National news networks have a penchant -- or, at the least, a tendency -- for mischaracterizing the words, motivations and actions of people of faith. Over the past few months, representatives for Pastor John Hagee, the leader of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, have been increasingly concerned and frustrated over MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell's negative commentary (and his purported refusal to address his matter on-air insinuations).
Apparently, O'Donnell has taken to the airwaves and used what Ari Morgenstern, a spokesman for Hagee's Christians United for Israel, calls "old and long-debunked stories concerning some of Pastor Hagee’s past comments." These comments, the rep says, were put out in an effort to make Hagee look like an anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic bigot.
So, what are these inciting words, you ask? The Weekly Standard has done some reporting on some of the controversy surrounding O'Donnell's past words about Hagee:
“Because Rick Perry has invited Hagee to his prayer event, the idiotic governor of Texas now owns that Hagee quote,” O’Donnell said in reference to a sermon Hagee delivered more than a decade ago in which he explored the connection between the evils of the Holocaust and the notion that God is loving and omnipotent. “Rick Perry owns the idea that Hitler’s killing 6 million Jews was God’s idea,” O’Donnell continued.
The implication of O’Donnell’s words was clear: Hagee is an anti-Semite, a Jew hater—and Perry is guilty by association.
But the words that O'Donnell was referencing had already been contended with years before. Hagee, having purportedly never intended to hurt the Jewish community, had already clarified what he meant during the sermon in question. In fact, in response to an apology letter in 2008, the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman wrote the following to Hagee:
We are grateful that you have devoted your life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the State of Israel. We wholeheartedly support your efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism, including its historic antecedents in the Christian community. We especially appreciate your extraordinary efforts to rally so many in the Christian community to stand with Israel.
The Standard went on to speak with Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who insisted that Hagee is anything but an anti-Semite. “He loves the Jewish state and the Jewish people. From what I learned during those meetings [with Hagee], he is not an anti-Semite,” Wiesel told the outlet. “I have not heard him [say anything anti-Semitic]. Nobody has ever told me that."
Below, watch comments from O'Donnell's August 5 show, during which he slams Hagee's alleged views on Catholics (he, again, uses Hagee to say that Perry isn't a viable presidential candidate). O'Donnell also goes on to call the pastor a "mega-church lunatic and hater" and a "vicious bigot":
But the Catholic League didn't agree with this assessment either. The following was written on the group's web site recently:
Without being asked by either Perry or Hagee, Donohue addressed the media saying, “Let me set the record straight one more time: whatever issues I had with Pastor John Hagee were fully resolved once I received his May 12, 2008 letter expressing his ‘deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful.’ Three days later, thanks to the intervention of Deal Hudson, Hagee came to my office seeking reconciliation. He succeeded.”
Christians understand the meaning of forgiveness. What we despise are attempts to keep people from reconciling. Moreover, Catholics get especially exercised when those who have never shown one iota of interest in condemning anti-Catholicism all of a sudden begin denouncing it.
But O'Donnell's words didn't just focus upon Hagee, Morgenstern says. In addition to slamming the pastor, the MSNBC host also went on to showcase some fundamental misunderstanding when it comes to non-denominational Christianity. This faith system, which relies upon Christian scriptures and is not generally regulated by a higher denominational structure, is typically referred to as "Bible-based."
In making his comments (below), O'Donnell insulted millions of Americans without even realizing it -- likely a result of his own failed understanding of how non-denominational Christianity works. He said:
"John Hagee is actually not a member of any religion. He has a church which would be better labeled a theater where he performs and his web site calls his performance art group 'a non-denominational evangelical church.' Religiously that means absolutely nothing. That means any fool like Hagee can get up on the stage in his theater and say any foolish thing, because there is no religious doctrine to be observed in Hagee's theater..."
Hagee's team obviously took offense to these words. "John Hagee is pastor to nearly 20,000 people in his church, and a spiritual leader for many thousands if not millions more around the globe," Morgenstern explained. "Mr. O’Donnell’s attack on Pastor Hagee was simply beyond the pale."
So, following these comments, Morgenstern reached out to NBC News Standards and Practices to ask for an apology. While Hagee's team has sought an apology, they have been greeted by relative silence. Instead of addressing his comments, O'Donnell has offered his show up as a platform for Hagee to come on and discuss his distaste for what was said on the air.
Below, see part of the letter that Morgenstern sent to the network, explaining why he and Hagee refuse to go on O'Donnell's show:
...the last remaining point of contention associated with the August 5 the segment concerns O’Donnell’s comments denigrating Hagee’s faith. Specifically O’Donnell called Hagee a “fake” preacher. He asserted that “John Hagee is actually not a member of any religion.” And in reference to Hagee being the leader of a non-denominational Evangelical church, O’Donnell stated “religiously, that means absolutely nothing.
Accepting O’Donnell’s invitation would indicate that his disparagement of Hagee’s faith is worthy of debate. It is not. O’Donnell’s comments were repugnant and offensive. There are millions of non-denominational Evangelical Christians in America and around the world, and O’Donnell denigrated their faith because he does not like their politics. We will not dignify such bigotry with an appearance on the program.
Below, watch the MSNBC host publicly state the invitation this fall:
In late October, "The Last Word" blog admitted that Hagee had made up with both Catholics and Jews, but the show's staff wrote, "Not everyone represented in those communities, however, have forgotten his words and forgiven him." The piece concluded with an open invitation to the faith leader: "The invitation to discuss religion with Pastor Hagee remains an open one."
When the Blaze reached out to a representative for "The Last Word," the talking points present in the blog were repeated. "Lawrence has addressed this on his show. Pastor Hagee has an open invite to appear on 'The Last Word,'" Lauren Skowronski wrote.
We responded, again asking for clarification on O'Donnell's controversial words about non-denominational evangelicals. After all, regardless of what was said about Hagee, the blanket statements O'Donnell made about non-denominational Christians were eyebrow-raising. We have not yet received a response.
A few weeks ago, Morgenstern's attempts to settle the matter with the network came to a standstill, as MSNBC reportedly refused to issue an apology or further clarification. Commenting on the silence he's received from the network, Morgenstern said that anti-Christian views are seemingly the last acceptable form of bigotry.
"I can’t speak to their mindset, but I hope MSNBC recognizes that their silence on this matter speaks volumes about their organization," he said. "Honestly I can’t imagine why anyone, let alone a pundit associated with a national news network, would choose to attack the faith of millions of people."