By Elizabeth Oldmixon
Last week, Michael Greig and I wrote a post on President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Several days later I had a conversation with Vox’s Sean Illing as to why Jerusalem is so important to evangelical Protestants. Here’s the short version.
Christian theology includes several schools of thought on the end times. Among these, premillennial dispensationalism provides key teachings on the Jewish people and, by extension, the status of Jerusalem. Adherents to this particular flavor of eschatology believe that God’s biblical promise of the Holy Land to the Jewish people is literal and eternal. When the second coming occurs, there will be a tribulation marked by war and natural disaster, during which Christ will defeat evil, and the Jewish people will accept Christ as the Messiah. This will be followed by a Millennium—a gold age during which Christ will reign on earth. (A literal millennium? Like, 1,000 years? Depends on whom you ask.)
So, the return of Jewish exiles to the Holy Land–that is, the establishment of Israel–portends the second coming. It’s a sign that the end times are unfolding. To the degree that these views inform evangelical policy preferences, adherents are likely to support settlements in the West Bank, Israeli territorial expansion on both sides of the Jordan River, and support for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, just as the Hebrew Bible records.
To be sure, there are more traditional, foreign policy establishment arguments to be made in support of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, but dispensationalism is highly influential among Israel’s evangelical supporters. These beliefs are popularly represented in Timothy LeHaye’s Left Behind book series and receive full throated support from high profile pastors such as John Hagee. Moreover, Pew Research reports that 69% of white evangelicals “believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people and a solid majority (59%) believes that Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.” Among the general public, by contrast, support for these beliefs sits at 42% and 35% respectively (as of 2006).
Elizabeth A. Oldmixon is professor of political science at the University of North Texas and editor-in-chief of Politics and Religion. She can be contacted via Twitter. Further information can be found on her personal website.