The most ardent support for the Trump administration’s plan to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem comes from an odd coupling of American Jews and Christian Evangelicals.
American Jews, as usual, do not speak with a single voice on Trump’s move. As reported in the New York Times, they responded with both “praise and alarm.” But those who support it are easy to understand in conventional nationalistic and political terms.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading voice of the conservative wing of American Judaism, referred to Jerusalem as “Israel’s undivided capital city,” and argued that moving the U.S. Embassy would not “in any way prejudge the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
Right or (more probably) wrong, there’s nothing mysterious about this position. It’s garden variety tribal politics.
The response of evangelical Christians, on the other hand, requires a bit more explanation. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, which claims to provide “the Christian perspective” on public affairs, American Evangelicals “are ‘ecstatic’ over the Trump administration’s plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
“Ecstatic” is a particularly apt word here, although “enraptured” would have worked, too. The specific religious ecstasy at play here derives from a Protestant theology created in 19th Century England, known as “dispensationalism.”
Dozens of articles and scholarly works have been written about dispensationalism, but the end point is clear: the seventh and final stage of God’s dealing with man, called the Millennium or End of Days, will usher in an earthly paradise.
But there’s a catch. The earthly paradise will come only after the Jews rebuild the Temple in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. A series of cataclysmic events will then follow, culminating in a final war of civilizations. In the end, Jesus will return to rule in glory.
Christians will bask in a thousand-year reign of peace in God’s kingdom.
Jews will be slaughtered by the millions.
Just because millions of Jews will be collateral damage on the road to their earthly paradise, of course, doesn’t mean that Evangelicals don’t love them.
Evangelicals demonstrate their sensitivity to the thorny problem of exterminating Jews by engaging in a polite theological debate over what they call the “Future Jewish Holocaust Problem.” One biblical scholar asserts that “Jews will soon be slaughtered in a bloodbath that exceeds that of Hitler’s Holocaust.” Another is more politically correct, arguing that “while this certainly seems to be the case,” perhaps “we should not try to quantify” the extent of the carnage. According to yet another evangelical deep thinker, maybe the Jews will get off easy, and only “two-thirds of the Jewish people [living in Israel] will be exterminated.”
For evangelical Christians, fulfillment of this prophecy is a good thing.
For Jews, not so much. For them, an earthly paradise would probably offer better options than another Holocaust and the extinction of their religion.
Dispensationalism is not a fringe theology among the approximately 50 million American Evangelicals. It was first popularized in the United States in 1970 by a best-selling book called “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” The 11-book “Left Behind” series, beginning in 1995, then catapulted the doctrine into the “mainstream” of evangelical thinking. Together, the works sold about 100 million books.
Since then, dispensationalist theology has been taught to tens of millions through Bible camps, colleges, theological seminaries, films, revival meetings, Sunday schools, churches, and talk radio. Evangelicals control hundreds of radio stations. They sit on, and sometimes dominate, schoolboards and legislatures across the nation.
They are an enormous political force.
And Donald Trump owes them. Big time. They put him in office.
Now he is paying them back. Anyone who doubts that Trump takes presidential action in order to cater to his evangelical base need only look at his own words. Trump met in September with evangelical leaders to reassure them that he was pursuing their agenda. He sought and received assurance that “the Christians know all the things I’m doing for them, right?”
As a payback to Evangelicals, Trump’s Embassy move makes a certain kind of lunatic sense. Evangelicals believe it takes them one step closer to the supposed biblical promise of an earthly paradise free of Jews. And some Jews also support the Embassy move on their own biblical grounds, having mostly to do with history, and without the “convert or die” part.
All of these improbable strands came together at a signing ceremony staged to look like a Saturday Night Live skit.
There was Donald Trump - liar, serial adulterer, admitted sexual predator, profane braggart, racist - solemnly affixing his ridiculous kindergarten signature to a presidential order arising out of a 19th Century prophecy.
There was Mike Pence - self-righteous fundamentalist Christian who worries that being alone in a room with a woman other than his wife could lead him on a path straight to Hell - gazing adoringly at Trump, who really shouldn’t be left alone with a woman other than his wife, and who doesn’t exhibit any of the Christian values that Pence claims to hold dear.
Making an announcement that incites violence in the Middle East, isolates America from allies and foes alike, sets back hope for a successful peace process, and brings absolutely no benefit to the United States.
All because of his supposed love of the Jewish people and his undying support for the Jewish nation of Israel.
As payback to people who believe that any Jews left after most of them have been exterminated in another Holocaust will abandon their religion and accept Jesus as their savior.
Surrounded by a sea of cheerful Christmas ornaments.
Does political theater get any more lunatic than that?
Follow Philip on Twitter at @PhilipRotner. Philip is an engaged citizen and a columnist who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated.