I watched VICE (HBO) last night regarding American Evangelical support for Israel as the rightful property owner of the entire region. The show suggested that American evangelicals are probably more influential on their Congressperson regarding support for Israel than AIPAC, and what’s more, Evangelicals make pilgrimages to Israel and financially support the [illegal] Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip [according to international law]. Aren’t they exacerbating the conflict?
As it happens, yesterday, I also applied to Regents University to be an Assistant Professor. It’s well known that I was raised as an Evangelical Christian (and remain a dedicated Christian) and that I specifically study “multiple traditions” (liberalism, republicanism, authoritarianism, biblical thought). As I researched the University, I found an example of a Master’s Thesis which speaks specifically to the Israeli-Evangelical connection regarding my previous question. Please allow me to quote at length:
From: “PICKING SIDES IN THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT: THE INFLUENCE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF ON FOREIGN POLICY” A Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Robertson School of Government, Regent University, by Rachel Sarah Wills (pages 108-114) (p.s. I removed footnotes):
In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the scope of examination will be narrowed further to those Christians among the Evangelicals who espouse the views of the Christian Zionists. This focus does not signify that all Christian Evangelicals are Christian Zionists, but that generally Christian Zionists are self-professed Evangelicals…
Christian Zionism grew out of a conviction that God has a continuing special relationship with and covenantal purpose for the Jewish people apart from the Church and that the Jewish people have a divine right to possess the land of Palestine. These beliefs rest upon the ideas of premillennial dispensationalist eschatology Blackstone and Scofield taught and focus on the political elements of dispensationalism that call for the defense and blessing of the Jewish people. According to Colin Chapman, this premillennial dispensationalism taught:
“Although Jesus as the Messiah is the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, the promises and prophecies about the land and about biblical Israel remain the same even after his coming and need to be interpreted literally. Because of the promise to Abraham, therefore, the Jewish people have a special, divine right to the land for all times.
From this belief that the promises to Abraham still apply to the Jewish people as his descendants, Christian Zionist teaching interprets God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 that He will bless those who bless Abraham and will curse those who curse him, thus requiring Christians to continue to bless all Jews. With the establishment of the State of Israel, this conviction took on greater political ramifications.
God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jews. If this nation wants her fields to remain white with grain, her scientific achievements to remain notable, and her freedom to remain intact, America must continue to stand with s promise in Genesis to modern dealings with the nation of Israel.
Christian Zionist beliefs have sought to sanctify the U.S. relationship with Israel, while demonizing the Arabs and Islam. Believing they follow a clear biblical command, Christians labor to support Israel materially and to lobby on its behalf in the media and the government. In addition, their eschatology predicts a coming apocalyptic war with Islam and the Arab world. Therefore, Christian Zionism teaches that advocating any compromise with the Palestinians in a “land for peace” deal demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s promises.
As such, Christian Zionists’ antipathy to the Arabs appears inversely proportionate to their empathy for the Jews. They manifest this antipathy in s story as an imperative to deliver the Jews from those who seek to harm them. Their beliefs compel them to use their power to support good against this great evil. Christian Zionist leaders now ascribe to Islamists the same theological status they attributed to the Soviet Union, casting the conflict in the terms of light versus darkness. The potency of this divinely sanctioned struggle for the sake of Israel may prove a strong influence on civilian actions and on their perseverance to ensure the U.S. policy aligns with their beliefs.
With these teachings as a basis for what one may consider Christian Zionism, the question remains how many American Evangelicals embrace these views and may be termed Christian Zionists in their political activism. Various surveys account for the general percentage of American Evangelicals but do not separate out Christian Zionists. As such, to assess the prevalence of this movement, this study will rely on surveys that ask questions that may reveal an agreement with Christian Zionist teaching. In 2006, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed the American people. When asked whether they believed God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people, forty-two percent agreed, while thirty-seven percent did not believe God literally gave the
Jewish people the land and twenty-one percent did not know. In 2011, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted a survey of participants in the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. With answers from over 2,000 Evangelical leaders worldwide, “by a margin of more than three-to-one, most…[said] that God’s covenant with the Jewish people continues today (73%) rather than that the biblical covenant with the Jewish people no longer applies (22%).” In addition, forty-eight percent said that the State of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, while forty-two percent said it is not. When asked which side they support in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Among evangelical leaders from the United States, three-in-ten (30%) sympathize more with Israel, 13% sympathize more with the Palestinians and nearly half (49%) say they sympathize with both sides equally.” Such statistics demonstrate that generally Christian Zionist teaching is not in the majority among Americans. A large number of Evangelical leaders still believe God’s covenant continues with the Jewish people.
However, this does not absolutely point to a Christian Zionist understanding among all given the lower levels of support for Israel and the view of Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy. Overall, these results illustrate that Christian Zionist ideas of Israel and God’s covenant with the Jewish people exist within the Evangelical world and within the United States and at least account for a significant minority. The continuing existence of these beliefs and the divinely commanded need for action establish Christian Zionists as a possible religious influence within American politics and specifically within foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From my perspective, republicanism subscribes to ideals like the common good and virtue based on individual action founded on non-domination in association, but it is sometimes interpreted solely in a secular manner (i.e., France bans headscarves because it does not allow for the promotion of religion in schools; see Bowen 2007) (Lichbach and Zuckerman 2009, 151-3). American republicanism, however, has always contended with Biblical Thought in the American culture. Just read the Congressional Debates during the American Founding!*
From a poli-sci perspective, culture describes the webs of significance in political affairs. In America, most political scientists focus on liberalism, but there are millions of Americans who probably identify with Biblical Thought or republicanism exclusively (and even believe they are “Independent” of the Republican and Democratic Parties) (i.e., me–liberalism is second to last on my list, just above authoritarianism).
There is a place for Biblical Thought in the poli-sci literature–much more so than currently envisioned or realized. I’ll be writing about this much more in the years to come.
* A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875. Elliot’s Debates, Volume 4