On Israel, Great Awakenings, and absurdly bad court evangelical “history”

Is Bob Mathias’s 1948 Gold Medal linked in some way to Israeli statehood?

Mike Evans is one of the lesser known court evangelicals. One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.” When Donald Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically 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’ve done something historic and prophetic.”

Evans believes that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who has made possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy. Because of Trump’s actions, Evans affirms, the blessing of God will come upon America. This decision made America great in the eyes of God. It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals.

Evans also believes that American support for Israel will result in a spiritual revival in evangelical churches. He knows such a revival is coming because, as he says in a recent article at the Christian Broadcasting Network website, it has apparently happened before. Evans says:

  1. When America supported Israeli independence and statehood in 1948, Billy Graham came on the scene.
  2. When the United States supported Israel in the Six-Day War (1967), the “Jesus People” “revival” broke-out in Southern California, thousands of college students gathered in Dallas in 1972 for an event described as the “Christian Woodstock,” and the Catholic Charismatic Movement began.
  3. Now, with the so-called “Abraham Accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed, Evans says we can expect another revival.

I don’t know if we will see another spiritual revival, but Evans’s theory seems to suggest that the emergence of Billy Graham, the rise of the Jesus People, the Catholic Charismatic Movement, and Explo ’72 all had something to do with U.S. Middle East policy. But Evans doesn’t go far enough. Doesn’t he know that Bob Mathias’s victory in the decathlon at the 1948 Summer Olympics and the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike were also connected to U.S. support of Israel? 🙂

Moreover, one could argue that none of these aforementioned movements or events (Graham, Jesus People, Charismatics, Explo ’72) were “great awakenings.”

I am continually intrigued by evangelicals’ recent fascination with “great awakenings.”

Read Evans’s piece at CBN here.

Trump says he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem to please evangelicals

Jeffress at embassy

Robert Jeffress prays at the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem

Here is The Times of Israel:

US President Donald Trump said Monday that his 2017 decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as the capital of Israel was done for evangelical Christians.

“And we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” Trump said at a rally held at an airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, apparently referring to his decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv. “That’s for the evangelicals.”

And this:

At the time, Trump said that the decision was made to advance US interests and peace in the region, and out of respect for Israel’s sovereignty.

“I’ve judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” he said in a video message played at the 2018 inauguration of the embassy.

“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace,” he added.

However, it was clear from the start that the move was also aimed at the evangelical community, who have been some of Trump’s staunchest supporters.

Large number of evangelical Christians in the US believe that God has chosen  Trump to advance the kingdom of God on Earth. Several high-profile religious leaders have made similar claims, often comparing Trump to King Cyrus, who was asked by God to rescue the nation of Israel from exile in Babylon.

Read the entire piece here.

Indeed, one of the reasons conservative evangelicals were ecstatic about this move is that many of them believe that biblical prophecy teaches that the return of the Jews to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Christ will one day return to earth with his raptured saints and descend on a rebuilt temple located inside Jerusalem.

Robert Jeffress, a court evangelical who needs no introduction for readers of this blog, was one of the most outspoken defenders of Trump’s decision to move the capital to the holy city. He has written several books on biblical prophecy and is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, the center of Dispensational theology in America.

Dispensationalism–and the approach to interpreting the prophetic passages of the Bible that undergird it–teaches that history is best explained as a spiritual battle between the forces of God and the forces of evil. At its core, Dispensationalism divides human history into periods or “dispensations” that correspond with what the Bible reveals about God’s design for the ages. Dispensationalists believe God has a plan for both Old Testament Israel and the Christian church (established in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit descended on the followers of Jesus). Though God is not yet done with Israel, his plan favors Christians–those believers born a gain through a conversation experience–over Jews. At the end of human history, God’s agenda for these two groups would come together in the glorious return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, the place where he would initiate his millennial kingdom. Jeffress once told Fox News that by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Trump is now “on the right side of history” and on the “right side of God.”

Trump’s decision to move the embassy, which we now know came after much lobbying from the court evangelicals, is not only a triumph for the Dispensationalists like Jeffress; it also fits well with the views of Lance Wallnau, the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) prophet who believes Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus. (Yes, this is the same guy who just referred to Kamala Harris as a “Jezebel spirit“).

This merger of Dispensational theology and INC prophecy appears in court evangelical Mike Evans‘s response to Trump’s move. One of America’s leading Christian Zionists, Evans recently founded the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to celebrate the “everlasting bond between the Jewish and Christian peoples.” When Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Evans enthusiastically 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’ve done something historic and prophetic.”

There is a slight difference between Wallnau and Evans. Wallnau envisioned Trump as a Cyrus who would save American Christians; Evans believed that Trump was a modern-day Cyrus who would make possible the restoration of Jerusalem and the further confirmation of Israel’s future role in biblical prophecy. Because of Trump’s actions, Evans declared, the blessing of God would come upon America. Indeed, this decision would make America great in the eyes of God. Of course it also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals.

We now know that Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was more of a political move than a diplomatic or religious one.

The Links Between Mike Pompeo’s Foreign Policy and Christian Zionism

Pompeo

Mike Pompeo has not specifically connected the assassination of Qasem Soleimani with his pro-Israel Christian world view, but, as Nancy LeTourenau notes at The Washington Monthly, there is certainly enough evidence to consider such a connection.

Here is a taste of her piece “Pompeo Aligns U.S Foreign Policy With Christian Zionists“:

As Kathryn Joyce pointed out last March, “even amid an administration stacked with evangelical staffers and advisors, Pompeo stands out.” At about that time, the secretary of state was in Jerusalem and sat down for an interview with reporters from the Christian Broadcast Network.

Chris Mitchell asked Pompeo, “could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?”…

“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo said.

On that occasion, Pompeo was reacting to a question from a reporter. But a few months later, he gave a speech titled “The U.S. and Israel: a Friendship for Freedom.” He used the occasion to bring up the Biblical story of Esther himself.

A lot of people get spun up with the wrong ideas that American evangelicals want to impose a theocracy on America.  I wish they would be concerned about the real theocratic takeover that has been happening in Iran for the last four decades.  The ayatollahs have grievously deprived the Iranian people of that most basic, simple, fundamental right, their right to worship.

That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, “death to Israel” for four decades now.  This is similar to a cry that came out of Iran—then called Persia—many, many years ago.

It was in the 5th century B.C.  There was a wicked advisor named King Xerxes.  A fellow named Haman hatched a plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire.  He secretly wrote letters with the king’s seal to all the provincial governors, ordering the people to rise up and attack the Jews.  This edict, once issued, could not be revoked.  But thanks to the courageous intervention of Queen Esther, who begged the king to show mercy to her people, Haman’s plot was exposed and the Jews were ultimately spared.

I wanted to tell this story today for a couple of reasons, because similar threats to the Jewish people have marked other eras as well… Thank God we have a leader in President Trump—an immovable friend of Israel.

Pompeo went on to articulate the Trump administration’s pressure campaign on Iran as a demonstration of its support for Israel.

Read the entire piece here.

Nationalism and Worship

Nationalism Panel.jpg

Nationalism and Worship Panel (Left to right): Wright, Maiden, Hummel, Bivins, Haberski and Turek

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

This morning at ASCH I chaired a roundtable on Nationalism and Christian Worship. This gathering was my idea. It forms part of a project I am working on this year funded by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The grant is given as part of the CICW’s new Teacher-Scholar grant program that encourages scholars to find ways to connect their discipline, the study of Christian worship, and the practice of local worshipping communities. I have been doing various things during the grant year including reading good books on worship and nationalism, and starting to write a book of my own on Evangelicalism and Nationalism. I have also been working with Dr. Jim Samra, pastor of Calvary Church, Grand Rapids, to lead a church-based study group on the history and practice of nationalism and worship.

As a scholar whose main research interests focus neither on nationalism nor the United States I wanted to conduct a fact-finding mission to learn from experts in the field. The roundtable this morning was the result. I was very pleased with the top-flight team who assembled, and I learned much from their lively and multi-dimensional responses to my questions.

Lauren Turek (Trinity University, San Antonio TX) explored how Evangelicals have appropriated the internationalist language of human rights to serve nationalist ends, particularly in regard to construing the global campaign for religious freedom as a refraction of their own allegedly embattled place within American culture. Jason Bivins (North Carolina State University) picked up this theme of the imagined marginality of American Christians, and I look forward to his new book Embattled Majority which plots these issues in detail. Bivins also gave arguably one of the most passionate orations I have heard at an academic conference about the need for scholars to be plain-speaking prophets for these perilous times. Raymond Haberski Jr. (Indiana-Purdue University) reflected on the link between rhetoric and “operationality” of religious nationalist discourse, thinking particularly about the way in which Catholic just war theorists engaged the public sphere in the 1980s against a tendency toward ecclesial withdrawal from public life in the wake of the  Vietnam era.

Dan Hummel (University of Wisconsin-Madison) opened up the multivalent connection between worship and nationalism in regard to Christian Zionism, in particular the adoption of Jewish liturgical practices by Evangelical Christians. But he also wanted to warn against seeing Christian Zionism as simply a refraction of American nationalism, pointing us to the international nature of the Christian Zionist movement. Ben Wright (UT Dallas) explored the issue of national formation in the antebellum era, and affirmed the point made by some other panelists that nationalism differs across space and time, and is, to some extent, always a site of contest and evolution in which Christian communities have played strategic and varying roles. John Maiden (Open University, UK) offered a British perspective, arguing that the British Evangelical community has in one sense lost its older commitment to national religion (the 27% of Evangelicals that voted for Brexit stand in marked contrast to the 81% that voted for Trump), while retaining some of its imagery, particularly in regard to Britain’s special status and anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Several overarching themes emerged which I will want to reflect on further. First, a hunch I had developed going into this project received some affirmation. Nationalism, while on the one hand belligerent and self-satisfied, is in many ways fragile and uncertain. Indeed, its most strident manifestations may come from positions of weakness – or imagined weakness – as much as from strength. Second, the question was raised at several junctures concerning for whom the discourse of Christian nationalism is intended. Is Christian nationalist rhetoric primarily aimed at the Christian community, or is it directed to achieving defined goals within the nation-state? Third, I was interested in the relationship between individualism and community raised in the discussions, especially as this seems a very germane link with issues of worship. Is nationalism, especially in the American context, something experienced (ironically) in isolation or, at best, as a kind of personal experience of a cultural mood or sentiment? Or is it genuinely about community and civic engagement? This seems important as it connects with a standard critique of Evangelical worship that privileges sentiment and individual experience over the formation of an ekklesia. This leads me to the fourth reflection, which is the sense of moral imperative that several participants conveyed for the church to do better at helping Christians think and act well about these issues. Much of the literature on worship and liturgy stresses the educative function of worship. The question my whole project is asking this year is (a) whether churches are equipped to fulfill this function in a way that sufficiently addresses and overcomes the other powerful liturgies that form Christian identity and community within the national-state, and  (b) if, as I suspect, the answer is often not, then what role can Christian thinkers — including us Christian historians—have in helping the church “imagine the Kingdom” and “unmask the powers” more fully.

One question after the panel from an audience member reminded me of a question I also still want answered: are there any historical studies of when the flag when into the sanctuary, or when and why it left the building? Flags in sanctuaries seem to be a great example of what Michael Billig calls “banal nationalism” – the slow and almost unnoticeable daily drip-feed of national identity symbols. My only answer to the question is anecdotal. Perusing the minutes of a church in Grand Rapids I found that this particular church raised the flag in 1976—a symbolic date that requires no explanation. But it would be interesting to know if this was the start or just a renaissance of the flag in the sanctuary, and to explore the mechanisms that encouraged churches to hoist the flag in this year. Was there a concerted national campaign, or was it spontaneous local initiative? As the audience member suggested, it would be useful for those trying to encourage the removal of the flag from the sanctuary if historians could show the context and reasons it went in.

Why Some Evangelicals Love Israel

hagee jeffress

I turned my weekend tweetstorm into a piece for Religion News Service.

Here is a taste:

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.

Read the entire piece here.