Common Grounds


‘This war is prophetically significant’: why US evangelical Christians support Israel

October 31, 2023

Source: The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/30/us-evangelical-christians-israel-hamas-war

 

By Adam Gabbatt

Published October 30, 2023

 

One strand of evangelical theology holds that the return of Jews to the region starts the clock ticking on a seven-year armageddon, after which Jesus Christ will return

‘This war is prophetically significant’: why US evangelical Christians support Israel

‘What will come soon [is] the anti-Christ and his seven-year empire that will be destroyed in the battle of Armageddon. Then Jesus Christ will set up his throne in the city of Jerusalem. He will establish a kingdom that will never end.’ Photograph: Sébastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

 

It didn’t take long for many evangelical Christian groups in America to show their support for Israel.

 

_________________________

 

Editor’s Note | God Loves Israel-Palestine!

 

If false myths tempt one in our times, those who believe in make-believe have no eye for the living riches and the hope hidden in creation, the wonderful gift of divine providence for all humanity.

 

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian Quest to Co-Exist, try separating the theology – the three Abrahamic Faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – from the geopolitics!

 

Impossible! It’s a double-edged sword.

 

On one side, a volatile cocktail fuels the fire that enflames the defining feud in our times.

 

On the other lies the prophetic ideals, carved in stone of an ancient faith, proposing but not imposing the truth, the way, the blessings, of living side by side, our only hope.


The New Testament ‘in-gathers’ and redeems ALL people, not just one tribe; ALL the nations, not just one state; indeed, glorifying the ONE ‘I Am’ with Many Names – in Hebrew: Hayah asher hayah, ‘I Will Be Who or How or Where I Will Be’ or just Eloah; or, in the Arabic sound-alike, Allah.

 

Our New Covenant 1) frees Modern Jews from their Jews-only, ancestry-ghetto- mentality; 2) renounces Modern Israel's obsession for possession of a Land once promised and fulfilled; and 3) refutes the Israeli edict: "What is mine is mine, what is yours is mine also."


Many indigenous Palestinians are more heritably linked to the Ancient Israelites than most European Jews who have wandered into the Region, seeking refuge from 1,900 years of European persecution, especially after World War II. Historically, many Jews in the Diaspora descend from pagan converts to Judaism.


Will a shared identity prompt the ‘cousins’ to share the land? Is there another choice?

 

_________________________

 

Hours after Hamas attacked the country on 7 October, killing more than 1,400 people, Christians United for Israel, an evangelical lobbying group which claims to have more than 10 million members, posted a message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

 

“To the terrorists who have chosen this fight, hear this, what you do to Israel, god will do to you. Despite today’s weeping, joy will come because he [god] who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,” CUFI, whose founder believes the presence of Jews in Israel is a precursor to Jesus Christ returning to Earth, wrote.

 

Soon an “Evangelical statement in support of Israel” was issued by the ethics and religion liberty commission – an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination which has 45,000 churches in the US.

 

In the statement, 2,000 evangelical leaders – not all were named – said they “fully support Israel’s right and duty to defend itself against further attack”. Little credence was given to the Palestinians who would soon find themselves under attack: more than 8,000 people in Gaza have now been killed by Israeli bombardments, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

 

“While our theological perspectives on Israel and the Church may vary, we are unified in calling attacks against Jewish people especially troubling as they have been often targeted by their neighbors since God called them as His people in the days of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3),” the evangelical statement said.

 

“In keeping with Christian Just War tradition, we also affirm the legitimacy of Israel’s right to respond against those who have initiated these attacks as Romans 13 grants governments the power to bear the sword against those who commit such evil acts against innocent life.”

 

The more than 90 named signatories – four were women, the rest men – included the current president, and eight former presidents, of the Southern Baptist Convention, among other influential evangelicals.

 

For people not immersed in evangelicalism – a conservative strand of Christianity which emphasises adherence to the Bible – the overt biblical references may have seemed unusual to hear in a geopolitical context.

 

Romans 13 – the 13th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans in the New Testament – is essentially a lengthy treatise on the importance of submitting to bureaucracy, which states:

 

“Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.”


For those more familiar with the evangelical world, the vehemence of the support has not been a surprise, given the importance to evangelicals of an Israel inhabited by Jewish people. One main strand of evangelical theology holds that the return of Jews to the region starts the clock ticking on a seven-year armageddon, after which Jesus Christ will return.

 

To that end, the issue of Israel and Palestine has dominated sermons at evangelical churches over the past two Sundays, said Daniel Hummel, a historian of American religion, and the author of Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, and US-Israeli Relations.

 

“The overwhelming theme has been: this war is prophetically significant, but no one is willing to really claim exactly how,” Hummel said.

 

“And that’s been a long tradition of sort of hedging your bets and getting whatever you can in terms of sort of interest and eyeballs, by declaring that there’s something significant here, but once you start saying specific things and you’re sort of on the hook, it doesn’t turn out that way.”

 

The rush to respond, and the statements in support of Israel, were not surprising to those aware of the deep feeling evangelicals have for Israel.

 

Broadly speaking, some evangelicals believe that Jewish people returning to Israel following the 1917 ​​Balfour Declaration, a British statement which called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, was key to end times, when God will purge sinners and Jesus Christ will return.

 

John Hagee, an evangelical pastor and influential founder of Christians United for Israel, explained the prophecy to TBN Networks in December 2022.

 

“God is getting ready to defend Israel in such a supernatural way it’s going to take the breath out of the lungs of the dictators on planet Earth but we are living on the cusp of the greatest most supernatural series of events the world has ever seen ready or not.”

 

Hagee said when Jewish people are present in Israel “the clock starts ticking” on the rapture.

 

“What will come soon [is] the antichrist and his seven year empire that will be destroyed in the battle of armageddon. Then Jesus Christ will set up his throne in the city of Jerusalem. He will establish a kingdom that will never end,” Hagee said.

 

Hagee, despite having a long history of antisemitism – he has suggested Jews brought persecution upon themselves by upsetting God and called Hitler a “half-breed Jew” – founded Christians United for Israel in 2006.

 

Among other things, the group lobbied for the US embassy in Israel to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Donald Trump did in 2018, and is “committed to Israel’s strength, security and sovereignty”.


The support of evangelical Christians – in 2015 the Pew Research Center estimated there were about 62 million in the US – for Israel can be split into different groups, Hummel said.

 

While there are plenty of evangelicals who, like Hagee, adhere to the Israel-is-key-to-Jesus’-return theology, there are also those who believe in “blessings theology”, a less outlandish, more transactional approach to support for Israel.

 

The blessings theology is based on a literal reading of the book of Genesis, where God told Abraham – who Hummel described as “the patriarch of the Jewish people” – that he would “bless those who bless you” and “curse those who curse you”.

 

“For the last couple of centuries this has been interpreted on individual terms. So you can accrue personal blessings by being good to the Jewish people, or by giving money, or touring Israel or things like that,” Hummel said.

 

That also works on a national level, he said.

 

“And so the crude way of doing this is a pastor will say something like: ‘Look at the Roman Empire and how they persecuted the Jews and Rome fell. Look at the British Empire and how the British didn’t treat the Jews well, and how they fell. Look at the Nazis and how they persecuted the Jews, and they fell.

 

“And we, the Americans, don’t want to be the next Empire or the next great power to fall because we didn’t sufficiently bless the Jewish people.’”

 

There are also those whose support is “more broadly American”, Hummel said: “There’s a deep cultural affinity that’s been built over decades and decades between the US and Israel all across the board.”

 

Evangelicals make up an influential part of the Republican party base, and have a strong number in Congress. More than 100 members of the current Congress can be broadly identified as evangelical, and that was on display in recent days.

 

Lee Fang, a journalist, recently asked congressmen and women whether their religion was important to their support for Israel, for the documentary “Praying for Armageddon”.

 

“This entire matter is based upon the faith of our maker, our creator, but it’s also faith of a chosen people,” Pete Sessions, a Republican congressman from Texas and a Methodist, said.

 

Fang asked Tim Burchett, a Republican congressman from Tennessee, about evangelical support.

 

“They’re following the scripture, and what the scripture says about Israel: ‘Those who bless Israel will be blessed,’ they take it literal, and I’m one of those people,” Burchett said.


In terms of the influence evangelicals might wield as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, Hummel said there had been a “mixed record” on evangelicals’ political sway.

 

Still, Trump has specifically said he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem “for the evangelicals”, while Hagee served as an adviser to the twice-impeached president.

 

In the 2020 election, evangelical or born-again Christians made up 28% of the overall electorate, CNN reported, and three-quarters voted for Trump. Given that support for the Republican party, under GOP leadership evangelicals would have plenty of influence.

 

“When there’s a Republican president they have a seat at the table it doesn’t mean the president’s going to do exactly what they want, but they’re the ones that the president’s listening to more than other interested parties on Israel,” Hummel said.

 

With a presidential election looming, and with few signs that the Israeli conflict will ebb away any time soon, evangelicals could find themselves in a position of significant power in the near future.



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