Opinion

Is Jerusalem embassy part of God’s grand plan? Why some evangelicals love Israel

Texas evangelist John Hagee, of Christians United for Israel, addresses a crowd of his followers and Israeli supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention center on April 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

(RNS) — On Monday (May 14), the Trump administration unveiled its new Jerusalem embassy. Many American evangelicals cheered because they understood the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the “once and eternal” capital of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Trump chose two evangelical ministers to offer prayers at the dedication of the embassy. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, delivered the invocation. John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, gave the benediction.

Both clergymen adhere to dispensationalism, a theology informed by a literal reading of biblical prophecy. Most Americans have never heard the term “dispensationalism,” but they might have been exposed to this view of history through the popular “Left Behind” novels published in the 1990s and 2000s by Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.

Dispensationalists believe Israel will play an important role in end-times prophecy. They teach that the return of the Jews to their homeland will be a sign that the end of the world is near. In most dispensationalist schemes, Jesus Christ will one day descend from heaven to the Mount Olives in Jerusalem, lead an army that will defeat the forces of the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon and establish a 1,000-year reign on the earth.

Pastor Robert Jeffress preaches at First Baptist Church of Dallas. Photo by Luke Edmonson, courtesy of First Baptist Church of Dallas

Robert Jeffress studied at Dallas Theological Seminary, the most important bastion of 20th-century dispensationalist thought. In 1970, author Hal Lindsey, a graduate of the seminary, brought dispensationalism into the American mainstream with the publication of his best-selling “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Jeffress has written his own books on biblical prophecy informed by this view of the Bible.

In 2006, Hagee formed Christians United for Israel, an organization of evangelicals committed to defending dispensationalist views of Israel’s place in biblical prophecy.

Both Jeffress and Hagee are also supporters of the idea that America was founded as, and continues to be, a Christian nation. They believe that the United States plays a special role in God’s plan for the ages.

The fact that the most powerful nation in the world has used its influence to restore Jerusalem to its rightful place in history provides dispensationalists like Jeffress and Hagee with clear evidence that America is on the side of the angels. Jeffress likes to quote God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. … I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”

For some of these dispensationalist evangelicals, Donald Trump, as the leader of a nation who has “blessed” Israel, is God’s man for such a time as this. Trump not only has the right policies on abortion and religious liberty, but he may even be a new King Cyrus.

This is a depiction of the biblical character Emperor Cyrus the Great of Persia, by Jean Fouquet, created circa 1470. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

In the Old Testament, Cyrus was the Persian king who released the Israelites from captivity and allowed them to return to Israel, the promised land where they rebuilt the walls of the city and the Jewish temple. Several evangelical leaders who have compared Trump to King Cyrus see the president as the politician who released American Christians from the captivity of what they perceive to be the anti-evangelical Obama administration. In a sermon on the morning of the 2017 presidential inauguration, Jeffress even praised Trump as a great builder of walls.

But other have applied the King Cyrus metaphor to Trump’s Israel policy. For example, Mike Evans, the founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem and a staunch Trump supporter, was ecstatic last December when he learned about Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Evans told the Christian Broadcasting Network that when he next saw Trump in the Oval Office he would say to him: “Cyrus, you’re Cyrus. Because you have done something historic and prophetic.”

Because of Trump’s actions, dispensationalists believe the blessing of God will come upon America. The Jerusalem decision reinforces the idea that America is a Christian nation. This decision makes America great in the eyes of God. It also makes Trump great in the eyes of those American evangelicals who visit the White House regularly to consult with the president, the flatterers and sycophants whom I have called the “court evangelicals.”

Jeffress, Evans and other court evangelicals claim that they were influential in Trump’s decision to move the Israel embassy. If this is true, we can say with certainty that United States policy in the Middle East is now heavily influenced by dispensational theology.

(John Fea teaches American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He is the author of the forthcoming “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this piece mischaracterized comments John Hagee made regarding the Holocaust. The sentence has been removed.

About the author

G. Jeffrey MacDonald

G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an award-winning reporter and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

31 Comments

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  • Which should be very troubling for anyone who supports separation of church and state… or who has read the Bible and knows what the dispensationalists want to see happen. They some crazy mofos.

  • I remember channel surfing some time ago and pausing to watch John Hagee endorse slavery. Something along the lines of “America should be slow to anger, but once roused, it should seize the enemies lands and throw them into chains forever.”

    Brave words to broadcast from a former Confederate state.

  • Personal opinions held by people have zero to do with “separation of church and state”.

  • When writing articles like this, I wish RN editors would require writers to use the more accurate term “evangelical Christian” instead of just “Christian”. There are lots of folks who think that calling themselves “Christian” is a serious perversion of true Christianity.

    As well, as I’ve read the output of fundagelicals, and learned about them, it’s clear that most harbor varying degrees of Jew hatred. And of course, it is no accident that both of these guys come from Texas; the data show clearly that the South is the historical home of a wide variety of hatreds.

  • “If this is true, we can say with certainty that United States policy in
    the Middle East is now heavily influenced by dispensational theology.”

    You must have missed the “if”.

    Obviously evangelicalism influences Jeffress, Evans, and others.

    And they in turn are allowed to influence politicians.

    Unless and until that results in a law which favors religion or disreligion, or one religion over another, the so-called “separation of church and state”, legally known as the Establishment Clause, is uninvolved.

  • John Fea is really not interested in using accurate terms.

    Accurate terms don’t advance his agenda.

  • Wanna know why “the blessing of God [that’s supposed to] come upon America [as a result of Trump’s] Jerusalem decision” – shall turn into a curse, instead?

    DO THE MATH: “Trump’s decision to move the Israel embassy … is now heavily influenced by dispensational theology” – as a cover for the strategic geopolitics of the 51st State of America a.k.a. THE DEEP STATE – all in keeping with THIS ULTIMATE PROPHECY:

    “The nations … will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.” (Revelation 11:2

    YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET. And no Rapture is ever a-comin’ neither, to spoil the fun! We’re in this together, Baby, to the very end of The Great Tribulation of Saints and Sinners Alike!

  • Most accurate term is Fundamentalists. They’ve hijacked the term Evangelical.

    It’s interesting that many true Evangelicals, even though they disagree with them, still see Fundamentalists as under the Evangelical umbrella. But the Fundamentalists feel that if you aren’t one of them, you aren’t an Evangelical.

  • Almost all of them are horrible, poorly-educated, non-reasoning, hate-filled individuals.

  • Following the advice of so-called ‘evangelical ‘ leaders like Jeffress and Haggee, Trump has once again proved he’s an outright dumb ass. These people as well as the ‘fundoos’ are like Trump himself – half educated dimwits who are greedy for more wealth, confiscate the rights of the poor, remove Obamacare and undo all the good works which the previous president had done concerning the environment, education and health. If there’s one prophecy that all Americans should come to know and understand is that Trump’s foreign policy thus far has been zero. More than 60 people have died needlessly just to build the American embassy in eastern Jerusalem because of this man’s short-sighted foreign policy and ignorance. He’s now provoking the Iranians, and of course the Koreans, though the latter have shown more maturity in conducting their foreign policy than Trump. Trump has angered all the nations in the EU as well as other non-EU nations too. The respect for Americans the world over has come down many notches below than what it was during Obama’s time. Trump’s cultivation of sycophants like Jeffress, Haggee, Franklin Graham and Sarah Palin has lowered his self esteemed in the eyes of the world. He has shone the torch on the ignorance, poor education standards and religious bigotry of most Americans.

  • At least the most vocal ones. Many, I try and remind myself, are isolated from others of different beliefs. They’re told they’re persecuted and that the world hates them. They’re told that everyone else is evil except them. They’re told that if they believe anything different they will go to hell. I blame the leadership.

  • I think you;’ve hit the nail on the head, in multiple ways. I have also noticed that the most vocal ones are the worst ( I should have made that clear) and I’d love to know what that’s all about.

    Yes, they are told what you say–but don’t forget, their bible says that too, so they’re especially susceptible to noticing it. (One question is, why should they care?)

    Fundagelical “Christianity” is set up very cleverly so as to keep them from inquiring about the world around them and keep them in fear.

  • Oh trust me, I grew up as one. And they’re also told what the Bible says. And if anyone else’s Bible says differently then they’re heretics. It’s a very black/white good/evil us/them world. I think as identity politics runs rampant that dichotomy is getting drilled into everything.

  • How did you escape? (And is there any way we can get in touch with each other so that we can communicate directly, without revealing that info to everyone else here?)

  • hm. I have a blog, chaplainsreport.com, you can go there and contact me that way and I’ll get to you. just remember to put your name in so I don’t freak out.

    And I went from one of the most conservative colleges in the country to probably one of the more liberal seminaries in the country. Amazing what you learn when you eat lunch with the people you’ve only heard nasty things about for years (gays, progressives, Methodists…)

  • Photo from 2005 shows Barack Hussein Obama with controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Michael Smerconish gives his take on whether this photo could have prevented Obama from becoming president. https://edition.cnn.com/videos/politics/2018/02/03/obama-farrakhan-2005-photo-released-smerconish.cnn

    Barack Obama’s portrait artist Kehinde Wiley painted black women beheading white women. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/feb/13/kehinde-wiley-barack-obamas-portrait-artist-painte/

    Intersectional Feminism Wages War On White Women. https://youtu.be/HgmXDbsd-fQ

    The FBI’s New U.S. Terrorist Threat: ‘Black Identity Extremists’ http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/06/the-fbi-has-identified-a-new-domestic-terrorist-threat-and-its-black-identity-extremists/

  • In one now-famous email chain, for example, the reader can watch current US trade representative Michael Froman, writing from a Citibank email address in 2008, appear to name President Obama’s cabinet even before the great hope-and-change election was decided (incidentally, an important clue to understanding why that greatest of zombie banks was never put out of its misery). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/31/the-podesta-emails-show-who-runs-america-and-how-they-do-it

    Bailouts could cost U.S. $23 trillion. By EAMON JAVERS 07/20/2009 https://www.politico.com/story/2009/07/bailouts-could-cost-us-23-trillion-025164

  • 1: impolite to derail a conversation
    2: all I said was that I sat across from them. doesn’t warrant a lecture.
    3: the kingdom of God isn’t heaven
    4: you left out slanderers, the greedy, drunkards, and so on

  • .
    Are you feigning ignorance?

    Are you unaware of Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”, passed in 2016 and effective in Oct 2017?

    The law permits discrimination based solely on the beliefs of a particular religion — beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, that sexual relations are limited to properly defined marriage and that gender is determined by biological sex at birth.

    Or how about Texas’ “Freedom to Serve Children Act”?

    This law allows adoption agencies to discriminate against same sex couples — the belief of a particular religion now enshrined into law.

    Both of these laws violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.
    .

  • The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, also called the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act or House Bill 1523 states:

    “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:”

    “(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;”

    “(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and”

    “(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

    http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/html/HB/1500-1599/HB1523SG.htm

    Note that it does NOT state that any of these are mandated by the State of Mississippi, merely that those that hold these beliefs or moral convictions are protected as provided in the law.

    It also states that the state government of Mississippi shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization when it comes to issuing marriages, employment (including state employees), sale, rental, housing, adoption, declines to participate in sex reassignment surgery, conversion therapy, or services that accommodate or facilitates marriages “based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

    This violates no Federal law nor is sexual orientation federally protected. It does not mandate that anyone without these convictions or beliefs adopt them, nor does it state a government position pro or con any particular belief, which would be necessary to effect an Establishment Clause violation.

    The “Freedom to Serve Children Act” similarly provides, as does a comparable Kansas law and a law pending in Oklahoma, that faith-based child welfare providers in Texas cannot be punished for their sincerely held religious beliefs, including the beliefs that life begins at conception and that marriage is between one man and one woman.

    The state of Texas cannot deny an application, decline a contract, decline to issue a license, or terminate a child welfare provider for their sincerely held religious beliefs.

    Faith-based child welfare providers include those assisting abused or neglected children, counseling children or parents, providing foster care and providing adoptive homes.

    On June 23, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a judge’s injunction against the Mississippi law, allowing the law to go into effect. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

    That does not look promising for “Both of these laws violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.”

  • .
    The Jun 2017 ruling did not rule on the merits of the law — the Appeals Court dismissed the case for lack of standing of the plaintiffs. SCOTUS simply affirmed lack of standing.

    The law will be found to be unconstitutional. There will be plaintiffs who will be able to show they were harmed, and who will have the necessary standing.

    Both those laws privilege the beliefs of one religion over the beliefs of others — text-book case of violation of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.
    .

  • I doubt seriously that the law will be found unconstitutional.

    In the main this law, and others like it I mentioned and others I did not, follow the lead of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488 (November 16, 1993), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb through 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-4 by ensuring the participation of people with religious beliefs in public life unless there is an overwhelming public purpose which trumps sincerely held beliefs.

    A textbook example of violation of the Establishment Clause would be for a state to require every holder of office to state a belief in a supreme being.

    In this case the state does not require anyone to believe anything. It simply takes the mitts of both the state and organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation off the people in the state who wish to hold their beliefs.

    I will admit that the act was poorly drafted, but many state laws are.

  • Wow… You talk about haters, your response is full of it. Also, lets correct some of your statements with facts. First, most Evangelicals and Fundementalist don’t “harbor varying degrees of Jew hatred”. For many Israel ( the Jewish homeland) is a key part of Biblical prophecy. Second, Israel (Jews) hold a significant place in God’s heart because of the Covenant. So it looks like your reading needs some expanding. Are these books, articles, and authors truly representative of the Evangelical and Fundementalist whole? Sorry, but not the ones I am familiar with.

  • Re-read what you wrote. Only 1 sentence of your words dispute what I wrote! “Love of Israel” and the alleged words of god are about the so-called “second coming”, not about any kind of love of Jews.

    I have been interacting with fundagelicals and reading their nonsense for many years. I suppose not all are filled with hatred, but there is no doubt in my mind that lots of you folks (I note the 3:16 in your user name) are.

    Have you ever heard of a fellow named Randall Balmer? You might start by reading some of the things he’s written.

  • My apologies….in the post below, done a few hours ago, I forgot to include, among the hatreds of fundagelicals, Catholics, gay people, transgender people, and “elites”.

    I guess that should take in most of the groups or individuals hated by fundagelicals.

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