For Christian Zionists, what happens to the Jews and Palestinians is, to put it very mildly, collateral damage.
Oct. 22, 2023
By Sarah Posner, MSNBC Columnist
Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, American evangelicals have been especially vocal in backing Israel. Last week, 90 prominent pastors and other leaders issued “An Evangelical Statement in Support for Israel.” Citing “just war” tradition, the statement affirmed “Israel’s right and duty to defend itself against further attack.” Evangelical leaders around the country have expressed sympathy, as The New York Times reported, “for a country to which many of them feel intense spiritual, cultural and political connections.”
But evangelicals’ support isn’t simply driven by a theology that compels them to love the Holy Land, detached from its convulsive domestic and global political implications. For many “Christians Zionists,” and particularly for popular evangelists with significant clout within the Republican Party, their support for Israel is rooted in its role in the supposed end times: Jesus’ return to Earth, a bloody final battle at Armageddon, and Jesus ruling the world from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In this scenario, war is not something to be avoided, but something inevitable, desired by God, and celebratory.
At the heart of Christian Zionism is not a love for Israel but rather Christian nationalism.
What happens to the Jews and Palestinians is, to put it very mildly, collateral damage. Christian Zionists are anticipating, and hoping for a war to end all wars, and a resulting Christian world that they claim will vanquish evil and bring peace. Only those who accept Jesus as their savior will benefit from these events that Christian Zionists claim the Bible predicts will happen. Nonbelievers — including Jews and Muslims — will not survive them.
John Hagee, the controversial Texas televangelist and founder of Christians United for Israel, an influential Christian Zionist advocacy group, long has been one of the most visible and powerful proponents of this ideology. On Oct. 15, Hagee preached at Free Chapel in Gainesville, Georgia, a megachurch pastored by televangelist Jentezen Franklin. Speaking in front of a cartoonish mural that purported to depict the events in the Book of Revelation, Hagee maintained that the epic showdown at Armageddon, or the Mount of Meggido in Israel, will be “the most bloody battle ever recorded in the history of the world.” He claimed the Bible prophesied that for armies that “come against Israel” from China, Russia or Iran, “God is going to wipe them out.” After that, he predicted, “there will be 1,000 years of perfect peace, no presidential elections, no fake news, none of all of this nonsense.” Instead, there will be “one king, and one leader, Jesus Christ the Son of God. One law, it will be his law.”
Hagee was hardly alone in preaching about Israel’s role in the end-times in the wake of the outbreak of the war. The Trinity Broadcasting Network, a major hub for Christian Zionist televangelism, broadcast several programs discussing the war as part of end-times prophecy. Popular preacher Greg Laurie told congregants that the recent events were a “super-sign” that the “prophetic clock ticking is the regathering of the nation Israel into their homeland.”
At the heart of Christian Zionism is not a love for Israel but rather Christian nationalism. Christian Zionists maintain that the Book of Genesis says that God will bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse it. They insist that if America, as a country, does not “bless” Israel (that is, offer its government its unconditional support), God will curse America. Conveniently, those who Christian Zionists claim are insufficiently supportive of Israel are usually Democrats. In his recent sermon, Hagee baselessly accused President Biden of “treason,” without specifying why. He also urged his audience to “vote for someone who at least loves America” and to “blame Biden for their [sic] corrupt betrayal of America and the American people.”
For Christian Zionists, the steady rightward shift of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s successive returns to office is not a cause for alarm — for Israel’s democracy or for the fate of the Palestinians — but a positive development. In this interpretation, settlers’ further control of the occupied West Bank, which they call by its biblical names Judea and Samaria, is a fulfillment of God’s plan for a Jewish return to Israel — one of a sequence of biblical prophecies that culminates in the Second Coming. White evangelicals “are the religious group most likely to express a very or somewhat favorable view of the Israeli government (68%),” according to a 2022 Pew Research Center poll.
Hamas’ unprecedented and horrific slaughter of Israeli civilians, including children, played directly into Christian Zionists’ singular conception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When Trump moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, even he admitted that most Americans, including Jewish Americans, opposed the decision. But Trump made the move for his evangelical supporters, who were ecstatic. Hagee claimed he had helped convince Trump by telling him at a White House dinner that Jesus is coming back to Jerusalem to “set up His throne on the Temple Mount where He will sit and rule for a thousand years of perfect peace.” The televangelist, who described the day as “nothing short of a divine miracle,” gave the benediction at the dedication ceremony.
Hamas’ unprecedented and horrific slaughter of Israeli civilians, including children, played directly into Christian Zionists’ singular conception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In their minds, there is little or no distinction between Hamas terrorists and ordinary Palestinians who have been living under the Israeli blockade of Gaza or its brutal occupation of the West Bank. On the American right, even innocent Palestinians displaced by the war are the enemy. This week, the Heritage Foundation called for the United States to reject any refugees from Gaza because “the Palestinian population has no interest in assimilating into American culture and governance, or in expressing loyalty to America or American allies.”
There is some evidence, fortunately, that younger evangelicals are less entranced with Israel’s role in end-times theology than their parents or grandparents. But for now, this crucial portion of the Republican electorate remains entrenched in the Christian Zionist mythology. And its menacing interference, with so many elected officials beholden to it, makes one of the bloodiest conflicts in the world even harder to resolve.
Sarah Posner is the author of “Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind.”