Understanding the Evangelical Christian’s Support for Israel
This article was originally published on the Christian Post.
Contrary to popular opinion, the evangelical Christian’s support for Israel is driven by social responsibility, under the basis of secular standards, such as international law and human rights. The popular opinion is that that the American evangelical’s “unconditional” support for Israel is a result of fundamentalist theology, which drives the group’s political alliance with the pro-Israel lobby. Its logical extension is that American foreign policy is partially held hostage by the religious beliefs of a certain voting bloc – commonly lumped together as the “Zionists,” or the “Christian Right” – who reason using religious beliefs at the cost of the greater good. Several assumptions implicit in this popular narrative will be challenged here, namely 1) Israel’s actions cannot be defended apart from resorting to religion, 2) The Bible calls for Christians to politically support Israel, and that 3) Evangelical Christians believe that their actions affect God’s redemptive purposes for the nations, particularly Israel.
The Bible has no command or exhortation for Christians to politically support the nation of Israel. However, much confusion stems from the fact that the Bible does specifically lay out numerous prophecies regarding the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, many of which have been fulfilled, others currently in fulfillment, and yet others to be fulfilled in the future . However, the fulfillment of these prophecies is entirely the sovereign work of God through Christians, non-Christians, societies, and nations alike. God neither commands nor invites the Christian to take part in their fulfillment. The Christian’s Biblical responsibility to the world is to love his neighbor, to witness and make disciples of the all nations.
According to the Bible, God is sovereign in accomplishing His redemptive purposes throughout human history. He works through even the actions of men opposed to Him, who know not the prophecies they are fulfilling. An example is the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which fulfilled in precise detail prophecies written centuries earlier. God’s sovereignty extends to the realm of nations. To God, nations are but a drop in a bucket (Isaiah 40:15), and He has ordained their rise and fall. Some of the more striking examples of this in the Bible are the prophecies given to Daniel in a dream regarding the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires, which were fulfilled centuries later. Even precise details, such as how the Medo-Persian Empire rose to power (with the Persians overtaking the Medes), the meteoric rise of Alexander the Great (and his sudden passing at the height of his power), and the splitting of the Roman Empire, were captured in the prophecies. All of this came to pass independent of the actions of God’s people. In the same way, prophecy regarding the Jewish people and the nation Israel will too come to pass.
To the evangelical Christian who has taken up the cause, supporting Israel is a social responsibility (as opposed to giving God a nudge in His prophetic calendar). He presents the case for Israel, arguing, for example, that Israel has rights to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as Jordanian occupation prior to 1967 was illegal, and that Arab claims to those territories were negated when Arab nations contravened the 1947 United Nations Resolution and invaded Israel. He may point out Israel’s stellar human rights record, with some of the most humane combat standards, religious freedom, social equality, and full civil rights for its 20% Arab citizens (which seems an unfitting profile for the nation that has been condemned the most by the United Nations Human Rights Commission).
Needless to say, the point here is not to present a case for Israel that cannot be challenged. Rather, the point is to hopefully shift the focus of the conversation away from unproductive (and untrue) accusations of religious extremism and bigotry, and into the realm of international law and human rights, where it belongs. Proponents of the popular opinion have correctly observed two facts – evangelical Christians tend to believe in the literal fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and they tend to support Israel – but have incorrectly ascribed causality between the two. If they correctly understood the basis of the evangelical Christian’s support for Israel, it would lead to more productive exchanges between the two sides of the aisle.