There has been a lot of talk about why so many white evangelicals continue to support an amoral man like Donald Trump. Primarily that discussion has focused on the fact that he promised to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. In the background are issues like so-called “religious freedom” and promises to get rid of the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofits and churches from directly endorsing political candidates.
But the announcement from Trump today that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin the process of moving our embassy there is a key ingredient to this president’s support among white evangelicals. This isn’t about supporting Israel, even though it is something Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked for. Rather, it is about the eventual destruction of that country according to biblical prophecy.
What I know from personal experience is that these people take their view of biblical prophecy very seriously. Factions have developed among fundamentalists over small differences in the timelines of various groups about the events that are predicted for the End Times. Even so, there are a couple of events related to this decision that appear in all of them: the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the battle of Armageddon.
Theologian Diana Butler Bass has written an informative twitter thread on this topic.
For decades, conservative evangelicals have been longing for this recognition. They believe it is necessary in order to regain control of the Temple mount. That is important because rebuilding the Temple is the event that will spark the events of the Book of Revelation and the End Times…They’ve been waiting for this, praying for this. They want war in the Middle East. The Battle of Armageddon, at which time Jesus Christ will return to the Earth and vanquish all God’s enemies. For certain evangelicals, this is the climax of history. And Trump is taking them there. To the promised judgment, to their sure victory. The righteous will be ushered to heaven; the reprobate will be banished to hellfire.
This is why warnings from the rational world about Trump’s move raising tensions in the Middle East have the opposite effect on these people. Rising tensions in the Middle East are a feature, not a bug—because all of this was prophesied thousands of years ago as a prelude to the rapture.
Based on our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, it is inappropriate to put restraints on these kinds of beliefs. But this is a perfect example of what happens when we tear down the wall separating church and state. Having a foreign policy that panders to people who welcome war in the Middle East as a sign that we are approaching the climax of history is as nutty as it is dangerous.