The Meaning of Trump’s Israel Comments

The president has been talking about Israel a lot lately.

First, there was Trump pressuring Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent two members of Congress from visiting Israel.

Then he suggested that Jews who vote for Democratic candidates lack knowledge and are “disloyal.”

Then a conservative pundit and promoter of the Obama birther conspiracy named Wayne Allyn Root said this about Trump:

I happen to be Jewish by birth, and 75% of all Jews vote Democrat and they don’t like Trump and he is the greatest president for Jews, and for Israel, in the history of the world–not just America, Trump is the best for Israel in the history of world.  And the Jewish people love him like he’s the King of Israel.  They love him like he is the second coming of God. And in America, American Jews don’t like him.

Trump liked what he heard.  Of course he did.  He is always glad when one of his sycophants worships him.  He tweeted:

And then there was yesterday press briefing.  I think Root got in his head.  Watch Trump’s refer to himself as “the chosen one”:

Whenever Donald Trump mentions Israel he is speaking directly to his evangelical base.

Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

The third major issue championed by the court evangelicals is the United states recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal capital ” of the Jewish people….One of the reasons conservative evangelicals are 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 is 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.  Jeffress told Fox News that Trump is now “on the right side of history” and on the “right side of God.”

Trump’s decision to move the embassy, which no doubt came after much lobbying from the court evangelicals, is not only a triumph for the Dispensationalists; it also fits well with INC apostle Lance Wallnau’s prophecy that Donald Trump is a new King Cyrus.  This merger of Dispensational theology and INC prophecy appears in court evangelical Mike Evans’s response to the Trump 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.”  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.  It also made Trump great in the eyes of the court evangelicals, raising questions about whether his decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was more of a political move than a diplomatic or religious one.

Yesterday Fox News broadcaster Todd Starnes had court evangelical Robert Jeffress on the show to talk about Trump’s comments about Israel.  Listen to it here:

Jeffress tries to downplay biblical prophecy in this interview (despite the fact that he has written books about this very topic), but it should not surprise anyone that he supports Trump’s remarks about Jews who vote for Democratic candidates.

Again, when you hear Trump talk about Israel, think about the evangelical base he needs to win in 2020.

The “Outer Limits” of a Pro-Choice Position on Abortion

Ichilov Hospital at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (3).jpg

I applaud The Atlantic for publishing this piece and I appreciate Chavi Karkowsky‘s courage in writing it.  Whatever your position on abortion, it is worth your time.

Here is a taste:

One day about seven months ago, I was standing in a dark room in a hospital not far from Tel Aviv, performing an ultrasound on the taut belly of a woman well into her third trimester. She was 35 weeks pregnant, due in about a month. She and I felt the fetus kick, right under the ultrasound probe. “Strong one!” I said in Hebrew. She smiled. I managed to freeze a sweet picture of the bow-shaped fetal upper lip, and pressed “Print,” to give to her later.

Then I measured the fetal head, snug against her pelvic bone. The numbers on-screen suggested that it was too small. I measured it again. Still small. So I measured it again, and again, and again. Everything else in this pregnancy looked healthy: the volume of amniotic fluid, the general size of the fetus, the structure of the heart and brain. According to the woman’s chart, everything had been fine, all the way through.

At that point, I needed to tell her about that small head and what it might mean for her future child’s development. This is not uncommon; it’s a situation I’m used to dealing with easily. But in that room, I was overcome with a strong urge not to tell her what I’d observed, because I feared where that discussion might lead. I am an American ob-gyn. In most states in my native country, third-trimester abortions are illegal or nearly inaccessible. In practice, only a handful of facilities in the entire United States perform abortions after 26 weeks for nonlethal anomalies. But here in Israel, abortion is widely available and can be offered until delivery. A subtle abnormality, such as the one I saw in that ultrasound room outside Tel Aviv, can prompt a discussion of pregnancy termination. Even at 35 weeks.

Within the American abortion debate, I am pro-choice in a concrete way. Giving women information about their pregnancies and helping them assess their options, including termination, is part of my life’s work. When state legislatures in Georgia, Louisiana, and a host of other states have taken up bills to limit abortion rights, I have always known which side I am on.

But in that dark room so far from home, I was deeply uncomfortable discussing abortion with a woman 35 weeks into her pregnancy, when that fetus had no clearly lethal or debilitating problem. By then, I’d been living in Israel for about a year, and practicing medicine at a local hospital for about six months. In Israel, everything was different—perhaps including me. In that dark room, I felt lost, as I confronted the outer borders of my pro-choice beliefs.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts on Mike Pompeo and Queen Esther

Here is Mike Pompeo talking with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN):

Sarah Pulliam Bailey gets us up to speed at The Washington Post.  Read here piece here.

Here are some really random thoughts about Pompeo’s remarks:

The fact that CBN asked Pompeo to compare Trump to Queen Esther in interesting in and of itself.  Let’s be clear:  Pompeo was responding to a question, not offering-up his religious views on Middle East foreign policy in an unsolicited fashion.

CBN has a long history of trying to connect biblical prophecy to developments in the Middle East.  The people at CBN believe, along with millions of other evangelicals, that God still has a special place in His plan for the nation of Israel.  The establishment of the state of Israel will be a sign that Jesus Christ’s return is coming.  This theology is often described as dispensationalism.  Those at CBN understand their mission in terms of 1 Chronicles 12:32.  In this Old Testament passage, David builds an army at Hebron to overthrow King Saul.  It says that “the men from Issachar” were men “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do….”  Today CBN wants to “understand the times” so that it can help evangelicals win the culture war and shape foreign policy.

Pompeo’s answer reveals that he also believes God still has a plan for Israel.  His answer makes it clear that he favors a pro-Israel foreign policy partially for dispensational or “end times” reasons.  It does not surprise me that he would see Iran as Haman and Esther as Trump.  What is most telling is that Pompeo is not running for office (like Trump) and thus does not have to appeal to evangelicals to shore-up an electoral base for 2020.   Unlike Trump, he seems to really believe this stuff.

One illustration of the evangelical love of Israel comes from Peter Lillback, the President of Westminster Theological Seminary, an evangelical Reformed seminary in the Philadelphia area. In 2011, Lillback wrote an entire book arguing that George Washington was a supporter of Israel.  Here is one of his arguments: “If there had been no George Washington, there would have been no American Independence.  If there had been no American Independence there would have been no United States.  If there had been no United States, there would have no super-power to support the existence of Israel.  If there has been no super-power to support Israel, there would be no Israel.”  He then concludes that George Washington was part of God’s plan for “the destiny of Israel.”

Trump has also been compared to King Cyrus. Some evangelicals make this comparison metaphorically—Trump is a pagan ruler who set the evangelical church free from the captivity of the Obama administration much in the same way that Cyrus, a pagan ruler, set the Israelites free from Babylonian bondage.  Others apply the Cyrus example to Israel.  Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist, has said that God used Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem much in the same way God used Cyrus to advance biblical prophecy as related to a future for Israel.  I wrote extensively about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

It is worth noting that Harry Truman was also hailed as a King Cyrus after the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Back in 2012, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave Barack Obama a copy of the Book of Esther.  It was a clear message that Obama, according to Netanyahu, was NOT acting as an Esther in his support of Iran over Israel.

Many evangelicals compared Sarah Palin to Queen Esther when she was John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate in 2008.  (She would save Christian America from the threat of an Obama administration and secularism.

Abraham Lincoln was compared to Queen Esther for freeing the slaves.  (He was also compared to Moses).

And that brings my random thought to an end.  🙂

*Believe Me* in the *Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle*

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Last week I had a great phone conversation with Toby Tabachnik of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle for her story on evangelicals and Donald Trump.  Here is a taste of her piece: “They love Israel and Trump–the complex world of evangelicals“:

More than 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for President Donald Trump, a candidate whose personal behavior arguably conflicts with the family values of traditional Christianity.

His purported marital infidelities, the vulgar way in which he spoke of women in the now infamous “Access Hollywood” interview and now, his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels all seem pretty contrary to the ways of the church.

But in “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” a new book by John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., the politicization of evangelicals and their overwhelming support of Trump can be explained as a natural corollary of their “culture war” begun in the 1970s — which includes a resolute stance against abortion and the defense of “religious liberty,” as they define it.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Robert Jeffress Really a Bigot?

jeffress

On Monday, Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of the massive First Baptist Church in Dallas, offered the invocation at the dedication of Donald Trump’s new American embassy in Jerusalem.

When it was revealed that Jeffress would be praying at the event, the pundits pounced. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP candidate for president, led the way.  In a tweet he criticized Jeffress for claiming that “you can’t be saved by being a Jew” and “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.”

If Romney had more than 280 characters to work with, he could have also noted Jeffress’s belief that Hindus “worship a false God” and Muslims are “evil.”

Indeed, Jeffress is a bombastic, loud-mouthed preacher who likes to peddle his brand of evangelicalism on Fox News and other politically conservative news outlets.  He was one of the few evangelical leaders to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy during the GOP primaries when there were Christian Right candidates in the field—Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, to name three—who did not come with Trump’s immoral baggage.

On Monday evening, Jeffress appeared on Fox News to defend himself against charges of bigotry.  Watch it here:

While Jeffress did not say anything negative about non-Christian religions during this appearance on Fox, he firmly re-asserted his belief that Christianity is an exclusive religion.  This, he proclaimed, has been the teaching of the Christian church for more than two thousand years.

Jeffress is correct. And Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard and a columnist at Bloomsburg News, agrees with me.  Here is a taste of his piece “This Isn’t Bigotry. It’s a Religious Disagreement“:

Do those statements really make Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a bigot? All he is doing is echoing an almost 1,800-year-old doctrine: Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation outside the church. It can be traced to St. Cyprian of Carthage, who died in the year 258. The basic idea is that Jesus Christ came to save those who believe in him — and not those who don’t.

This view doesn’t reflect the latest in pluralism. The Catholic Church treated it as dogma for more than a millennium, but has backed away in recent decades. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, expressed skepticism about the view in a 1964 sermon. “We are no longer ready and able,” he said, “to think that our neighbor, who is a decent and respectable man and in many ways better than we are, should be eternally damned simply because he is not a Catholic.”

But plenty of Christians of many different denominations still believe this teaching in one way or another.

Even Mormons have their version. “Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5),” as the official website for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints puts it. That’s one reason Mormons practice posthumous baptism of those who would otherwise be unsaved: so that good people who were not members of the LDS church can achieve salvation.

To be clear, I have no dog in the Christian theological fight about whether good people who aren’t Christians can be saved — much less which version of Christianity is necessary to achieve salvation. That’s because I’m not a Christian.

My point is rather that I can’t, and shouldn’t, feel offended by someone telling me that I won’t be saved because I don’t have the right religious beliefs.

Most religions in the monotheistic tradition think they are right and others are wrong. That’s normal. It isn’t a reason to consider those who hold other beliefs to be bigots.

Read Feldman’s entire piece here.

In age in which the exclusive claims of the Christian gospel are scorned by a culture that celebrates tolerance as one of its highest virtues, Jesus’s claim in John 14:6 that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” seems like bigotry.

But why would we expect Jeffress, a Christian pastor, to believe that there is more than one way to God?  I am sure that Mitt Romney, if pushed to explain his own religious beliefs, would say something similar about the exclusive nature of the Christian faith as understood through his Mormonism.  Let’s face it, Christians are not going away anytime soon.  Thomas Jefferson learned this lesson the hard way.  The great man of the Enlightenment from Monticello predicted in 1822 that “there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” Woops. So much for Enlightenment progress.

So rather than wishing evangelicals away, I think it is time for Americans to think seriously about how to live together amid what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as our “seemingly irresolvable differences.”  The practical application of Inazu’s vision will not be easy and people like Robert Jeffress will make it even more difficult.

I have been critical of Jeffress’s embrace of Donald Trump.  Just scroll through the blog and you will see what I mean.

As an evangelical and a historian, I have been critical of the Dallas pastor’s attempt to fuse God and country in a desire to “restore” America to its supposedly Christian roots.  It is a form idolatry and it is based on bad history.

As I told a writer who interviewed me today, Jeffress’s undying support of Trump and his Christian nationalism weakens the witness of the Christian Gospel–the “good news”–and alienates the very people who may be most in need of it.

Moreover, Jeffress’s extreme dispensationalism makes him insensitive to the sufferings of his fellow evangelicals in Palestine.  He seems completely oblivious to the very real possibility that he and his fellow court evangelicals are being played by a man who may not survive his presidency without their support.  As Thomas Friedman recently put it, the ceremony celebrating the opening of the new Jerusalem embassy was a “Republican mid-term pep rally disguised as a diplomatic event….This was meant to fire-up the far-right religious base of the Republican Party.”

When Jeffress does announce that salvation only lies in Jesus Christ, he may have the history of Christian doctrine on his side, but he makes such pronouncements with a culture warrior spirit that reflects the worst form of fundamentalism.

If secularists need to learn how to live with the millions of evangelicals who believe that salvation lies only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then evangelicals to need to learn how to engage those with whom they differ with “gentleness and reverence” that will cause them to wonder about the “hope that lies within.”

And I could go on.  (Actually, I do go on here).

Frank Rich on Trump’s “Horror Show” in Jerusalem

hagee jeffress

Here is a taste of Frank Rich‘s piece at New York Magazine.  I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Rich, but he is right about this:

Yes, Trump was sending a message with the horror show he orchestrated in Jerusalem. But the message had nothing to do with his administration’s purported goal of seeking peace in the Middle East — a cause that has been set back indefinitely by his provocative relocation of the American embassy. Trump’s message, per usual, was for his own selfish political aims. It was targeted at his base, whose most loyal members are right-wing Evangelicals. And so the ceremony included not only a prayer from Jeffress, whose disdain for Jews is matched only by his loathing of Mormons and Muslims, but a benediction from John Hagee, an Evangelical crackpot notorious for telling NPR’s “Fresh Air” that God created Katrina to punish New Orleans for hosting “a homosexual parade.”

For this segment of Trump’s base, bigotry (including against Roman Catholics, in Hagee’s case) is a Godly virtue and anti-Semitism is not inconsistent with Zionism. Israel is the presumed site of the Second Coming, after which everyone who refuses to give themselves up to Christ will be subjected to another Holocaust. Some of this base is grateful for the previous Holocaust as well, which is why Hagee has said that Hitler was “part of God’s plan” for the Jews and for Israel. This is the theological brand of anti-Semitism whose secular expression could be found in Charlottesville where white-supremacist thugs among what Trump called “very fine people on both sides” could be found chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

Read entire piece.

Richard Mouw to His Fellow Evangelicals: “What you’re cheering in Jerusalem is shameful”

Palestine Christians

Richard Mouw, the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, chides the evangelicals who are cheering the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and ignoring the death toll in Gaza.

Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

God is not indiscriminate in handing out blessings to Israel. God wants the leaders to promote the cause of righteousness, which has to do with, among other things, how they treat “the stranger in the land.” The ancient Hebrew writers were consistent in emphasizing his point: And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If we want God to “bless” Israel we should keep calling the present Israeli government to treat the Palestinians as those who are “born among you.” We do Israel no favors by praying at its celebrations while ignoring the grave injustices taking place not far away.

The evangelicals who send angry messages quoting the biblical passage about blessings and curses are right to insist that God both blesses and curses nations for what they do. And the time is long past for us as evangelicals to talk seriously together about God’s concern for justice in the Middle East. And while we are at it we can also talk, as evangelicals, about God’s concern for “the stranger” who is within and at our own American borders. It is always important to attend to these things. They are matters for which divine blessings and divine curses are at stake.

Read the entire piece here.

Friedman: “It’s like diplomatic pornography from beginning to end”

Take 6 minutes to watch this.

Thomas Friedman tells it like it is on Hamas, Israel, and Donald Trump.  He holds nothing back and he is right.

Key lines:

“[Hamas] has a lot to answer for.”

“The whole thing is a tragedy.  It’s like two bald men fighting over a comb.”

“The embassy event was really just a Republican mid-term pep rally disguised as a diplomatic event….This was meant to fire up the far-right religious base of the Republican Party.”

“Trump didn’t do the ‘art of the deal,” he did the art of the giveaway….Trump gave away the most valuable diplomatic real estate in the Middle East treasure-box of the United States and he gave it away for free.  Believe me, in Jerusalem they are laughing at him.  In the Arab world they are laughing at him.  They can’t believe what a sucker he was to take that bait and give this away for free when he could have used it for leverage to truly advance the peace process.”

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.

Mennonites, Israel, and Palestine

West Bank

Lisa Schirch is a Mennonite who runs the Tokyo-based Toda Peace Institute and serves as a senior policy advisor at the Alliance for Peacebuilding in Washington D.C.   Over at The Mennonite, Schirch has written a very interesting piece about Mennonites and Israel.  Historically, Mennonites have supported Palestinian rights and have criticized Israel as an “abusive colonial power.”  Schirch, however, calls her fellow Mennonites to task for taking such a narrow position.  Here is a taste:

Many Israelis and Palestinians are eager for outsiders to demonize the other side. Mainstream media and Christian Zionists often portray Israeli policies as unquestionably noble. News media project images of Palestinians as terrorists and often fail to provide any history to help understand Palestinian grievances.

Mennonites have done important work to support Palestinian rights. Unfortunately, many Mennonites have significant gaps in how they understand Israel, Jews and Judaism. Too often Mennonite advocacy for Palestinian rights carries antisemitic tones that portray Israel as simply an abusive colonial power. Portraying Jews as only voluntary colonialists delegitimizes the millions of Jews who came to Israel as refugees fleeing persecution. In most Mennonite churches I have observed, little to nothing is taught on Mennonite roles in the Holocaust and antisemitism, how Jews understand Israel, or on Judaism or Jesus as a Jewish rabbi.

The 2017 MC USA Resolution on Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine identified important steps in addressing Mennonite participation in a long history of antisemitism and in seeking justice for Palestinians. This more balanced approach recognizes the truth and trauma in both Palestinian and Jewish narratives and writes Mennonites into the story of Israel and Palestine.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Yes, There are Evangelicals Who Believe the Jerusalem Embassy Is a Bad Idea

Jerusalem

Back in December, when Trump first announced that he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, evangelical theologian Gary Burge (Wheaton College and now at Calvin Theological Seminary) wrote a piece at the Atlantic titled “You Can Be an Evangelical and Reject Trump’s Jerusalem Decision.”  The piece is worth revisiting today.

A taste:

The key to understanding this perspective is to recognize that these conservative evangelicals are building a bridge from ancient biblical Israel to the modern secular State of Israel. So, promises made almost 4,000 years ago to Abraham apply to the modern Israeli state. “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you,” God says in Genesis 17:8. For these evangelical interpreters, a verse like this one is not just something ancient; it provides a political mandate for Israel’s privileges today. And Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse,” originally intended as a word of protection for Abraham’s tribe, now can become a mandate for anyone living today. We are obligated, the argument runs, to bless modern Israel. In the U.S., blessing Israel means recognizing its sole ownership of Jerusalem.

These evangelicals’ perspectives stem partly from a high regard for the Bible and its story about the fate of the Israelites, which has led to an outsized fascination with Judaism. They believe that Israel has a unique place in history as God’s special people, so Israel deserves deferential treatment—and Jerusalem deserves the same. For some, Israel enjoys an exceptionalism that sets it apart from the entire world. There are even evangelicals who believe that promoting the importance of Jerusalem is one more building block in the fulfillment of prophecies that sets the stage for the Second Coming of Christ. The average conservative evangelical is filled with a tangle of commitments that are often tough to sort out. She just knows that if Israel wants something—in this case, Jerusalem—Israel deserves to have it.

Numerous evangelicals like me are less enamored of the recent romance between the church and Republican politics, and worry about moving the U.S. embassy. For us, peacemaking and the pursuit of justice are very high virtues. We view the ethical teachings of the scriptures as primary, and recognize that when biblical Israelites failed in their moral pursuits, they were sorely criticized by the Hebrew prophets and became subject to ejection from the Holy Land. Amos 5:24 shows that even the use of the Jerusalem Temple can be problematic to God: “Take away from me [God] the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Many of us look at modern Israel today and see a country that Amos would barely recognize. How, we wonder, can anyone build a bridge from ancient Israel to modern Israel today? Amos would hardly recognize in Tel Aviv a city based on biblical ideals.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Evangelicals in the Palestinian West Bank

Bethlehem

As evangelicals watch the dedication of the American embassy in Jerusalem and cheer, let’s not forget that there are evangelical brothers and sisters in the West Bank who are “defiantly Palestinian.”

Here is a taste of Dan Rabb’s piece at Religion News Service.  I also linked to this piece in my weekend tweetstorm.

Awad has made it his mission to show American evangelicals that his community exists by engaging directly with American evangelical leaders. The best way to get Palestinian Christians on Americans’ radar is by entering into Christian fellowship with them, Awad says.

And at the Baraka Church’s Sunday morning service, evidence of these efforts abounds. Scattered among the Palestinian worshippers are members of evangelical congregations in Nashville, Tenn.; Toronto; and New Jersey — easily identifiable by the black earpieces through which Danny Awad’s father translates the Arabic prayers into English. Special prayer books provide both English translation and transliteration of the Arabic so the North American guests can sing along. The service includes a popular American worship song, led by Awad’s 11-year-old nephew. The Americans sing along while the locals mostly clap their hands with the music.

Many visitors are surprised to find Christians practicing this kind of worship in the West Bank. Pastor Marty Duren of Nashville came to the Baraka Church with another American pastor who had developed a relationship with Awad.

“Palestinian Christians are just totally absent from American evangelical thought,” he says. “I can’t speak for everyone, but in my experience I think most don’t think about or know that there are Christians in the West Bank at all.”

Read the entire piece here.

What Can 1 Samuel Teach Christians About Politics?

MosheWhile I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  While my thinking about these chapters did not make the final cut, I found these Old Testament books to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics.  1 Samuel was particularly helpful.

Very early in 1 Samuel the Israelites find themselves in a battle with the Philistines at Mizpah. It is not going well, they are afraid, and they turn to the prophet Samuel for help.  Samuel responds to their fear, makes an offering to God, and cries out to the Lord on behalf of Israel.  The Lord responds and Israel wins the battle. (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Shortly after their victory, Israel asks Samuel for a King to “go out and fight our battles.”  Samuel brings their request to God who responds by saying “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:5-20).  Indeed, by requesting a King, the people of Israel have chosen to place their trust in a military leader rather than God.  In essence, the people of Israel are committing idolatry.  As biblical scholar Stephen B. Chapman interprets the request: “henceforth, until the Exile, the Israelites will be unable to confess resolutely that God alone is king over Israel—apart from any human victory or partners.  This sad loss of ultimate spiritual loyalty at the expense of a more pragmatic national politics is the profound point of 1 Samuel 8.”

In a fascinating interpretation of the politics of 1 Samuel titled The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel, authors Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes describe the book as “one of the most penetrating accounts ever written of the internal workings of human politics.”  When God decides to give the Israelites a king in the person of Saul, He is making a compromise with His people.  He offers them a solution to their military problems, albeit an imperfect one.

But there is a price to pay for such a compromise, as God warns that there will be a day when “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Sam. 8:18).  For believers like the Israelites, Halbertal and Holmes write, “politics is…an overpowering human necessity that can never fully escape a potentially self-defeating betrayal at its very core.”  The Israelites believe that Saul will be more effective than God (or his prophet Samuel) in protecting them from their enemies.  They now have a ruler, who Halbertal and Holmes describe as a man who will “wield…authority in the service of power as an end in itself” and “convert such ends as love, loyalty, the sacred, and moral obligations into mere means for eliminating dangerous rivals and staving off the loss of power.”

Consider 1 Samuel 13, the passage in which Saul does not wait for Samuel to arrive at Gilgal to make a sacrifice and instead makes the sacrifice himself.  Once again Halbertal and Holmes use the text to offer insight into what happens when religion mixes with power: “What the author of Samuel conveys by this striking episode is how religion, even when sincerely believed, can be instrumentalized in power struggles and how political rivals can shed moral qualms about treating the sacred as just another weapon to be opportunistically deployed in a competitive struggle for prestige and power.”

Sometimes it is better to obey than to sacrifice.

I will try to work up more posts like this in the next couple of weeks.

Court Evangelical Support For Kushner May Be More Than Just Political

Kushner

Earlier today we published a post on the court evangelical’s support of Jared Kushner as he testified before Congress this week.

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey points out that many of these court evangelicals like Kushner because he is an orthodox Jew.

Here is a taste of her piece:

While there is a deep divide in the Southern Baptist Convention over whether pastors should continue to vocally support Trump, several Southern Baptist pastors continue to support the president. Jeremiah, a pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in California, said that Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are Jewish, may have been chosen by God to help Christians.

“It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States, defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations,” Jeremiah wrote in his statement.

Moore said that many evangelicals feel “a connectedness” to Kushner’s Orthodox Jewish faith because it’s so “seamlessly integrated in his life. ”

Many white evangelicals have warm attitudes toward Jews because they believe God has set them apart as chosen. White evangelicals rate Jews more positively than any other non-Christian religious group, but Jews rate white evangelicals least positively among Christian groups, according to the Pew Research Center.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder if the court evangelicals believe that Donald Trump’s “Presbyterian Christian faith” is “seamlessly integrated in his life.”

So It Looks Like This Will Not Be Happening

Ed Kilgore reports at New York Magazine:

Trump conspicuously promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem at an AIPAC event in March of 2016. He reiterated the pledge on the eve of his inauguration, adding that, “You know I’m not a person who breaks promises.” And at the 2017 AIPAC gathering a few weeks ago, Vice-President Mike Pence backed off some but managed to raise expectations again. “After decades of simply talking about it, the president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Pence said.

Well, not anymore, or at least not imminently. Trump’s hopes of brokering some sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are apparently alive, and he plans to meet with Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem next week. Putting the embassy move on hold is essential to any diplomacy with the Palestinians.

Read the entire piece here.

Who is Larry Huch and What Does He Have to Do With Ted Cruz?

HuchOne of the things that I did not mention in my Religion News Service piece on Ted Cruz was his support for the nation of Israel.  In addition to his promise to defund Planned Parenthood, defend religious liberty, destroy Obamacare, defend the Constitution, etc., he also says that he will move the American embassy to Jersualem, “the once and eternal capital of Israel.” Cruz is the Senate’s strongest supporter of Israel and seems to be the only one of the GOP candidates talking about this.

In my Religion News Service piece I mentioned Larry Huch, the co-pastor (with his wife Tiz) of New Beginnings Church in Irvine, Texas.  I spent some time reading about Huch today.  His theology is very interesting and unique in evangelical circles.

At first I thought that he was the kind of Messianic Jew that I used to run into a lot as a young evangelical.  Messianic Jews are Christians who believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They usually embrace an end-times theology known as dispensationalism.  I do not have time to go into all the theological details of dispensationalism here (check out Brendan Pietsch book Dispensational Modernism), but one of its central tenets is that God has separate plans for the nation of Israel and the Christian church established on the day of Pentecost in the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 2.  In other words, God has not abandoned Israel and thus not all of the Old Testament promises in the Bible apply to the post-Pentecost church age.  God will restore the Old Testament nation of Israel one day and Jesus Christ will return to Jerusalem as the promised Messiah and usher in a literal 1000 year reign on earth.  (Think Hal Lindsey Late Great Planet Earth or Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series).

It seems as if Larry Huch has been influenced by dispensationalism, but his approach is also different.  He is not a Messianic Jew because he is not Jewish.  According to this video, he believes Jesus will rapture all Christians and take them to Jerusalem one day. But he also wants to unite Christianity and Judaism.  Unlike dispensationalism, he does not see a distinction between God’s work with Jews and God’s work with Christians.  He blames the early Church for “turning our eyes from Jerusalem” and the Old Testament. He believes that Christians need to follow Old Testament laws, including laws about diet and cleanliness.

In another sermon Huch says that Christians should write Deuteronomy 6 on the doorposts of their houses.  He seems to want to restore the Church in the book of Acts before the Apostle Paul brought the gospel to gentiles.  In other places, Huch and his wife Tiz talk about “building bridges” between Christianity and Judaism as a means of reviving Judeo-Christian culture in the United States.

Huch is a very entertaining preacher.  His church is ethnically and racially diverse and he condemns racial discrimination.  He urges his congregation to remember that a blonde-haired and blue eyed Jesus is the product of a European-influenced Christianity that has taught Christians over the years to reject their Jewish religious heritage.  If Jesus was an observant Jew who followed the teachings of the Torah, then his followers today should do the same.

In this video and this video Huch talks about the “end time transfer of wealth” that he and Rafael Cruz believe  Ted Cruz will have a role in bringing about.

Here is Huch talking about Jerusalem in Jerusalem:

And now here is Ted Cruz’s message to Larry and Tiz Huch thanking them for their support of Israel:

I think we may have just uncovered the source of an important part of Ted Cruz’s stump speech.

 

Michael Limberg on Historians and War at the 2015 AHA

Michael Limberg checks back in.  Here is what he was up to on Saturday afternoon at the 2015 AHA–JF
The panel I attended this afternoon was likely the most emotionally intense and fraught panel I can remember witnessing.  This is perhaps understandable, as this was the session sponsored by MARHO (The Radical Historians’ Organization) and Historians Against War (HAW) titled “What is the Responsibility of Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?”  It was a packed room; most of the attendees seemed to be affiliated with HAW but there were a scattering of unaffiliated others like myself.  HAW has introduced several resolutions for tomorrow’s AHA business meeting that would criticize the state of Israel for suppressing the academic freedom of Palestinian intellectuals.  They hope to get these resolutions approved for general discussion and a vote by all AHA members.  
The presenters (Leena Dallasheh, Linda Gordon, Joel Beinin, and Barbara Weinstein) introduced several different positions on both why and how a professional organization such as the AHA or historians individually should take a moral and political stance on these issues.  Several other academic organizations, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) have recently attempted to discuss similar resolutions or even debated the possibility of a “cultural boycott” of Israel as part of a Boycott, Divest, andSanction movement.
Their discussions have generated substantial contention and criticism both from within their organizations and in the wider media.  The session today also rankled a number of attendees.  Some who disagreed with the premise that Israel deserves to be criticized and others disagreed that historians in general (particularly non-Middle East specialists) had any special or professional obligation to act.  Tempers flared a little in the audience comments period, though everyone managed to keep it civil. 
While this particular debate might not be on the radar for many readers of this blog, I was fascinated to see the range of opinions expressed at this session about the role of historians as public intellectuals, informed citizens, and teachers.  Like some others at this session, I am hesitant to say an academic organization dedicated to such a wide umbrella of scholarly exchange and professional development is the best place to mount a political critique.  On the other hand, I am also committed to teaching my students that their historical skills (gathering and analyzing evidence, contextualizing, challenging accepted wisdom) can be used to understand and shape their actions for the political and ethical challenges they face today. 
I  also thought of discussions over the last few years in the Conference on Faith and History, of which I am also a member, on the relationships and responsibilities of scholars to their churches and the religious public.  I left the session today with even more questions about professional responsibility than I had when I entered, but it was a very valuable experience.  I’m curious to hear what comes of the measures proposed at the business meeting.
Otherwise, my conference swag count to date includes: three free books, two free pens, innumerable handouts and lists of available publications, several bookmarks, and a goodly supply of crackers and cheese (which totally counts as swag if you’re a grad student trained to seek out free food at any opportunity).  I also took the chance to wander a little in the rain tonight to see a bit of New York City.  My current home in rural Connecticut is just down the road from cornfields and cows, so taking in Times Square and the hustle and bustle of a weekend evening in Manhattan was a good adventure.  
On Sunday I’m looking forward to the Conference on Faith and History breakfast and a couple of religious history panels, one on Kate Bowler’s work on the Prosperity Gospel and another in the afternoon on American Evangelicals Abroad.

Michael Limberg On His First Day At AHA 2015

Michael Limberg is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut who is writing a dissertation on how U.S. philanthropists, missionaries, and diplomats worked to change and modernize a changing Near East in the decades following World War I.  We are thrilled to have him writing for The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch, written earlier today.–JF
I’m currently ensconced on a Metronorth train traveling from New Haven to Grand Central Station.  From there it will be a brief brisk walk to the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan to register and attend my first panel.  As someone who usually drives to conferences and archives, I’m enjoying the chance to work while traveling. 

This is my second AHA; I presented a paper at AHA 2013 in New Orleans, but I’m not presenting anything this time around.  This will be a short trip, only two days out of the conference’s four-day run.  I’m attending this year to network, hear some papers of interest, get a glimpse into the job interview process, and possibly score a deal or two at the book exhibit.  I’m much more familiar with the annual conference for the Society of Historians for American Foreign Relations, my primary sub-field, so I look forward to the chance to hear some papers on religious history and global history.  No obvious spotting of other conference-bound historians on an early-morning train so far.
After getting slightly lost wandering through Manhattan, I found the hotel and raced through registration with barely enough time to make my 10:30 panel.  (No lanyards in sight) 

The panel (AHA 106, History, Economics, and the Wide-Ranging Impacts of the 1973 Oil Shock on U.S. Foreign Relations) was well-attended.  It was co-sponsored by the Historians of American Foreign Relations, my usual crowd.  The three papers had disparate foci on corporations, the rhetoric and structure of the international economic order, and traditional state-to-state economic and military aid.  As pointed out by the commentator, Amy Offner, they all shared a common purpose in challenging the popular and political narrative of the 1973 oil embargo as a crisis or challenge to U.S. power abroad.
BetsyBeasley’s paper argued that large “oil services” companies, including Halliburton, actually found the oil crisis a beneficial opportunity to increase profits and diversify by moving away from direct investments.  These companies actually posted record profits in 1973 and 1974.  They marketed their expertise and know-how to global producers, accelerating a shift in the work of U.S. oil companies begun in the 1950s and 1960s.  Beasley’s paper was the most interesting for me, raising questions about the gendered language of expertise and the marketing of free market and service economics. 

ChristopherDeitrich’s paper examined competing visions for the international economy put forward by global south/OPEC nations and by the United States at a 1974 United Nations special session.  He argued that Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State tried to counter proposals for a New International Economic Order focused on justice and equality for disenfranchised nations by framing free market capitalism as “common sense” economics.  Kissinger’s model used a similar-sounding rhetoric of equality but in fact sought to limit economic policy choices for developing or postcolonial nations.  I’m intrigued by the possibility of examining these competing economic and rhetorical models the next time I teach a US Foreign Relations course, since I had trouble this semester getting my students to historicize the neoliberal free market economic model that has been prevalent in policy during the last several decades.

David Wight focused on US aid policies toward Egypt in the wake of both the oil crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  He argued that the Treasury and State Department’s programs to send military and economic aid to Egypt failed in their short-term goals for economic and political liberalization.  Despite this failure, however, attempts to encourage corporate investments and military equipment sales in conjunction with Arab petrodollars contributed to the strengthening of US-Egyptian diplomatic ties during the late 1970s. 

As one of the presenters stated, these papers show examples of economics as “politics by other means”, highlighting the fuzzy lines between the two in many circumstances.  The papers showed some of the strengths of new work on political economy being done in foreign relations scholarship, particularly in incorporating elements of image analysis, pop culture sources, or gendered analysis.

From here I’m off to a contentious-looking panel titled “What is the Responsibilityof Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?” and a quick tour of the book exhibits, but I hope to check in again later tonight!