Nationalism and identity politics fracture Evangelical support of Israel
Like seismic waves that fracture and slip, forcing the tectonic plates of earth’s crust to change position along geologic fault lines – Evangelicalism’s support for Israel is shifting right and left.
On the Evangelical left, Anti-Israel organizations are emotionally driven in a time when identity politics is the mantra. Israel is framed as a white, colonial, apartheid state and this narrative is succeeding. A recent survey (May 2021) finds support for Israel among US Evangelicals ages 18-29 has been cut in half. Only 33.6% responded positively in support of Israel – an alarming drop from 69% in a similar survey in 2018. More than a seismic wave – this is a maverick!
On the Evangelical right, Christian nationalism is rising. At a recent event in San Antonio, Texas, former United States National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, proclaimed to the thousands in attendance, “God Almighty is involved in this country because this is the last place on earth. This is the shining city on the hill. When Matthew mentioned it in the Bible (the city on the hill), he wasn’t talking about the physical ground he was on (Israel). He was talking about something in the distance (America).” Mr. Flynn then said, “So…we must have…one religion under God.” Earlier biblical references to the concept of a light shining in the darkness were about the Jewish people as a light of God’s salvation to the nations (See Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 60:1`-3). For Michael Flynn, America has replaced Israel and Christianity must replace Judaism.
As the tectonic plates in Evangelicalism’s core support of Israel change position, here are three things to help Evangelicals discern what is true and what is not:
1. Watch for Uncivil Rhetoric
On the Evangelical left, former New Testament professor at Wheaton College, Dr. Gary Burge, proclaimed, “The people of Israel…cannot be rooted in the vineyard (the land of Israel) unless first they are grafted into Jesus…if they refuse…they will be cast out and burned.” This hateful language is from Burge’s book, Whose Land? Whose Promise? – a book that challenges Jewish claims to the land of Israel. Shockingly, the book won the Award of Merit from Evangelicalism’s flagship publication, Christianity Today.
On the Evangelical right there are leaders like pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. Pastor Anderson promotes an Antisemitic Christian nationalism, denies the Holocaust, refers to Judaism as Satanic, and says Jews will be an eternal burnt offering in hell. It’s troubling that people on both the left and right of Evangelicalism embrace the age-long fixation of burning Jews. If rhetoric cannot pass the test of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), it’s a red flag.
2. Watch for Intersectionality
Intersectionality is the solidarity formed between groups that share little in common in order to promote identity politics.
On the Evangelical left, The Telos Group, an organization compromised both historically and Biblically in its view of Israel and the Jewish people receives its major funding from Open Society. Open Society has a longstanding unfriendly bias toward Israel as well as does its leader, George Soros.
On the Evangelical right, during a recent political event for young Evangelicals, a popular speaker encouraged the audience to reject the biblical call to “turn the other cheek” in political discourse. Instead of being challenged, the comment was applauded by the audience.
Historically, when Christian organizations build intersectional coalitions with those outside or on the fringes of their faith, it has usually not gone well for Jews. Think of the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life – an Evangelical organization in Germany during the Holocaust that partnered with the Nazi party and funded by many if not most of the Evangelical denominations throughout Germany (See Susannah Heschel’s book, The Aryan Jesus).
3. Watch for the Scapegoating of Jews
Blaming Jews for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a consistent narrative of the Evangelical left. However, scapegoating Jews is now in vogue in the Christian nationalistic movement in America’s Evangelical right. Its proliferation digs up such deep-rooted historical parallels one must be blinded by denial not to recognize it for what it is. One example of this alarming trend is Evangelical Rick Wiles, founder of the cable/radio/online outlet “TruNews” and pastor of Flowing Streams Church in Vero Beach, Florida. Wiles regularly blames Jews for “attacking American Christian culture” and warns Jews that Christians plan to impose a “Christian rule in this country.” He accuses Jews of starting the coronavirus and calls the impeachment of President Trump a “Jew coup.” With reminiscent “us verse them” passion, Wiles foments things like, “A day is coming (when) Christians are going to lose their lives as they confront the synagogue of Satan…they (Jews) are coming for you…there will be a purge…when Jews take over a country…they kill millions of Christians.” The fact that Wiles has a daily Christian listening audience in the tens of thousands is not only tragic – it’s down-right right scary.
The Evangelical left’s false and misleading characterization of Israeli Jews has only emboldened Israel’s neighbors to exact more punishment on her. Mixing nationalistic fervor, populism, and piety with antisemitism has proven to be an easy sell to credulous Christians over the centuries and Evangelicals on the right embracing Christian nationalism hawk the same wares. G-d help us.