With Trump’s increasing reliance on support from white evangelicals, as well as Vice President Pence’s role in the administration, I suspect that Ed Kilgore captured something important about recent charges of anti-semitism directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar in an article titled, “The Christian Right, Not AIPAC, Drives the GOP’s Pro-Israel Stance.”
Indeed, many conservative Evangelicals believe that in consolidating their hold over a Greater Israel, the Jewish State is unwittingly setting the stage for the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. These conservative Evangelicals, who also don’t tend to be fond of Muslims, have become the single most important constituency in the Republican Party’s base, and that fact has more to do with the relatively recent GOP solidarity with a particularly aggressive strain of Zionism than all the AIPACs and all the Sheldon Adelsons you can name.
Having been raised in that kind of conservative evangelical Christianity, I have always been confused about how and why it diverges from the anti-semitism espoused by white supremacist groups like the KKK—which also flourished among southern white christians.
In theology, it has to do with an eschatological view that some call “dispensationalism” or “Christian Zionism.” Perhaps the most succinct description comes from Jonathan Merritt, a former student at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
For evangelicals like us, the Bible was not just the story of God’s involvement in the past or a guide for righteous living in the present. It also served as God’s blueprint for the future. We believed that the sacred scriptures, and the book of Revelation in particular, foretold a day when Jesus would return to earth to obliterate evil and offer his followers a prized place in God’s kingdom. We collectively clamored for this day to arrive.
Liberty University was a hotbed for a popular theology among evangelicals called “dispensationalism,” which divides history into distinct ages or dispensations. According to this teaching, when first-century Jews rejected Jesus, a new “church age” began in which Christians would act as “God’s chosen people.” This dispensation will continue until God takes Christians to heaven, leaving the “unchosen” behind for a period of turmoil. This is known as “the rapture.”
While dispensationalism teaches that God is currently focused on the Christian church, believers in this theology assert that when the last days arrive, God will draw the Jewish people back to Israel where they will rebuild the temple and eventually accept Jesus as the rightful Messiah. This will trigger the return and reign of Jesus.
That brand of dispensationalism is not only embraced by Liberty University. It dates back to the 19th century and was the basis on which evangelist Billy Graham established ties to the state of Israel. Merrit identifies other proponents.
In the 1970s, Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth argued that the biblical end of the world was fast approaching and sold more than 30 million copies. In the 1990s, the fictional Left Behind series placed several volumes on The New York Times bestsellers list and spawned two popular films. In addition to Liberty University, institutions such as Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and Dallas Theological Seminary continue to train young Christian leaders in dispensational theology.
In other words, all of the so-called “court evangelicals” (Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, etc.), are dispensationalists who not only believe that biblical prophecy rests on events that will unfold in Israel, they equate God’s relationship to the church to God’s relationship with the people of Israel—who will be redeemed when they accept Jesus as the rightful Messiah after the rapture.
Given all of that, Kilgore is right. What is driving Trump’s policy towards Israel is more about his efforts to please the white evangelical community than anything AIPAC is promoting. The de facto spokesman for the court evangelicals suggested that the president’s relationship with Israel is second only to their concerns about the judiciary.
In a way, this is actually a somewhat twisted form of anti-semitism. Rather than relying on old tropes about Jews, the state of Israel and its people become simply pawns in the mythology evangelicals have constructed about the end times. And, of course, Trump is willing to use all of that to maintain his own power and ego. None of this will end well for the Jewish people, or the rest of us.