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Why Trump’s evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem

Evangelical Christians from various countries wave flags as they show their support for Israel in Jerusalem, in a march held in October 2015. AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

 

File 20171207 11285 1iw2c1o.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of jaime.silva, CC BY-NC-ND

(The Conversation) — President Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, Nov. 6 that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel received widespread criticism. Observers quickly recognized the decision as related, not so much to national security concerns as to domestic U.S. politics and promises candidate-Trump made to his evangelical supporters, who welcomed the announcement..

Historian Diana Butler Bass posted on twitter

“Of all the possible theological dog-whistles to his evangelical base, this is the biggest. Trump is reminding them that he is carrying out God’s will to these Last Days.”

It is true that evangelicals have often noted that their support for Trump is based in their conviction that God can use the unlikeliest of men to enact His will. But how did conservative American Christians become invested in such a fine point of Middle East policy as whether the U.S. Embassy is in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?

For many of President Trump’s evangelical supporters this is a key step in the progression of events leading to the second coming of Jesus. There’s an interesting story as to how that came to be.

Ushering in the Kingdom of God

The nation of Israel and the role of the city of Jerusalem are central in the “end-times” theology – a form of what is known as “premillennialism” – embraced by many American conservative Protestants. ​

Evangelical Christians from various countries wave flags as they show their support for Israel in Jerusalem, in a march held in October 2015.
AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

While this theology is often thought of as a “literal” reading of the Bible, it’s actually a reasonably new interpretation that dates to the nineteenth century and relates to the work of Bible teacher, John Nelson Darby.

According to Darby for this to happen the Jewish people must have control of Jerusalem and build a third Jewish temple on the site where the first and second temples – destroyed centuries ago by the Babylonians and Romans – once were. In Darby’s view this was a necessary precursor to the Rapture, when believers would be “taken up” by Christ to escape the worst of the seven-year-period of suffering and turmoil on earth: The Great Tribulation. This is to be followed by the cosmic battle between good and evil called Armageddon at which Satan will be defeated and Christ will establish his earthly Kingdom. All of this became eminently more possible when the modern state of Israel was established in the 1940s.

But to understand the power of this way of looking at the world, it is necessary to do more than point to theological tenets. It is their dissemination through culture that determines which thought systems take hold and which ones are lost to history.

As author of Building God’s Kingdom, I focus on various aspects of conservative American Protestantism in American culture and politics. In my research I have seen how some thought systems get lost in history and others take hold.

Here is what happened with the end-time narrative that made it a core undercurrent to how these Christians look at the world and history.

The origins of this narrative

The end-times framework was popularized in the 1970s with an inexpensive and widely available paperback by evangelist and Christian writer Hal Lindsey called The Late Great Planet Earth. Lindsey argued that the establishment of the state of Israel in the 1940s set up a chain of events that would lead to Jesus’ return.


Waiting For The Word, CC BY

He calculated a date for that return in the 1980s. Lindsey, like many end-times prognosticators before him, argued that he lived in the “first time in history” when the biblical prophecies could possibly be fulfilled. This, he thought, was due in large part, to the reestablishment of Israel.

Despite his claim to be reading the Bible literally, Lindsey’s interpretation was far from literal. He said, for example, that the locusts predicted in the one of the plagues in the book of Revelation were “really” helicopters.

As adults were reading Lindsey’s book, a generation of young people watched an “evangelistic” film, A Thief in the Night, in church services and youth group meetings.

Beginning with an ominous ticking clock, the film begins at the Rapture. It shows how all the faithful Christians suddenly disappeared. For those who remained, there was one more chance to accept the Gospel but that chance required living through extreme persecution.

The film scared young people into conversion by depicting the experiences of these young Christians who were suffering because they had arrogantly dismissed warnings from their friends, families and churches to repent and had missed the rapture.

According to scholar Amy Frykholm, an estimated 50 million to 300 million people viewed “A thief in the Night.”

The end-times and the culture wars

The use of popular media to spread a terrifying vision of the end of history to draw young people into repentance, continued in the 1980s with the apocalyptic novels of Frank Peretti. The Peretti novels depicted a vibrant and active spiritual world in which cosmic forces of good and evil were vying for supremacy all around us.

As the book presented it, every person is obliged to play a part for one side or the other in very literal ways. This applies to all people, “true Christians” were meant to fight on God’s side, and the rest on the side of Satan. The first of these was called, This Present Darkness

Though clearly recognized as fictional, these books were also perceived as “real.” for example, while the seat of the diabolical scheming was the fictional local college and the chief antagonist was a fictional professor, it wasn’t lost on readers that they were to perceive colleges and professors as likely enemies.

The depiction of literal “good guys” and “bad guys” as regular people aligned with God and Satan respectively, played into the increasingly divisive culture war battles of the time. These books were powerful and effective until a decade later when they were replaced in popular Christian culture by the Left Behind series, co-authored by a culture warrior Tim LaHaye.

These sixteen books and four films, released, over the course of a decade, also trace the lives of the late-coming believers who had missed the rapture and were now part of the “Tribulation Force,” as they endured the post rapture world and sought to remain faithful despite persecution. The series’ successes included a New York Times best seller, while seven others set sales records. The entire series sold more than 65 million copies.


Natasha Padgitt, CC BY-NC-SA

It’s impossible to over emphasize the effects of this framework on those within the circles of evangelicalism where it is popular. A growing number of young people who have left evangelicalism point to end-times theology as a key component of the subculture they left. They call themselves exvangelicals and label teachings like this as abusive.

The ConversationIt’s hard to get away from the invocation of mythic narratives in American politics. They get used often and are invented and reinvented to be deployed at different times in history. While supporters and opponents of the Trump announcement agree that the results might be cataclysmic, some of the supporters are happy. That is because they are reading it through a lens that promises the return of Jesus and the establishment of God’s Kingdom.

(Julie Ingersoll is professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.)

About the author

Julie Ingersoll

17 Comments

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  • Hmm, mythic narrative of the American civil religion, indeed. I grew up witnessing the spread of heretical “Christian” teachings since my school days back in the 1970s & I’ve been following the trends in the propagation of Counterfeit Christian theology since then. What baffles me is the lack of discussion on the difference between Christianity and pseudo-Christianity as has been promoted by the politically motivated “christian right.” If only people can really see how wrong the right is. The disturbing political figure of the “right” isn’t the Jesus Christ of the Bible & the book of Revelations. Evangelical isn’t Christian either.

  • You mention several times — counterfeit Christianity — are you specifically referring to Eschatology? If NO…………….could you summarize in a few sentences what would be ‘true’ Christianity? There are many on this site who have a problem with people who try to determine for others what is ‘true’ or ‘false’ Christianity. Peace.

  • But there is no second coming.

    Time for us to “think outside the scribe stories”. Embellishment was the norm in the first to third century Greek, Roman and Jewish world. Everybody had their PR guys. For the Jewish nation, it was the scribes and this is a historical fact. History continued on in the first century. There was no second coming as
    mythicizid by St. Paul. It was just more embellishment as history would predict.

    Bottom line: Christianity is based on the whim of Pilate, the false prophesy of the imminent second coming, and the sword of Constantine.

    1 Cor 7: 32-34 as per Professor JD Crossan in his book In Search of Paul, p.111: St. Paul was not interested in marriage because he assummed the second coming was imminent.

    Paul’s description/prediction of the imminent second coming, i.e. 1 Thessalonians 4: 15-17, was a great way to get Gentiles to convert and give money to the cause but to say the least he was not much of a prophet. Televangelists still usethe description/prediction though to get “guilt-trip” donations.

    And the Book of Revelation?

    “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson
    Bible, and wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings
    of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of
    our own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once “found it an offensive piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its value.”[32]

  • Just some minor corrections to make here. First, there are two schools of premillennialism in Christian eschatology. The one that focuses on Israel is called dispensational premillennialism, There is a premillenialism that exists apart from its dispensational cousin.

    Second, the literal reading of the Bible employed by dispensationalists is of a specific direction. They use a literal reading of the Old Testament to dictate what the New Testament can say about the promise made to Abraham and the nation of Israel. But we should note that such an approach leads to contradictions with very clear New Testament statements about the same subject. Because the Old Testament was written to point to the coming of Christ, any literal reading of the Bible about the promise made to Abraham and the nation of Israel should reverse that direction so that a literal reading of the New Testament should dictate how we interpret the Old Testament.

  • The mythic narratives become the tale that lead the dog. A dog that has this many tales gets weighted down by his tales and dies by the side of the road. This is biblical that these things must happen before the end, therefore this mass confusion is part of the end time. It in no way makes a case that Jesus is not just around the corner. The opposite is true when everyone is wrong.

  • I’m not a fan of Christian contemporary music, but an exception is covers of Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” also from the 70s and also about the Rapture. One such cover by The Fishmarket Combo is played during the opening credits of A Thief in the Night, featured above. I don’t agree with the theological message, far from it. But it captures the spirit of the Jesus People movement of the 1970s: young people, dressed and speaking like their peers, filled with evangelizing fervor. I first came across covers like this while watching HBO’s The Leftovers, which was about a very different kind of worldwide disappearance but touched on the idea of Christian eschatology. That one was by the Good News Circle.

  • So how many people get to die, or starve and die, Or bleed and die, all so that hard core Christianists can get their wish for Jesus to come again?

    And if he doesn’t come again, all of those Christianists can say that god moves in his own way, and it just wasn’t the time. But surely, the next time we think he’s going to come again, he will, unless he doesn’t.

  • Okay. I would prefer Trump’s religious supporters be termed the religious right and not evangelicals. I consider myself an evangelical and some evangelicals may support some religious right ideals. But there is a distinction between the religious right and evangelicals. The religious right was born out of the legacy of a southern brand of Christians who were able to rally other Christians around the IRS actions of withdrawing the tax exemption status against a university that held segregation views. These religious right views have morphed from supporting slavery and segregation into mainstay Christianity. We must distinguish between all forms of Christianity with the messages Christ proclaimed for being merciful, compasionate, united, taking care of the poor. Evangelicals Christians are to take care of orphans, widows and foreigners and not treat people more preferrably whether rice or poor. Further, we are to take care of the earth, its environment and show by example God’s love. Trump has the support of the religious right which might be identified with the Pharasees if Jesus’ day.

  • “Evangelicals” (so-called) are far from monolithic in their beliefs, especially concerning eschatology – there’s pre-trib, mid-trib, and post trib, not to mention amillennialism. There are actually plenty of Evangelicals (AKA “traditional” or “conservative” Christians) who reject dispensationalism (and its associated Israel-philia) as heretical. Check out “Pop Prophecy” on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pop-Prophecy-Exposing-Prophecies-Rapture/dp/1503131149/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512765372&sr=1-1&keywords=Pop+Prophecy

  • Funny you mention that – kind of the same thing Muslims are accused of not doing by Christians n terms of shutting down their more radical/fundamentalist factions. But these folks have big competition with the Prosperity Gospel – the further away from the US one goes, the bigger the growth of that as well. I think the religious sight plays out the biggest in the US because the level of intolerance for those who dion’t mesh with the tribe.seems to be higher or more visible than elsewhere.

  • Paul’s description/prediction of the imminent second coming, i.e. 1 Thessalonians 4: 15-17, was a great way to get Gentiles to convert and give money to the cause but to say the least he was not much of a prophet. Televangelists still use the description/prediction though to get “guilt-trip” donations.

    And the Book of Revelation?

    “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson
    Bible, and wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings
    of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of
    our own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once “found it an offensive piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its value.”[32]

  • For a professor of religious studies, the author misstates a lot, particularly her conflation of dispensationalism with other forms of premillennial escatology. But the main flaw here is that she doesn’t make the case for why recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has anything to do with placating Trump’s so-called evangelical base. There is no prophetic significance to such a move by the United States. Besides, this policy has been U.S. law since 1995. So, what difference does this make for evangelicals? Except that it is perceived as the right thing to do, since Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years.

  • I think this link will take you to Dr. Sian Butler Bass’s explanation – actually spread over several tweets lhttps://twitter.com/dianabutlerbass/status/938425601035329536

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