The Unannounced Reason Behind American
Fundamentalism's [& Virtually All Evangelicalism] Support for the
State of Israel
With the President
meeting this week with Prime Minister Barak of Israel and Yassir Arafat,
it may be time to review a topic that is baffling for Jews, annoying to
Arabs, and unavoidable for American Congressmen: the unswerving
political support for the State of Israel by American fundamentalists.
Vocal support of a
pro-Israel American foreign policy is basic for the leaders of American
Protestant fundamentalism. This has been true ever since 1948. Pat
Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell have been pro-Israel throughout their
careers, beginning two decades before the arrival of the New Christian
Right in the late 1970's. These men are not aberrations. The Trinity
Broadcasting Network is equally supportive. So are the best-selling
authors who speak for, and influence heavily, Protestant fundamentalism,
most notably Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth (1970),
and Tim LaHaye, the husband of Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for
America, which says on its Web site that it is "the nation’s
largest public policy women’s organization." Rev. LaHaye and his
co-author have each earned some $10 million in royalties for their
multi-volume futuristic novel, Left Behind, They have a very large
People may ask
themselves, "Why this support?" Fundamentalists earlier in
this century were sometimes associated with anti-Semitism. James M. Gray
of the Moody Bible Institute in 1927 wrote an editorial favorable to
Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent series on Jews. Gray’s
editorial appeared in the Moody Bible Institute Monthly. Arno C.
Gabelein, a prominent fundamentalist leader, believed that the Protocols
of the Learned Elders of Zion was a legitimate document.
Gabelein’s 1933 book, The Conflict of the Ages, would today be
regarded as anti-Semitic.
leaders of the pre-War era, while not anti-Semitic, attempted to
maintain neutrality on the issue of Hitler’s persecution of Jews. In
his 1977 book, Armageddon Now, Christian historian Dwight Wilson cites
numerous examples of fundamentalist theologians in the late 1930’s who
regarded Hitler’s discriminatory policies against Jews as part of
God’s judgment on the Jews. He writes: "Pleas from Europe for
assistance for Jewish refugees fell on deaf ears, and ‘Hands Off’
meant no helping hand. So in spite of being theologically more
pro-Jewish than any other Christian group, the premillennarians also
were apathetic. . . ." [pp. 96-97].
What was it that
persuaded almost the entire fundamentalist movement to move from either
hostility or neutrality to vocal support of Israel? No single answer
will fit every case, but there is a common motivation, one not taken
seriously by most people in history: getting out of life alive.
The Not-Quite Last Things
The Christian doctrine
of eschatology deals with the last things. Sometimes eschatology deals
with the personal: the death of the individual. Usually, however, it has
to do with God’s final judgment of mankind.
There have been three
main views of eschatology in the history of the church, which
theologians classify as premillennialism, postmillennialism, and
amillennialism. The pre- and post- designations refer to the expected
timing of the bodily return of Jesus in the company of angels: before
(pre-) the establishment of an earthly kingdom of God, or after (post-)
this kingdom has extended its rule across the earth.
view is that the kingdom of God is mainly spiritual. This became the
dominant view of Christianity for over a millennium after Augustine’s
City of God, with its distinction
between the city of God, the church (spiritual and permanent) and the
political cities of man (rising and falling). Luther held this
eschatological view. Most of the Continental Protestant Reformers of the
sixteenth century held it. But seventeenth-century Scottish
Presbyterians were more likely to hold the postmillennial view, and they
carried it with them when they emigrated to America. Their
postmillennialism rested in part on their belief that God will convert
the Jews to Christianity as a prelude to the kingdom’s period of
greatest expansion, an idea derived from Paul’s Epistle to the church
at Rome, chapter 11. Presbyterians are officially commanded to pray for
the conversion of the Jews. [Westminster Larger Catechism (1647),
Answer 191.] The first generation of Puritan Congregationalists in New
England also held similar postmillennial opinions.
The premillennial view
was commonly held in the pre-Augustinian church, although the other
views did have defenders. After 1660, premillennialism became
increasingly common within American Puritanism. Cotton Mather was a
premillennialist. But Jonathan Edwards was postmillennial. In
nineteenth-century America, both views were common prior to the Civil
War. After the War, premillennialism steadily replaced postmillennialism
among fundamentalists. A secularized postmillennialism was adopted by
the Social Gospel movement. Non-fundamentalist Protestants from
Continental Europe, like the Catholics, remained amillennial.
Postmillennialism faded after World War I until the late 1970's, when it
experienced a limited revival.
Basic to the view of
both premillennialism and amillennialism is pessimism regarding the
efforts of Christians to build a culture-wide kingdom of God on earth.
Both positions hold that only by Jesus’ bodily presence among the
saints can Christians create an cultural alternative to the competing
kingdoms of man. The premillennialist believes that this international
kingdom construction task will begin in earnest a thousand years before
the final judgment, with Jesus ruling from a literal throne, probably
located in Jerusalem. The amillennialist views this universal extension
of the kingdom of God into culture as possible only after the
resurrection of all humanity at the final judgment, i.e., in a sin-free,
death-free, Christians-only world.
Tribulation and Rapture
Just prior to Jesus’
return to set up an earthly kingdom, argue most amillennialists and all
premillennialists, there will be a time of persecution, called the Great
Tribulation. It is here that the great debate over the Jews begins.
Amillennialists believe that Christians will be persecuted by their
enemies. A handful of premillennialists, referred to as "historic
premillennialists," also identify Christians as the targets. This
version of premillennialism has been insignificant institutionally since
the 1870’s. The dominant premillennial view says that Jews will suffer
the Great Tribulation. Born-again Christians will have flown the coop
– literally. This is the doctrine of the pre-tribulation Rapture.
pre-tribulation premillennialists, who are known as dispensationalists,
Jesus will come secretly in the clouds and raise deceased Christians –
and only Christians – from the dead. Immediately thereafter, every
true Christian will be transported bodily into the sky, and from there
to heaven: the Rapture event. The passage cited to defend this view is
found in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessolonica: "For
the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice
of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ
shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up
[harpazo] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in
the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thes. 4:16-17).
Throughout most of church history, this passage was associated with the
final judgment, but beginning sometime around 1830 in England, it was
linked to the premillennial, pretribulational Rapture – a word that is
not found in the Greek text or in any English translation of the New
Testament. Its Latin root word is in Jerome’s Vulgate, a translation
of the Greek "harpazo" – seize, catch, or pluck.
This outlook on the
earthly future became increasingly popular among fundamentalists,
beginning in the 1870's. It was formalized in the footnotes of the
Scofield Reference Bible (1909; revised, 1917). In 1930, it became the
first Oxford University Press book to reach sales of one million. It has
now sold over five million copies. C. I. Scofield’s system has defined
fundamentalism for nine decades.
escape from history is now universally believed by fundamentalists to be
imminent. Generations of fundamentalists have believed that they will
escape bodily death. They will be transported into the sky, like Elijah,
though without benefit of chariots.
But when? That has
been the great question. The answer: "Soon." But why soon? Why
not a millennium from now? The psychological answer: Because men do not
live that long in this millennium. The main selling point for
fundamentalism’s Bible prophecies is to get insight into what is
coming soon. In this case, the issue of mortality is central. As the
slogan says, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to
die." The doctrine of the imminent Rapture allows Christians to
believe seriously that they can go to heaven without dying. Millions of
Americans believe this today.
But how can they be so
sure? Because of the events of 1948. In that year, the crucial missing
piece of the prophetic puzzle – the restoration of the nation of
Israel – seemed to come true. Critics of the dispensational system
could no longer say, "But where is Israel in all this?" The
answer, at long last: "In Palestine, just in time for the Great
The Grim Fate of Israel
The source of the idea
of the Great Tribulation is found in Jesus’ last words regarding
Israel, which are recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies,
then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are
in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst
of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter
thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which
are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child,
and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great
distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall
by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all
nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until
the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-24).
Throughout most of
church history, this prophecy was interpreted as having been fulfilled
by the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70
A.D. With the rise of dispensationalism, however, the fulfillment of
this passage was moved into the future.
critics had long asked: "Where is the nation of Israel? Where are
the Jews?" Not in Palestine, surely. So, dispensationalists tended
to apply this prophecy of near-destruction to Jews in general – only
symbolically residing in Israel – until 1948. This was one reason for
their silence on Hitler’s persecution. Hitler was just another rung in
the ladder of persecution leading to the inevitable Great Tribulation.
The prophesied agency
of the great persecution has shifted over the years. As Wilson shows in Armageddon
Now!, from 1917 until 1977, Russia was a prime candidate. But, after
1991, this has become difficult to defend, for obvious reasons. The
collapse of the Soviet Union has created a major problem for
dispensationalism’s theologians and its popular authors. But there
have been no comparable doubts about the intensity of the coming
persecution. Here is the opinion of John F. Walvoord, one of
dispensationalism’s leading theologians, who served for three decades
as the president of Dallas Theological Seminary (founded, 1924), the
movement’s main seminary.
Nothing can or will be
done by Christians to save Israel’s Jews from this disaster, for all
of the Christians will have been removed from this world three and a
half years prior to the beginning of this 42-month period of
tribulation. (The total period of seven years is interpreted as the
fulfillment of the seventieth week of Daniel [Dan. 9:27].)
In order for most of
today’s Christians to escape physical death, two-thirds of the Jews in
Israel must perish, soon. This is the grim prophetic trade-off that
fundamentalists rarely discuss publicly, but which is the central
motivation in the movement’s support for Israel. It should be clear
why they believe that Israel must be defended at all costs by the West.
If Israel were militarily removed from history prior to the Rapture,
then the strongest case for Christians’ imminent escape from death
would have to be abandoned. This would mean the indefinite delay of the
Rapture. The fundamentalist movement thrives on the doctrine of the
imminent Rapture, not the indefinitely postponed Rapture.
Every time you hear
the phrase, "Jesus is coming back soon," you should mentally
add, "and two-thirds of the Jews of Israel will be dead in ‘soon
plus 84 months.’" Fundamentalists really do believe that they
probably will not die physically, but to secure this faith
prophetically, they must defend the doctrine of an inevitable holocaust.
motivation for the support of Israel is never preached from any
fundamentalist pulpit. The faithful hear sermons – many, many sermons
– on the pretribulation Rapture. On other occasions, they hear sermons
on the Great Tribulation. But they do not hear the two themes put
together: "We can avoid death, but only because two-thirds of the
Jews of Israel will inevitably die in a future holocaust. America must
therefore support the nation of Israel in order to keep the Israelis
alive until after the Rapture." Fundamentalist ministers expect
their congregations to put two and two together on their own. It would
be politically incorrect to add up these figures in public.
The fundamentalists I
have known generally say they appreciate Jews. They think Israel is far
superior to Arab nations. They believe in a pro-Israel foreign policy as
supportive of democracy and America’s interests. They do not dwell
upon the prophetic fate of Israel’s Jews except insofar as they want
to transfer the threat of the Great Tribulation away from themselves and
their families. Nevertheless, this is the bottom line: the prophetic
scapegoating of Israel. This scapegoat, not Christians, must be sent
into the post-Rapture wilderness.
Evangelism in Israel
Their eschatology has
produced a kind of Catch-22 for fundamentalists. What if, as a result of
evangelism, the Jews of Israel were converted en masse to
Christianity? They would then be Raptured, along with their Gentile
brethren, leaving only Arabs behind. This scenario would make the
immediate fulfillment of prophecy impossible: no post-Rapture Israelis
to persecute. So, fundamentalists have concluded that the vast majority
of the Jews of Israel cannot, will not, and must not be converted to
This raises an obvious
question: Why spend money on evangelizing Israelis? It would be a waste
of resources. This is why there are so few active fundamentalist
ministries in Israel that target Jews. They target Arabs instead.
Eschatologically speaking, the body of an Israeli must be preserved, for
he may live long enough to go through the Great Tribulation. But his
soul is expendable. This is why fundamentalists vocally support the
nation of Israel, but then do very little to preach to Israelis the
traditional Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
Fundamentalists have a prophetic agenda for Israelis that does not
involve at least two-thirds of the Israelis’ souls. Israelis are
members of the only group on earth that has an unofficial yet
operational King’s X against evangelism by fundamentalists,
specifically so that God may preserve Israelis for the sake of the
destruction of modern Israel in the Great Tribulation. The presence of
Israel validates the hope of fundamentalists that Christians, and
Christians alone, will get out of life alive.