As the Palestinian struggle against Israel rages on, neoconservatives on talk radio and Fox News have turned up the fear mongering to critical mass. Without fail, this happens every single time the Palestinians in Gaza decide to put up a fight against their oppressors. But today the topic is not about them.
Neocons like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton could never get away with their insidious rhetoric without the support of tens of millions of White Evangelical Christians who swear by their lives that the “Lord blesses those who bless Israel.” Known academically as Christian Zionism, this theological belief is arguably the most influential religious belief in the world, as it drives popular support for a U.S. foreign policy that for the last 50 years has made Israel it’s top ally in the Middle East.
Critics of Christian Zionism mostly understand why White Evangelicals in this country so strongly support Israel: Because the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 is, in their opinion, the major requirement for a fulfilment of (alleged) Biblical prophecy known as the Rapture. (I say “alleged” because neither the Apostle Paul nor James nor Peter nor anyone else in the New Testament says anything definitive about this Rapture).
But while those critics tend to understand the logical thought process, what they underestimate is how deeply convicted Evangelicals are of this belief. In a discussion with a local pastor this past week that shall remain anonymous, yours truly learned things about how seriously people treat the End Times that came to me as a legitimate shock.
Evangelicals leave churches over this stuff. Specifically, if a certain Church doesn’t unequivocally espouse the view of the End Times and the Rapture as depicted, most prominently, in Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind movies, that’s sufficient for many Evangelicals to go hunting for some fundamentalist Church that supports that view.
The kind of people who would do this may be in the minority, but there are that many more Christians who are content with their particular Church but who nonetheless espouse exactly what Senator Graham said in his speech to Christians United for Israel: “Here’s a message for America: Don’t ever turn your back on Israel, because God will turn his back on us.”
Why Evangelicals harbor these fantasies about the Rapture and the End Times remains a bit of a mystery – Messianic hysteria and moral panic have been the defining features of American Christianity ever since the Puritans arrived, so most likely this Rapture stuff is another manifestation of those features, as it is virtually unheard of back in the homeland of Europe.
Moreover, it is imperative for Christians and non-Christians alike who empathize with the Palestinians to pick apart these fantasies and challenge the Rapture narrative head on. Fanatical support of the state of Israel is but a proxy for a false conviction that the Rapture and the End Times are just around the corner. Discredit that conviction or at least challenge it to the point that those who espouse it feel humiliated, and perhaps popular support for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East will be broken.