Israel and the Evangelicals

Liberals often assert that Evangelical support for Israel is based on Evangelical theology, specifically those aspects having to do with the Second Coming of Christ. This assertion is generally made in a manner which is contemptuous of both Israel and of the Evangelicals, and is intended to portray the opinions of the latter as irrelevant to those who do not share their particular religious beliefs.

I’m sure some Evangelicals support Israel for theological reasons. But I don’t think that theology is the primary factor at work here.

The truth is, most Americans instinctively tend to support Israel. Where hostility to Israel exists in this country, it usually arises from leftist politics and worldviews–and these, in turn, are closely connected to the universities.

Evangelicals are largely outside the force field of attitudes centered on the academy. I suspect it is this, rather than any specific theological factors, which account for the high support for Israel among this group of Americans.

I’d hypothesize that people who come from the same social groups as the Evangelicals, but who are themselves atheists or agnostics, tend to share Evangelical attitudes toward Israel.

13 thoughts on “Israel and the Evangelicals”

  1. David –

    My perspective of Evangelical attitudes toward Israel (and I know cuz I are one) is that they are, in fact, quite strongly eschatologically based. This does not, however, render them vulnerable to sudden erosion, nor does it drive out purely secular reasons for supporting Israel.
    Evangelical support for the idea of a Jewish homeland in Israel goes back to the late 19th century. Notably, it predates publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, which is often cited as the main vector for this meme.
    Evangelical support of Israel itself has survived numerous significant changes in the Middle East and the expiration of deadlines (eg 1948 + 40 = 1988) inferred from widely-held apocalyptic scenarios (I fully expect it to survive 1967 + 40 = 2007 as well).
    Notwithstanding a relatively socialist economy, Israel is sufficiently Anglospheric in character, especially relative to all other nations in the region, that it is easily perceived as a proxy for the introduction of American values into that part of the world.
    Specifically, as we all ought to know by now, what is done to Israel today will be done to the US tomorrow; it is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
    In sum, I believe that religious and and secular attitudes in support of Israel can, and will continue to, coexist for quite some time.

  2. I think you are not putting enough weight on the theological term. It’s true that most Evangelicals are outside the leftist University centers, but I’ve been a Baptist for about 25 years, and I’ve seen an awful lot of “whoever opposes Israel will be destroyed” literature on the fringes of the denomination. That being said, the people who really believe that stuff are not in the majority. I do not see so much of that in the Northern ABC church I attend, but then they are so liberal I hesitate to call them Baptists.

    When I was a kid the big propagandist for Israel within Evangelical circles was Salem Kirban, but I don’t know who publishes most of the literature for the fringes today (aside from Jack Chick, who is just plain nuts, and has been publishing longer than Kirban). Kirban lost a lot of credibility making prophesies that didn’t come true.

  3. What many people ignore or obscure is that the “Religious Right” is a coalition of various people with a wide range of theological positions united around a secular, political agenda. Premillenarian tribulationists (the “Left Behind” viewpoint, to reference a visible popular-culture manifesation of it) are the ones with a particular emphasis on the re-establishment of Israel as a sign of the End Times. They are a highly visible part, but not all, or probably not even a majority of the Religious Right. Other people with quite different eschatologies (Mormons, for example) are just as steadfast in support of the State of Israel.

    Israel was not Anglospheric to start (the early Zionists were very Central European in outlook) but the gradual emigration or eclipse of Jewish life in everywhere except Israel and the Anglosphere is making it more Anglospheric generation by generation.

  4. Growing up in a very evangelical area in the early 60s, I did not see the support for Israel then that I see now. 1967 seems to be the turning point, at least in my anecdotal view.

  5. I grew up in a Baptist church and school. Israel was mentioned quite often, mostly when talking about the end days in Revelation. Not once were Jews derided. They were always spoken of as gods chosen people. I never understood that. Here I was, being taught as a strict Baptist, yet Jews were the chosen ones. I really don’t practice much of anything anymore.

    More interesting to me is the fact that Communism rather than any other religeon was the single ideology that was derided as I grew up. Hindus, Bhuddists, Muslims, Jews – they were all talked about, but nothing was ever derided except Communism. I think that says something good about where I came from.

  6. I think American Evangelicals have a more positive attitude towards Israel and Jews in general because historically, they came from rural areas where people had little contact with Jews. The anti-sematism that one associates with the Established churches of Europe or of the American Northeast simply never arose in rural America because there weren’t enough Jews to get mad at. They seemed more like episodic exotic visitors than threats to the religious, social or economic order.

    (The inherent high degree of diversity in American religious life also helped I am sure. )

    I think David is also correct that Evangelicals general lack of “education” in the liberal arts also accounts for their support. They “naively” assume that since Israel is a democracy and their enemies are not, then they must be in the right most of the time.

  7. While I guess it is certainly possible there are some Evangelicals who support Israel for the New Testament endtimes prophecy reasons. The only reason I have ever heard Evangelicals speak of for supporting Israel is an Old Testament reason, that those who bless God’s Chosen People will be blessed and those who do not will not be blessed.

  8. My own impression is that many evangelicals see Jews and the old testament as the roots of their religion. They don’t agree about Jesus, but apart from that the continuity is clearly there in the Old Testament. If the older evangelicals had a religious enemy it was the Catholics. For the reasons why, reference The Reformation.

  9. Evangelicals seem to have a sturdy distrust of the theoretical that flies in the face of experience. This came slowly, but after a while they began to notice which country was the attacker & which the attacked, which elected a variety of characters to its major offices rather than believed in life-time appointments, which had an open press. This may come from their emphasis upon Enlightenment ideas & Baconian/Common Sense approaches. I suspect 9/11 had an impact but it was going on long before that.

    Of course, Israel certainly has a state religion, these denominations however had never been nor ever would be state religions – their members understand that & are likely to side with an Israeli form of government.

    I’m not sure what force fields are at work, but surely it isn’t an accident that those more likely to vote Republican are those more likely to go to church on Sunday. I doubt all that many were voting Republican because of the Republican’s stand on Israel. A broader clustering is going on here. (While engineers are more likely to vote Republican than most academics, the only colleges or departments in which the Republicans are a reliable majority are the ag ones. I suspect that is another “cluster” indicator – clustered with the other stands but not caused by them.)

  10. Jesus Christ was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died a Jew. If God thought so highly of the Jewish people that he caused his Son to be born one, I don’t feel it is my place to second guess or critize his choice. Jews are not Christians, but I know of no evidence that suggests God values them less.

  11. What David said, and more. Mary and Joseph were Jews. The apostles were Jews. St. Paul was a Jew. The people whom Jesus grew up with and lived amongs, whom he did his carpentry work for, whom he read to in the synagogue, whom he preached to, and whom he miraculously fed and miraculously cured were almost all Jews. Jesus wept when he sees Jerusalem and knows what is in store for its people, who are his people. Jesus dying on the cross forgave the people who put him there.

    John Paul II called the Jews “our elder brothers in the faith”. The proper Christian attitude toward the Jews is one of special regard and affection, even while we disagree on some very important matters. That all may have something to do with it.

  12. Over three years ago I read this article in the Guardian — by a vicar, no less — which shrieks and wrings its hands over the frightening influence Evangelicals have over American Middle East policy. It contains the words: According to the most influential of the Christian Zionists, Hal Lindsey…

    And right there I knew how serious the author was. I haven’t heard anything from Lindsey since we all were hunkering down for the coming Ice Age. Then again, I don’t move in Evangelical circles. Any of y’all heard of him recently?

    Lindsey’s words, as quoted by the vicar, are pretty extreme: “the valley from Galilee to Eilat will flow with blood and “144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved, but the rest of Jewry would perish in the mother of all holocausts”.

    As I said then, I have heard language like that recently, regarding the Middle East, but it wasn’t from the Evangelicals, or from the Jews. Now who was it? Hmmm…

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