- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

Hostility is growing in Europe toward Israel for its tactics against Palestinians, but support for Zionism remains constant in one arena: among America's millions of evangelical Christians.
Some Americans simply empathize with Jewish friends. Those with longer memories believe humanitarianism requires a secure Jewish homeland in the post-Holocaust world. Others embrace Israel as a Middle East outpost of democracy and Western values. Of late, suicide bombings against Israeli civilians have undercut sympathy for Palestinians.
As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and other media have noted, a major segment of "premillennialists" and "dispensationalists" bases unflinching support for Israel upon literal interpretation of the Bible. For some, that includes prophecies about the nation's future end-times role.
"Most evangelicals are certain that God always takes the side of Israel" in any conflict, Randall Balmer and Lauren F. Winner say in "Protestantism in America" (Columbia University Press).
National Review's Rod Dreher says evangelicals who hold a "divine right" viewpoint support Israel with an "uncritical fervor that exceeds that of even some American Jews." Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in an article posted May 7 on National Review Online, says American Jews are "waking up" to Christian support.
"Why does such vile enmity wrack Europe, while America not only remains free of it but persists in standing by Israel in the present clash with the Palestinians?" asked the rabbi, founder of Toward Tradition, based in Mercer Island, Wash. "Why do Americans so overwhelmingly favor Israel, while Europeans regard the Jews there as wretched interlopers?
"We see why Christians are so sympathetic to the Jewish side in this painful conflict: It is because they revere the Bible. And America, quite simply, is the most enthusiastically Christian nation on earth. In America, Irish Catholic journalists like Sean Hannity and Michael Kelly put some blas Jewish Americans to shame with their passionate support of Israel."
Pro-Israel beliefs are fueled less by evangelical graduate-level theology schools, except for Dallas Theological Seminary, than by Bible colleges and popular media, especially best-selling books and broadcasting preachers. Pro-Israel rallies are held each year during the Gospel broadcasters' convention.
One exponent, the Rev. Richard Land, a social-issues spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, said in the Los Angeles Times that God gave the "unconditional" promise to Israel that "he would give that land to the Jews forever."
In calling God's promise permanent, literalists often cite a complex New Testament passage on the covenant with Abraham (Hebrews 6:13-20) that says God showed "the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose," and "it is impossible that God should prove false."
Literalists such as Mr. Land also believe the welfare of the United States depends on friendship with Israel because of God's biblical covenant with Abraham's descendants: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse" (Genesis 12:3).
For some, the boundaries of God's land grant were forever fixed in Genesis 15:18: "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates" (present-day Iraq). Like some Israelis, these Protestants think those troublesome Jewish settlements among West Bank Palestinians are part of the divine plan.
By contrast, the bulk of official Christian theology Roman Catholic, Orthodox, classical Protestant avoids such readings of the Bible and literalism on apocalyptic, prophetic and poetic passages. The influential St. Augustine (A.D. 354 to 430) formulated that view.
Details vary on God's covenant with ancient Israel, but such interpreters often say the promises are conditioned on Israel's faithfulness, or that the coming of Jesus Christ ends national distinctions. A favorite text is Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
The harder-edged "replacement theology" says the Christian church has absorbed the ancient promises made to Israel. For instance, a recent article in the Protestant weekly World says Israel has no "claims to national divine right" because "Israel as a whole today rejects her Messiah."
Some biblical liberals, Christian and Jewish, said they doubted God made such promises in the first place and figured Israelites turned their national aspirations into divine revelation.


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