renovating, but she said that they were going out of business. They could no longer afford to operate.
I noticed that one table had a rather large selection of John Hagee books and tapes, with a ridiculously low sale price. I think maybe fifty cents apiece. In my mind I thought there was a connection, not only in the fact that they had such a large collection of them, but that they had now deemed them to be almost worthless.
I was going to buy Jerusalem Countdown, out of curiosity, but decided that I didn't want that garbage in my house.
I've always believed that these small community churches serve such an important function, as they become like an extended family. Someone always knows when you are in hospital, under the weather or down on your luck. In a different variation to the song, "everyone dies famous in a small church." Somehow John Hagee didn't fit.
The Tithes That Bind You Up
The above video is of Hagee screaming "starve" to applause. Now first off, he has the Bible quotation wrong. He says the man who "does not work", while it should be the man "unwilling to work". There is a difference, but clearly he does not see one.
You know it's very easy for Pastor Hagee to call anyone without a job "lazy", when he lives on a $5.5 million dollar ranch with its own private airstrip, smokehouse, skeet shooting range, etc. and launders money through his non-profit "church related activities", while drawing a salary of more than a million dollars a year. In fact he is now known to be the highest-paid nonprofit executive in San Antonio.
And a lot of his money comes from bullying people into tithing 10% of their income to his church.
And his wife pleads with other women, even suggesting that should leave their husbands if they will not tithe:
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." (1)
But all these promises of riches if you just hand over your cash, rarely materialize, and many people have suffered financially, simply because they could not afford to keep feeding Hagee's enormous appetite for the good life.
Real men tithe to their church and follow the word of the Bible, which according to Hagee "is the only foundation on which America can build and survive" and provides the greatest financial counseling in the world. To emphasize the supernatural power of its blessing, Hagee added that "it will do for you what the phone booth did for Clark Kent." But even when her husband is not abiding by the biblical imperative to tithe, the wife should still submit to his wishes, even though she knows his position is unbiblical. "I minister to many wives who are tormented by the fact their husbands refuse to give back to the Lord one-tenth of what the Provider has allowed them to earn," Diana Hagee writes. "A man who rejects the principle of tithing cannot understand the feelings of a woman who believes and trusts in the Word of God regarding prosperity."
What to do, in Diana Hagee's view? The woman "knows that the Lord requires the tithe, . . . that he will provide blessings to those who obey the Lord with their tithe, . that the Lord promises to devour the enemies of her family when her family is obedient to the tithe." Yet obedience to her husband supersedes all of God's laws: "Based on the Word of God, she does not have many options. She must be obedient to her husband's decision." A former member of Hagee's church said that Cornerstone's marriage counselors hewed to that philosophy: "If your husband was a big tither, and you had money, you were in the wrong.... But if he wasn't a good tither, and a big tither, leave him. (2)
I wonder what Hagee's god has to say about that? Single mothers giving him money from that "cheque in the mail every month"?
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."
[She] 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." (1)
John Hagee is a swindler. If he wasn't hiding behind his religion he would be in jail. And that is the man helping to dictate Stephen Harper's foreign policy. Business partner of Jim Flaherty's pal Charles McVety.
These people don't represent Christianity, but if ordinary Christians don't start speaking out against this nonsense, there's are the only "Christian" voices we will hear. And those little "churches on the corner" that provide so much comfort, will be a thing of the past.
1. John Hagee's Controversial Gospel, Sarah Posner, March 12, 2008
2. God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, By Sarah Posner, PoliPoint Press, 2008, ISBN: 0-9794822-1-6, Pg. 85