Loves Jesus Trump

Evangelical Christians promote Israel: Armageddon for Trump

Photo: imago

Evangelicals love Israel's government - and they are also considered important supporters of the re-election of the US president.

Less than ten minutes' drive are between the US embassy, ​​which Donald Trump ceremoniously relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus in the West Bank. The corona pandemic has left its mark on the city: where there used to be crowds of Christian pilgrims queuing to enter the Church of the Nativity, gloomy emptiness is spreading. The intrusive taxi drivers and tour guides have disappeared, travel agencies and hotels have fired their employees. The church gates close in the early afternoon.

2019 was a record year for Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity had almost two million visitors. But for most pilgrims the stay in Bethlehem is short-lived. The tour of the church is followed by a lunch snack with hummus or falafel, and then you hurry back to the coach. A classic pilgrimage to the Holy Land does not take place in the West Bank, but in Israel. The fact that the Church of the Nativity is on Palestinian territory is an inconvenient coincidence.

Genesis 12: 3

“Whoever curses Israel will be cursed! - Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed! "

“Whoever curses Israel will be cursed! - He who blesses Israel will be blessed! ”Many evangelical Christians base their political ideas on this sentence in Genesis 12: 3. They demand unconditional support from the Israeli government, including its settlement policy in the West Bank.

Until the outbreak of the corona pandemic, the US lobby organization Christians United For Israel (CUFI) brought hundreds of American pastors to Israel every year. As the largest pro-Israel alliance in the USA, CUFI has over 8 million members. Robust 80-year-old television preacher John Hagee from Texas is proud of his life's work. When the USA became the first state in the world to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel in 2018 and inaugurated the new embassy location in Jerusalem, Hagee was invited as a preacher.

"You have achieved political immortality," the TV preacher had praised Donald Trump before the opening, "because you had the courage to do what other presidents did not dare to do." In the past, Hagee has repeatedly bizarre theses spread, for example that Hitler was a vicarious agent of God. All Jews should have followed the call of Zionism and emigrated to Palestine.

That hasn't harmed his career: top-class politicians and diplomats from the USA and Israel are represented at the annual CUFI conferences. When Hagee fell ill with Covid-19 earlier this month, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wished him a speedy recovery on Twitter, because Israel had "no better friend".

John Hagee in front of supporters in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michael Brochstein

Around a fifth of Americans see themselves as evangelical Christians. In 2016, a large number of them voted for Donald Trump and thus helped him to win the election. Trump also needs similar support for his intended re-election on November 3rd, election campaign analyzes estimate.

Support for the divine plan of salvation

What unites evangelicals is that they interpret the Bible close to the text, are socially conservative and stand unconditionally behind the State of Israel. A subgroup of evangelicals who are very loyal to Trump call themselves Christian Zionists, like John Hagee. US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are among them, as well as Robert Jeffress, director of a mega-church in Texas and one of the president's closest advisers.

Christian Zionism is understood as a collective term for a number of pro-Israeli attitudes. One of them boils down to the fact that Trump's Israel policy means the fulfillment of a divine plan of salvation. Accordingly, politics and religion are inextricably linked.

The Protestants In the USA, religious affiliation plays an important role in voting - as was the case four years ago when Donald Trump won against Hillary Clinton. About half of the 138 million American voters, according to by-election polls, were Protestants. They supported Donald Trump to 56 percent. In turn, half of these voters were white evangelical Christians. Almost 80 percent gave Trump their vote. In contrast, only 3 percent of black Protestants voted for Trump.

The Catholics For Catholics, who made up 20 percent of the electorate, voting behavior was more balanced: 52 percent of them said they supported Trump. 60 percent of them were white Americans. Of Hispanic Americans among Catholics, on the other hand, only 24 percent voted for Trump.

Non-denominational Of the 26 percent of non-denominational and atheists, only 24 percent voted for Trump, while 65 percent voted for Hillary Clinton.

Jews Jewish voters, who make up only about 2 percent of the US population, voted 71 percent for the Democratic candidate. Only 24 percent voted for Trump. (taz)

Trump is courting this group of voters like no other US president: In August, he made headlines when he publicly admitted during an election campaign that he had relocated the US embassy in Israel because of his evangelical voters. They would have shown him more gratitude than the Jewish people.

In 2018, Trump announced the US would withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran, which evangelicals fear as a permanent threat to the existence of Israel. In 2019, its administration recognized Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. A little later the US government declared that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were no longer in violation of international law. In his “peace plan” in January of this year, Trump gave the green light, at least temporarily, to annex all settlements in the West Bank. And with his coup, the normalization agreement between the Emirates and Bahrains with Israel in September, Trump apparently wanted to score points above all with his evangelical voters in his own country. He also seems to have succeeded in the recently concluded agreement to normalize relations between Israel and Sudan.

"Telling the Truth About Israel"

Moshe Rothchild lives in one of the Israeli settlements. The American-Israeli rabbi and tour guide looks out over Bethlehem from his terrace in Efrat. However, he has never been there because for security reasons Israelis are not allowed to travel to Palestinian cities. He would like to spend Christmas with his friends from the USA in Bethlehem.

For Rothchild, the political alliance between evangelical Christians and Jewish Israelis is indispensable. While American Jews used to be Israel's most important allies, evangelical Christians are now the most important interest group, which is financially and politically strong not only for the State of Israel, but also for the right-wing national settler movement.

Rotchild welcomes this development: "We are too busy with what historically divides Christians and Jews." That is a mistake, he says. With his own organization, Global Israel Alliance, he tries to build bridges. To do this, he brings pastors on trips to the Holy Land - free of charge. "Telling the truth about Israel is the most effective way to defend it," the Global Israel Alliance promises on its website. Below is a picture of Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall. The blue and white Israeli flag flutters in the wind.

According to research by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz Christian organizations and donors from the USA paid up to 65 million US dollars to Israeli settlements from 2008 to 2018, often after an emotional pilgrimage.

Once upon a time, Christians made up the majority in Bethlehem. Today they belong to a shrinking minority. Almost without exception, they cite the unbearable political situation as the reason for the exodus. Surrounded by 22 Jewish settlements, the densely populated city has little room for growth. The Israeli barrier, an eight-meter-high concrete wall, encircles large parts of the city. While tourists were able to enter and leave the country without any problems before the pandemic broke out, Palestinians often have to wait a long time at the checkpoint before Israeli soldiers let them out of their hometown.

Hardly any Palestinian Christians have heard of the American pilgrims in the Church of the Nativity. “For Christian Zionists we are not real, kosher Christians, so they do not have any relationships with us,” laughs Mitri Raheb bitterly. Because of his criticism of Israel, the prominent Lutheran pastor and university president in Bethlehem was repeatedly attacked and accused of anti-Semitism. “For people like John Hagee, God is a business. Netanyahu has no problem sharing a bed with them as long as they support Israel morally and financially, ”he comments on the alliance between Israel and Evangelicals.

Mitri Raheb, Palestinian Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem

“God is being played off against people here. Human rights are violated in the name of God "

For Raheb, the real anti-Semitism lies in the theological roots of Christian Zionism: “It's not like Jews are loved by evangelicals. They want the Jews to return here because they believe Armageddon can then take place. "

Raheb speaks of the political ideology of Christian Zionists and their theological basis, so-called dispensationalism. In practice this means: The history of salvation is understood as a sequence of different ages - “dispensations”. God has different salvation plans for Israel and the Church. Only when Jerusalem is in Jewish hands again and the Jewish temple can be rebuilt will Jesus return. Believing Christians would form an army in heaven for Armageddon - the final battle before the Last Judgment - during this end time. Some Jews would then also recognize Jesus as the Messiah, convert to the true faith and save themselves, but the rest would perish.

This doctrine of salvation experienced an upswing in Great Britain in the mid-19th century and later also received support in the USA. As Zionism gained influence as a political movement around the turn of the century, the interests of Jewish Zionists and supporters of dispensationalism coincided: the British politician and social reformer Earl of Shaftesbury, in a letter to Prime Minister Aberdeen in 1853, invoked “a country without a nation ", Which needs" a nation without a country "- a mantra often associated with early Zionism at the beginning of the 20th century. The British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour, who promised the Jewish people a national home in Palestine in his famous Balfour Declaration in 1917, was also shaped by dispensationalism.

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, in which Israel expanded its territory, are seen as the most important omen of the approaching millennium. However, today only a fraction of evangelical Christians in the United States literally believe in these prophecies.

Lisa Jernigan was often in Israel. The Christian also sees injustice today Photo: private

Nevertheless, Palestinians like Raheb are the victims of US politics driven by Christian Zionism. “God is being played off against people here. Human rights are violated in the name of God. That doesn't work for us in Bethlehem, because God was born here as a human being, ”says Raheb.

Lisa Jernigan turns away from the theses

Support in the Holy Land for Trump's US policy is crumbling, even among evangelicals. For example with Lisa Jernigan. Growing up in a conservative evangelical church in Arizona, for a long time it was taken for granted to support Israel unconditionally. The Jews were God's chosen people, was their creed. “When Israel conquered territory in 1967,” says Jernigan, “I celebrated it.” But since she has understood more about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the role of Christians in it, she has questioned her previous position.

Jernigan has now been to the Holy Land on twenty pilgrimages, initially only in Israel. But later she also toured the Palestinian territories. "It breaks my heart that I can't be there this year because of Corona," she complains via Zoom from her living room in Phoenix, Arizona. Instead of smoking a water pipe in Jerusalem, this year she is spending more time with her children and grandchildren.

Jernigan's husband is the pastor of the Protestant mega-church Central Church, which attracts up to 15,000 visitors a week. The fact that they view Israel's role in the Middle East conflict more critically today than before had a price for the Jernigans: They lost friends, many of their churchgoers no longer came. That's okay, says Jernigan, because everyone has to make their own decisions, "even if those decisions sometimes called into question everything we grew up with."

Jacob's Well is one of the most important places in the Holy Land for Jernigan. Pilgrims rarely get lost there, because its location on the outskirts of the conservative city of Nablus in the West Bank deters many visitors. A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for Jernigan to come to Nablus, Palestine. It is the crystal clear water that rises here, from which, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the foot of Mount Garizim drank.

On his journey from Jerusalem to Galilee, Jesus made a detour through the biblical Samaria. There he sat down tired at the well and asked a woman for a drink. With this gesture, Jesus broke a cultural taboo, both in terms of gender and religion. The Samaritans were considered unclean by the Jews. In conversation with the woman he revealed himself to be the Messiah for the first time. His message should apply to everyone, including the “outcasts”.

For Jernigan, Jesus' meeting at the well is a key moment. "He spared no detours to find this outcast woman," she says, "that can be transferred to today." If you cross the street from Jacob's fountain and the Greek Orthodox church above it, you stand in front of the entrance to the Palestinian one Balata refugee camp. 27,000 Palestinians, whose families became refugees during the war in 1948, live here crammed together in a quarter of a kilometer. During the second intifada in 2000, Balata produced more suicide bombers than any other place in the West Bank.

“If Jesus were alive today, where would he be? In Balata? ”Asks Jernigan. “For most people, Nablus is invisible. The refugee camp, the bullet holes at the entrance to the church, that's why it's so important to come here. I feel the pain and the war here. But the beauty of this church and the clarity of this water give me hope. ”When CUFI, the influential lobbying organization of evangelical US preacher John Hagee, brings pastors to the Holy Land, Jacob's Well in Nablus, Palestine, will not be on the agenda.