Why Evangelical Christians Love Israel
A Complicated Love Affair
You might have noticed that evangelical Christians seem to support Israel at every turn. Pat Robertson, though elliptical, wants Israel to know he loves their country. As Mother Jones reported: "In 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu created the Israel Christian Advocacy Council and flew 17 Christian leaders to Israel, where they signed a pledge that 'America never, never desert Israel.'"
This continues to the present-day. Sarah Palin made a trip to Israel (after her "blood libel" comment) in 2011 when she was still considered a potential 2012 presidential candidate, and Mitt Romney, a Mormon of course, made his campaign pilgrimage to Israel in 2012 to attack Obama and tell Netanyahu what a great friend he would be to Israel. The point of this trip: to appeal to evangelical Christians, and, secondarily, American Jews.
But you might also remember that back in 1980, at a roundtable of Christian Right leaders where Ronald Reagan made his famous "endorsement" statement, Bailey Smith, head of the Southern Baptists, said: "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."
What happened in the interim? To understand this, we need to dig a little deeper into Christian theology.
There were/are the pre-millenials and the post-millenials; the significant difference is that the latter advocated involvement in the wider world and saving souls, while the former counseled withdrawal from the secular world. However, in the 1980s, heavies in the Christian Right movement got together and essentially papered-over their ecumenical rift and decided that it most important to act politically lest these Christians lose their self-appointed status as "God's elect" by ceding the world to Satan.
A term, and idea, associated with the post-millenialism is Dominionism, or Christian Reconstructionism, which exhorts Christians to be involved politically because, in their view, America is a Christian nation that should ruled by Christians. In its most extreme form -- and this is ironic given that Islam drives the Christian Right crazy -- America would be a Christian theocracy. (This is completely unlikely, and is also the premise of a terrible novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale).
With that background in mind, we can now see how Israel comes into play: for many evangelical Christians, Israel plays a central role in the "end times" and the advent of the Anti-Christ. Who is the Anti-Christ? In reverse chronological order, we can name: Osama bin Laden, Sadaam Hussein, Communism, the Germans. It seems fair to say that whoever America's current foreign-policy bete noire is, it follows, to Christians, that he or it must be that figure.
What is more, for many evangelicals, Israel must be united (which helps explain the animosity toward the Palestinians) for Christ to return. In other words, Israel is simply a means to a theological end for many Christians. Evangelical Christians on the right, egged on by their thought leaders, overwhelmingly supported the Iraq War (and the Gulf War before that) because they saw those wars, whether they were upfront about it or not, as a way to hasten the end times.
And if there seems something a little "unChristian" about proclaiming to love something that is just a pawn in your end game, well, I think you've hit on the exact problem.