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Beholden

Ted Cruz Today, the Rapture Tomorrow

Social conservatives are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's base of support in the Republican Party. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)
Sandy Tolan
Contributor
Sandy Tolan is the author of \"Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land,\" a finalist for a 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the international best seller, \"The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a…
Sandy Tolan


This article is the fourth in “Beholden,” a seven-part series about the presidential candidates on Israel and Palestine.

On a frigid day last December, 300 conservative preachers and other faithful gathered over brisket and prayer at a billionaire fracker’s rambling Texas ranch. The house was packed so full, notes The Washington Post, that the billionaire, Farris Wilks, had to throw open his patio doors, and about 100 of the “faith leaders” spilled outside, obliged to stand poolside in the 28-degree weather. But they endured. After all, the star of the $500-a-plate gathering, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is a warrior for their main issues, including opposition to gay marriage and abortion, repeal of the Iran deal—and unquestioning support of Israel and its complete dominion over the Holy Land, Palestinians be damned.

Most of the presidential campaigns’ fealty to Israel, including those of Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton, is due largely to billionaire donors with long-standing ties to Israeli politics. But for Cruz, as virulently pro-Israel as any candidate, Christian Zionism is the key. This is not the cult belief of a few thousand fringe followers. Christian Zionism, which holds that Israel must maintain full control of the Holy Land to facilitate the second coming of Jesus, is a fundamental tenet of the core religious right. Fully 59 percent of white evangelicals, and an astonishing 41 percent of all Americans—tens of millions of voters—believe Jesus Christ will return to earth by 2050. A lot of them believe that can happen only with a strong Israel in place.

Many of the preachers who stoke that fervor were at Wilks’ Texas ranch house on that cold December day. Most important among them was John Hagee, the influential, firebrand preacher, founder of the Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio and of Christians United for Israel, an organization that now rivals the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in its American political influence. Hagee is a fervent supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s settler colonization of the West Bank. He and Republican candidates have appeared many times in Ariel, a settlement of 20,000 in the heart of the West Bank and one of the single biggest obstacles to a peace deal with the Palestinians. Cruz, whose expressed views hew closely to Christian Zionism, calls Hagee “my dear friend.”

Hagee once claimed the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive surviving Jews out of Europe toward Palestine. The remarks led Sen. John McCain to reject the Texas preacher’s 2008 presidential endorsement. (Hagee, ever the tolerant Christian, also declared that Hurricane Katrina was part of God’s plan to punish New Orleans for a gay parade.) Yet Hagee’s Holocaust remarks were part of a larger Christian Zionist worldview that sees modern Israel as part of divine destiny. In this belief, God’s will made Israel, and Christians now must protect that covenant and keep Jerusalem “united” under Israel’s control, in order for Jesus to return to earth. In his book “Jerusalem Countdown,” which sold more than 700,000 copies, Hagee pushed for a confrontation with Iran to hasten global conflagration and Christ’s return. “From this moment forward, for the rest of our lives, until Christ comes, Jerusalem is the center of the universe,” Hagee declared from the pulpit.

The second coming is at the heart of Hagee’s theology, most recently in his best-seller “The Four Blood Moons.” The title refers to a lunar oddity, which Hagee claimed historically coincided with major events in Israel’s history, including the 1948 war and the Six-Day War of 1967. The rare appearance of four blood moons in 2014-15, Hagee argued, would signal the End Times. “What is the prophetic significance of the four blood moons?” Hagee asked in promoting his book. “Is this the end of the age?”

Unfortunately for Hagee’s prophecies, the blood moons came and went and our time continued. Nevertheless, he and other Christian Zionists believe, global Armageddon will soon be at hand. “They’re counting down the hours now, eagerly expecting the implementation of the remaining items on their biblical prophecy agenda, anticipating the thrilling climax of the cosmic story,” writes Victoria Clark in her 2006 book, “Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism.” According to this belief, Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam, will “be destroyed, and replaced with a new Jewish temple. The completion of that temple … will herald the appearance of an Antichrist who might be a European diplomat or the head of the United Nations.” Eventually, Clark writes, this “will trigger the battle of Armageddon … all non-born again Christians—including two-thirds of all Jews—who refuse to accept Jesus as their personal savior … will be slain in the conflagration.”

But true Christians, according to this belief, need not worry about their own destruction, for they will be saved by the rapture. “Jesus will come in the air, catch up the Church from the earth, and then return to heaven with the Church,” declares the evangelical website, raptureready.info, which cites the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess, 4:16-18): “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel. … Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. …”

Hagee, from the pulpit, leaves nothing to the imagination:

Neighbors are going to be standing in the streets and they’re going to be having conversations like this: “I was standing here talking to Mr. Jones and suddenly he started rising into the air, over the house past the tree tops, gone, gone, GONE! He’s vanished in the clouds right before my eyes.” Headlines will be screaming, “Millions Are Missing Without a Trace!” Cars are going to be parked out here beside Loop 1604 and every highway in the world, the motors are still running, with the drivers and the occupants of the car sailing for mansions on high. I’m saying to you, pray up, pack up, LOOK up, we’re going up!

For this rapture to happen, Christian Zionists believe, Israel must be in full control of the Holy Land—including the occupation and military rule of Palestinians in the West Bank. Yet end-of-days belief only partly explains Hagee’s repeated visits to one of Israel’s biggest and most problematic settlements, Ariel, into which he has poured millions in donations and where a recreation center bears his name. By strengthening Israel and the settlements, Hagee is also building a political powerhouse—for as long as we’re all still here.

Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI), with 2.5 million members, is now the largest pro-Israel group in the country, in line with his goal to build a “Christian AIPAC.” CUFI has staged more than 2,000 pro-Israel events in the U.S., taken some 300 U.S. pastors on more than a dozen trips to Israel, and built a presence on more than 300 U.S. college campuses. CUFI holds an annual conference featuring the luminaries of the American political right, including Ted Cruz.

Hagee’s message thus resonates both among the grass roots with his talk of Armageddon, and in pro-Israeli circles and congressional offices with his more carefully chosen words about defending the Jewish state. On both levels, Hagee, more than any other religious figure, embodies Ted Cruz’s appeal to white evangelical voters. While Cruz himself is smooth enough to avoid overt endorsements of Hagee’s end-times prophecies, he does embrace a core belief of Christian Zionists: that Israel must remain strong because the Bible says so. In the Book of Genesis, after God promises to build Abraham “a great nation,” God says: “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Cruz says that Biblical verse, Genesis 12:3, “honors God’s promise” and underscores why he “leads the fight for Israel.”

Cruz’s fundamentalist stance is thus not simply politically expedient loyalty to a preacher with a mega-following. It’s far more deeply rooted. His father, Rafael Cruz, a born-again preacher, would read Bible stories to his son starting when Ted was 4 years old. Ted memorized Scripture “and act[ed] out scenes from the Old Testament,” the candidate recalled while campaigning in Iowa.

As a preacher, Rafael Cruz advocates not only an erosion of the line between church and state, but a full Christian takeover of American society. For years the elder Cruz has traveled the land to spread the “dominionist” Christian Zionist theology of the New Apostolic Reformation, rooted in end-times theology. This belief calls for religious control of central aspects of America: essentially, a Christian state. “Go forth, multiply, take dominion over all my creation,” Cruz preached (here, at 1 hour, 12 minutes) to a Sunday service in Portland, Ore., in 2012, quoting Genesis 1:28. “That dominion is not just in the church. That dominion is over every area: society, education, government, economics.”

As for Israel, Ted Cruz’s father invokes the familiar Genesis 12:3, declaring: “This current administration has cursed the Jewish people, has cursed the nation of Israel more than any other administration in history. I believe the only reason judgment has not fallen on America is because of the faithful remnant that is standing in the gap. But it is about time that we stand for righteousness.”

Also standing for righteousness, right behind Ted Cruz, are the billionaire Wilks brothers, including Farris, who hosted the gathering of the faithful at his Texas ranch. Farris and Dan Wilks bankrolled Cruz with $15 million to his super PAC. They are also major donors to Pastors and Pews, an organization that has a goal of electing 1,000 conservative preachers to public office. Ted Cruz was a recent headliner at a Pastors and Pews conference. The group’s leader, David Lane, believes the Bible should be the primary textbook in public schools. Even more directly than Rafael Cruz, he advocates that “Christians must be retrained for war for the Soul of America.” He predicted that because of abortion rights and “homosexuals at the Inauguration,” God would show his “mercy” with “car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Des Moines.”

Lane has also led Republican-elected officials on all-expense-paid “spiritual, historic” trips to Israel—part of a series of Republican journeys in which “pioneering Jews in Judea and Samaria [Likud-speak for the West Bank] and Christian Zionist leaders in the US and elsewhere learn to trust each other … seeking common political ground.”

Farris Wilks, who made his billions from fracking and who, with his brother, owns several hundred thousand acres in Montana, Idaho and Texas, not only funds such political philosophy in action, but as the head of his Assemblies of Yahweh church, he preaches it. The church, near his ranch in Cisco, Texas, “considers being gay a serious crime, the Bible to be historically and scientifically accurate in every detail and abortion to be murder, including in cases of rape or incest,” according to a Reuters investigation. Assemblies of Yahweh congregants do not observe “the religious holidays of the Gentiles” and, like adherents to kosher diets, don’t eat pork or shellfish. As for Israel: Like other Christian Zionists, Wilks and his followers believe the Jewish state to be God’s miracle. God is “bringing the Jewish people (Israel) back to its homeland in order to purify and bless them.”

And now Wilks, Hagee, David Lane, Rafael Cruz and scores of other leaders of the religious right have set out to purify and bless Ted Cruz’s campaign for president. Lane, Rafael Cruz, and pastors of the religious right laid hands on Ted Cruz’s shoulders in Iowa, anointing him, in the views of some, as God’s candidate. The millions of dollars Cruz has received from the Wilks brothers, said Lane, is “God’s money.” And Cruz’s most influential evangelical friend, John Hagee, connects the candidate’s support for Israel to his own Armageddon prophecy.

The extreme edge of this theology will never escape Ted Cruz’s lips on “Meet the Press” or even during a Republican debate. In the “secular” world, the language is linked to “acceptable” foreign policy views, to pledges of U.S. friendship with Israel, and to our shared “Judeo-Christian” tradition.

But for Cruz and his powerful Christian Zionist backers, extremist views lie just below the surface.

Here’s the first installment in the “Beholden” series: Marco Rubio Is Running Out of Time to Deliver Middle East Return on Investment for Big Donors

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