During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI not only conducted mass and met with the Catholic faithful, but he made a series of public statements about the role that our Judeo-Christian faith can play during these challenging times. As an evangelical Protestant I happen to disagree with Pope Benedict on many issues of Christian doctrine and ritual. But when it comes to his moral vision for America and the world I have one thing to say in response to the Pope’s visit: Amen.
I and many other evangelical leaders believe that our faith must not be confined to our churches on Sunday mornings. We maintain that our Christian values and compassion can be powerful tools for helping build a more just and humane nation. Pope Benedict thus spoke for all of us when he said that “Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted” and called for Christian participation “in the exchange of ideas in the public square.”
The pope was recalling the history we all cherish when he cited George Washington’s Farewell Address to note that, “religion and morality represent ‘indispensable supports’ of political prosperity.” The pope likewise voiced all of our concerns when he recognized the threats posed by secularism and materialism not only to our morality but to our happiness.
As people of faith, our concerns go well beyond the borders of our country. After the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, we joined our Jewish brothers in saying “Never Again!” For me, this commitment means never again allowing the Jewish people to be massacred or persecuted and thus helps to motivate my strong support for the State of Israel. But we also take from the Holocaust a universal “Never Again,” which means that we must never again allow genocide to be perpetrated against any of God’s children anywhere in the world.
Thus all of our hearts cheered when Pope Benedict stood before the United Nations and stated so forcefully that when states fail to protect the basic human rights of their citizens, “the international community must intervene.” Likewise, all people of faith applauded his comment in the same speech that it is religion’s “recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman” which provides the powerful source of our commitment to resist genocide and terrorism.
My reaction to Pope Benedict”s visit may surprise some who have come to accept certain caricatures of my views of the Catholic Church. But as I have noted from the start, my critics have ignored the real point and strong emphasis of my words. I have indeed been quite zealous about condemning the past anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church. But I have been equally zealous in condemning Protestant anti-Semitism. Furthermore, as I noted in my 2006 book “Jerusalem Countdown,” I have long viewed Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI as partners in this “righteous work” of overcoming our shared legacy of Christian anti-Semitism.
For decades I have taught that we Christians need to recognize that our roots are Jewish. As Christians we can only understand ourselves if we understand the Judaism from which we sprang. Pope Benedict made this very important point when he visited the Park East Synagogue in New York and shared that: “I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this.” With visits and words such as these, Pope Benedict is continuing the important work of recognizing our enormous Christian debt of gratitude to the Jewish people.
The world in which we live faces many difficult challenges. In recent days, we read in our paper of increased starvation due to higher food prices; of alienated youth planning to bomb their fellow students; of Islamic militants actually bombing innocents in Iraq and Israel; and about people so devoid of hope that they end their own lives.
I believe that the message of the Bible and of Judeo-Christian faith offers us timely answers to these problems. We were all inspired by Pope Benedict’s visit. It is my prayer that we will now follow his example and look beyond our differences to see that when it comes to the great challenges of our times, people of faith have much in common.
Pastor John Hagee is founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Tex.