US pro-Israel pastor John Hagee contracts Covid-19
More than 209,000 Americans may have died due to complications arising from the coronavirus, but at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, you wouldn't know it.
Since the pandemic reached America's shores seven months ago, Pastor John Hagee has been playing host to thousands of worshippers every Sunday.
At his sparawling 5,400-seater church, face masks are not compulsory and social distancing is a question of personal choice.
On Sunday, everything changed - or it should have.
Addressing the congregation, Matt Hagee announced that his father, Pastor John Hagee, the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) - the largest group of pro-Israel supporters in the US - had been diagnosed with Covid-19.
News that the 80-year-old had been diagnosed with the coronavirus was met with an outpouring of sympathy and prayers from a large section of the evangelical Christian community that is spread across the US.
Still, on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: "I pray for the speedy recovery of Pastor John Hagee. Israel has no better friend."
Netanyahu's comments came just days after the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) listed Hagee as number four on its inaugural list of Israel's Top 50 Christian allies.
"Included in the list are well known Pastors and televangelists such as President Donald Trump's spiritual advisor Paula White and Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee," IAF said. Leaders of Christian organisations and individuals who provide significant financial assistance to Israel are featured as well.
One of Trump's biggest surrogates
CUFI, founded in 2006, claims to have more than five million members and is a powerful player in US politics.
Under Trump, the organisation has enjoyed unprecedented access to the White House, influencing the US embassy move to Jerusalem as well as the normalisation of ties between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Hagee was also one of the biggest supporters of Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank.
"From a Biblical, historical and legal perspective, Israel owns, and does not occupy, the Holy Land. And one cannot be an occupier on land it owns," Hagee wrote earlier this year.
As one of Trump's biggest surrogates, Hagee has routinely placed his congregation at risk by undermining CDC regulations that called for the closure of religious institutions, prescribed social distancing and the wearing of masks.
In June, Hagee said that coronavirus was an "introduction to a new world order" and lamented the shutdowns taking place across the country, describing them as unconstitutional.
"Our government ruled, as many of you who wanted to, could go get whiskey, that was considered essential, but churches were not considered essential," Hagee said.
Similarly, in July, Hagee's ministry and the families of students attending his school challenged an order to delay the start of in-person instruction that was meant to halt the spread of the coronavirus. It argued the Metropolitan Health District “unconstitutionally infringes on the religious freedoms of private religious schools”.
In an an op-ed written in the right-wing outlet Breitbart, Hagee lauded the Israeli-US partnership in combating the pandemic and thanked "Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals, the leading generic drug company in the US [for] donating millions of doses of potentially lifesaving drugs, like hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets, to America".
In direct contradiction to the nation's top public health agencies and officials, Trump has repeatedly touted the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine sulfate, an anti-malaria drug, as a method to treat the coronavirus.
There is no proof that the drug is a useful treatment for the virus.
In 2018, it was reported that white evangelical Christians made up 76 percent of the overall evangelical population in the US, which itself is 25 percent of the American electorate. A Pew poll earlier this year showed that 83 percent of white evangelicals still support Trump.
Christian evangelicals have been resolute in defence of Trump's response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, churches in several states have been responsible for hosting events that turned out to be superspreaders with devastating consequences. In his last sermon in September, Hagee told his congregation that the choice between Trump and Biden was a choice between "freedom and socialism".
Through his sermons and services, Hagee has tried to depict a picture of normalcy and calm in a bid to champion Trump's handling of the virus - despite the fact that millions of lives, especially those on the margins of American society, continue to be upturned by the pandemic.
On Sunday, when Matt Hagee announced to the congregation that his father had contracted the virus, he did so without a mask.
"It was one, discovered very early and two, his medical team has him under watchful care and three, he's feeling well enough to be frustrated by anyone in a white coat with a stethoscope," he said to light laughter from the congregation.
Cornerstone Church did not respond to MEE's request for comment.