Some of the nuttiest American religious leaders today (and in the past) have latched on to one form or another of Christian Zionism. These days Reverend John Hagee (pastor of a mega church with thousands of members in San Antonio) is a leading Far Right Evangelical and ardent fan of Israeli expansion into the disputed West Bank.
And the bestselling books of the Left Behind series of novels have fed the Evangelicals' fixation on End Times prophecy and the "imminent" return of Christ. To put it mildly, the Evangelical theological/biblical "reasons" have deformed US policy and made America act against its self interest. This has also harmed the state of Israel.
Here's a story in the New York Times that handily illustrates the price both America and Israel pay for allowing Evangelical mythology to inform, or should I say deform, US foreign policy.
According to the New York Times, "Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank" (July 6, 2010), evangelical fans of the Apocalypse are hock deep in aiding and abetting illegal settlements while our government looks the other way!
HAR BRACHA, West Bank -- Twice a year, American evangelicals show up at a winery in this Jewish settlement in the hills of ancient Samaria to play a direct role in biblical prophecy, picking grapes and pruning vines.
Believing that Christian help for Jewish winemakers here in the occupied West Bank foretells Christ's second coming, they are recruited by a Tennessee-based charity called HaYovel that invites volunteers "to labor side by side with the people of Israel" and "to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in Yeshua, messiah."
"Israel exists because of a covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob 3,500 years ago -- and that covenant still stands," Mr. Hagee thundered. "World leaders do not have the authority to tell Israel and the Jewish people what they can and cannot do in the city of Jerusalem."
Conflict, Armageddon and the "End Times" is the Christian-Zionist agenda, not helping a child in Tel Aviv or Gaza live happily, have a normal life and walk to school safely. The Evangelicals who "love" the state of Israel would rather see an innocent Jewish or Palestinian child blown up in a rocket attack as long as the "Promised Land" is "fully reclaimed" to fulfill their harebrained ideas of biblical prophecy. With "friends" like the Christian Zionists Israel needs no enemies. With "citizens" like the Evangelicals rooting for Armageddon, America needs no traitors.
Hold the emails! The state of Israel has every much as a right to exist as countries like the United States, New Zealand and Australia where the land was also (relatively recently) forcibly taken from the previous occupants. And yes, Israel suffers from slander from many hypocrites in the world (Arab and otherwise).
That said, American Evangelicals have an unhealthy affinity with the idea of religion-based states. A bedrock article of faith among American Evangelicals is that America had "Christian origins," and that today America must be "restored" to our "Christian heritage." The "Puritan heritage" of America is constantly cited as evidence for our need to "return" to our biblical roots. (In order to "fulfill Biblical prophecy," so-called "Dispensationalists" have been working to ensure that the world's Jews return to Israel and occupy all of Palestine. Dispensationalists have been leading "pilgrims" to Israel ever since since Pastor Jerry Falwell's first visit in order to win financial and political support for the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.)
As I discuss in my book Crazy For God Puritans believed that they were carrying "authentic Christianity" to America, especially as written in the Old Testament. They said that they were on a divine mission, even called themselves; "the New Israel" and a "city set upon a hill." John Winthrop (governor of Massachusetts Bay) transferred the idea of "nationhood" in biblical Israel to the Massachusetts Bay Company. Puritans even said the Bible confirmed their status as the New Israel!
It is no coincidence that the self-consciously religious states of the Middle East are in perpetual conflict with other equally religion-based countries, for instance Islamic states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia (that postures as the keeper of Islam) and Iran are in perpetual conflict with Israel the Jewish homeland. And it's no coincidence that America has paid dearly in blood and treasure in one Middle Eastern-incited and/or actual military entanglement after another because of our theology-based relationship with the state of Israel as well as our meddling in the affairs of the Islamic states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
What would you expect but conflict when modernity tangles with Bronze Age tribalism that's been given a biblical Evangelical "End Times" twist?!
As the Times story illustrates, Evangelical hardliners have a "prophetic" agenda when pushing Israel to keep all the West Bank and to be "tough on the Palestinians" that has nothing to do with what might bring peace (let alone justice) to the actual Jews and actual Arabs who are fated to be neighbors. Gleeful -- shamefully tax-deductible -- war mongering in the name of Jesus and/or "protecting Israel" -- from a safe distance, say from San Antonio! -- has everything to do with Evangelicals' ideas about what will hasten the "return of Christ" and nothing to do with what is actually good for the Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs, let alone the rest of us who long for peace.