Why evangelicals love Trump’s Israel policy?

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President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week made little sense to most Middle East experts. His own national security team opposed the decision. But for many white evangelical Christians, 81 percent of whom voted for Trump, it was great news.

According to a recent poll released by the Brookings Institution, 53 percent of American evangelicals supported Trump’s decision, while only 40 percent opposed it. (Sixty-three percent of all Americans opposed the decision.)

To understand why evangelicals are so enthusiastic about this move, I reached out to Elizabeth Oldmixon, a politics professor at the University of North Texas. Oldmixon studies the rather strange alliance between evangelical Christians and people in the orthodox Jewish community who are stridently pro-Israel.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

I don’t fully understand why evangelical Christians are so supportive of Israel. Can you walk me through it?

Elizabeth Oldmixon

First, we should remember that “evangelical” is a really broad term. In a most general sense, evangelicals are people who believe in the absolute authority of the Bible, in salvation through Jesus, and in the need to spread the gospel. People who identify as evangelicals internalize those three things to different levels, and so in the same way we talk about cultural Catholics, we can also talk about cultural evangelicals.

So I would really focus here on a subset of the evangelical community for whom the status of Israel is really, really important because of the way they understand the end of time.

Sean Illing

And how large is that subset?

Elizabeth Oldmixon

Roughly a third of the American evangelical population, which is something like 15 million people.

Sean Illing

Why are these evangelicals so interested in the fate of Israel?

Elizabeth Oldmixon

These are the folks who believe that there will be a millennium in the future, a golden age, where Christ reigns on Earth, [and]they believe that before Christ will return, there will be a tribulation where Christ defeats evil. There will be natural disasters and wars, and perhaps an Antichrist, as the book of Revelations notes. Then at the end of that period, the people of the Mosaic covenant, including the Jews, will convert. Then after their conversion, the great millennium starts.

Sean Illing

And what about the people who don’t convert? What becomes of them?

Elizabeth Oldmixon

Well, according to the evangelicals who believe this, they’ll end up with the rest of the unsaved, which means they’ll be wiped out and sent to hell.

Sean Illing

So politics is a means to what they see as a religious goal?

Elizabeth Oldmixon

Yes. This is a movement in Christianity that’s as old as Christianity itself. You have this group of people looking around for signs of the end time, and in the 20th century when Israel was founded, this was seen as a major sign. This was electrifying for that community because the gathering of all the Jews in exile to the Holy Land is a prerequisite for all of these events unfolding. So for the subset of evangelicals in the 20th century, support for Israel became a really, really important political position.

Protests Continue into Fourth Day Across Jerusalem and the West Bank

A Palestinian holds a portrait of Donald Trump during protest on December 9, 2017, in Jerusalem. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

Sean Illing

Why is Jerusalem in particular so crucial?

Elizabeth Oldmixon

Well, the whole area is important. The tenet of Christian Zionism is that God’s promise of the Holy Land to the Jews is eternal. It’s not just something in antiquity. When we talk about the Holy Land, God’s promise of the Holy Land, we’re talking about real estate on both sides of the Jordan River. So the sense of a greater Israel and expansionism is really important to this community. Jerusalem is just central to that. It’s viewed as a historical and biblical capital.

Sean Illing

How do people on the Israel side justify their alliance with fundamentalist Christians? After all, the Christian prophecy implies the destruction of Jews who don’t convert.

Elizabeth Oldmixon

There’s something that these Christians have in common with religious Zionists in Israel. The founding generation in Israel was fairly secular. Their support for a Jewish state wasn’t about biblical prophecy. It was about physical security. David Ben-Gurion [the first prime minister of Israel]came up with an accommodation for the religious community so they would support the formation of Israel and the establishment of Israel, but his motivations weren’t religious per se.

 

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