By John Pierce
It is not unusual to hear certain politicians, commentators and preachers — and followers who parrot their words in Facebook posts and political arguments — express strong support for the nation of Israel. In recent years, however, these calls for unwavering loyalty to the Israeli government, regardless of their policies or actions, have grown in frequency and intensity.
Where does such an obsession come from? The two-fold answer is: political ideology and religious eschatology — that often get mixed together.
Some who espouse unfailing support of Israel are simply delivering yet another line picked up from a voice they believe offers truth — and finding it to be another handy way of expressing displeasure with a political leader or party they view with distain.
Few of these supporters have traveled to Israel or had serious conversations with Israeli Jews or Arab Christians who live daily in such tender-box tensions. Some don’t even know there are Christians in Palestine — who suffer and are declining in number.
The complexities of the Middle East are not of interest to those who like to simplify everything — and often argue that Israel is “the apple of God’s eye” and, therefore, should be free to act in any way current leaders choose. They have the divine seal of approval, and anyone who opposes any of Israel’s policies or actions is opposing God and risking godly retribution.
To say that many evangelical Christians are politically obsessed with Israel might seem like an overstatement to some. But consider the latest results of a recent Pew Research study of American Jews.
Twice as many white American evangelical Christians (82 percent) believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews than do American Jews (40 percent). Even after subtracting from the survey those who do not claim a belief in God, evangelicals still top Jews (82 percent to 55) in holding to that position.
The study also found that white evangelicals favor stronger American support of Israel than do American Jews — although American Jews still identify very heavily with Israel.
Politically, however, American Jews tend to be less conservative than evangelicals. And unwavering political support of Israel has become another mark of conservative political identity in America.
I’ve spoken with Jewish persons who live in Israel and in the U.S. who admit the oddity of finding strong uncritical support of the Israeli government from this segment of the American population that tends to not value interreligious activities and often seeks governmental preference for their own faith tradition over others.
Scratch deeper and one finds that the political ideology that drives this obsession has roots in a version of eschatology — end-times beliefs — that calls for the preservation of Israel as an essential step leading to the Second Coming of Christ.
Perhaps that explains a little bit more why so many white conservative Christians are so adamant about giving a foreign government their unquestioning loyalty while heavily criticizing their own. But then, advancing a political ideology mixed with bad theology is likely the answer to many questions that arise today.
But I’m still quite surprised by the results of this extensive study of American Jews — and the how overwhelmingly and passionately evangelical Christians have bought into this theologically shaped, political ideology.