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Evangelicals and Israel
In his new book, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism, Stephen Spector delves deeply into the Christian Zionist movement, mining information from original interviews, web sites, publications, news reports, survey research, worship services, and interfaith conferences, to provide a surprising look at the sources of evangelical support for Israel.
Most observers explain the bedrock support of Israel among evangelical Christian as stemming from the apocalyptic belief that the Jews must return to the Holy Land as a precondition for the second coming of Christ. But the real reasons, argues Stephen Spector, are far more complicated. Travelujah had the opportunity to speak with Spector about his findings.
T: You established yourself as an expert on Israeli military manuevers with Operation Solomon. What led you to write about Christian Zionism?
SS: I spent nearly twenty years editing a collection of medieval Bible plays and I've taught Bible and Christianity my entire adult life. One of my major interests was in how Christian texts represented Jews in the past. Then, in researching Operation Solomon I learned how to interview people and do research on current issues regarding Israel. For this book, I decided to put these two interests together and work on a topic of great importance today: evangelical support of Israel and its impact on American Mideast policy.
T: Misconceptions about evangelicals abound, how much of Evangelical support of Israel is based on End of Times beliefs? What did your research show about Christian Zionists' motives?
SS: The popular image of evangelicals is that they support Israel solely because of a hidden agenda: they love Israel now only in order to get Jews there and have them control the entire Holy Land; then the end-times scenario will begin. Jesus will raise believing Christians to heaven in an event called the Rapture, the Antichrist will come, the Jews will suffer terrible tribulations culminating in the battle of Armageddon, and two thirds of them will die. Then Christ will usher in the millennial age. Critics charge, therefore, that evangelicals see Israelis only as abstract end-times warriors, not real people facing difficult problems and actual dangers. Opponents of these end-times beliefs also claim that evangelicals' faith requires them to oppose any attempt to trade an inch of land for peace with the Palestinians.
That perception of Christian Zionists has appeared in several books and in very many news reports, and it was what every Jewish friend spoke of when I told them that I was working on evangelicals and Israel. It was what I expected to confirm in my research. I found that it is based in truth, but it is only one small part of the truth, and to that extent, it is a distortion. In fact, I found unexpected pragmatism and flexibility even in the most ardent Christian Zionists. They believe that giving land for peace would be national suicide, but they said that they would not object if the democratically elected government of Israel decided to pursue that policy.
T: How do you explain that Evangelicals support Israel more than any other group, aside from Jews?
SS: The best estimate is that the vast majority of evangelicals (perhaps 90%) do not embrace the end-times scenario that I describe above, and yet they support Israel more than any other group does, aside from Jews. They do it for a range of reasons: God's promise in Genesis of blessing for those who bless the Jews, gratitude to Jews for providing the basis of Christianity, remorse over the Church's historical treatment of the Jews, guilt over the Holocaust, the conviction that God will judge people based on how they treated the Jews, and a love for Jews that God mysteriously placed in their hearts. Many do it simply because the Jews are the apple of God's eye and they want to be on God's side. At the same time, very many evangelicals believe that Israel is our best ally, a democracy that shares our values in a sea of Arab autocracies. And especially after 9/11, many conservative Christians think that Israel is the firewall against Islamist terrorism and is fighting the same enemy that we are. In these convictions, faith and politics converge, resulting in evangelical support for Israel and the Jewish people.
T: How did George W. Bush's born-again Christianity affect his administrations' mideast policies?
SS: It seems reasonable to suppose that, since born-again Christians made up 40% of Bush's electorate in 2000 and again in 2004, he would feel obliged to accept their views of the Middle East. This was especially true because he is born-again himself and has studied the Bible formally and informally for over twenty years. A number of leaders and prominent scholars have accused him of basing his policies on biblical literalism and end-times beliefs. And yet Christian Zionists have been saying for years that he is not one of them. His support of Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and his call for a Palestinian state on land that God gave to Abraham directly contradict the main tenets of Christian Zionist belief.
As a result, I conclude in the book that Bush does not read the Bible literally. And a few weeks ago, he said on "Nightline" that he doesn't.
T: What impact do you suppose the Obama presidency will have on Christian Zionists?
SS: Obama will pursue a two-state solution. He will court conservative Christians without accepting their views of the Middle East, but there is ample evidence that Bush did the same.
Travelujah is an online social networking community offering travel products and services for the Holy Land, to Christians worldwide. The Company's soon to be launched platform allows users to learn about the Holy Land, to create and share content, and to book unique, high quality travel experiences through our network of Christian guesthouses, hotels and tours. Travelujah is based in Ra'ananna, Israel.
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