Must Evangelicals Support Israel?

By: Marc Santom
Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

As you probably know, President Obama has found himself dealing with a volatile issue lately—and I’m not talking about the economy.  I’m referring to his proposal to re-imagine and re-draw the Israeli-Palestinian border along the 1967 armistice lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps. Given the loaded and tenuous history of these “peace and land talks” in the Middle East, I don’t envy the president for one second—especially after seeing how House Democrats and Republicans applauded Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress which unabashedly spurned the president’s plan.

Needless to say, many evangelicals have since derided the president’s peace proposal as well. Why? For starters, many evangelicals are Republicans who voted for McCain and probably would have a difficult time praising Obama for anything he does right. (I even know some Christians who are covertly upset at the timing of Osama bin Laden’s demise because it means that President Obama will get the credit for it.)  Second, American evangelicals, by in large, adore Israel and love its people. As a result, any policy that disadvantages Israel must have its origins in a dark place with fire and lost souls.

Growing up as a kid in a string of evangelical churches, I often witnessed the proverbial shofar blowing during worship or the group of men and women waving their giant Star of David flags. Anytime there was military action stirring in the Gaza Strip, the women of the church would fall to their knees and pray for God to help their Jewish brothers and sisters to prevail.

As I grew up and “made my rounds” to many different flavors of evangelical churches, I couldn’t seem to escape or fully understand the fascination (and in some cases, obsession) with Israel. And these Jewish fascinations were not just tied to an interest in our spiritual heritage, but were more along the lines of an eschatological urgency and national superiority that seemed to emerge somewhere from the prophetic writings from the likes of Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel and the Apostle John.

And who was I to argue that the nation of Israel was apparently the centerpiece of the last days? Who was I to say that Israel wasn’t the “prophetic clock” by which all events of the end times occurred? So when it was my turn to teach the youth group as a volunteer, I mindlessly taught all that I had been spoon-fed for all those years by the evangelical subculture—an end times dispensational theology that included the mark of the beast, the rapture of the church, the rise of the anti-Christ (who was specifically identified a time or two) and how God would protect anyone who stood with Israel and destroy all those who opposed His favorite people on the planet.

Of course, “Israel love” is still alive and well today among millions of evangelicals. And I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing. There are many valid reasons to “root for Israel”; they can be reasons based on politics, national security, spiritual heritage, or an emotional connection to a great underdog story. What I think is detrimental is this: the naïve, uncritical and blind acceptance of a belief that God still favors Jews over others and that every square inch of the Holy Land is Jewish-only property. I think supporting Israel is a wonderful thing, provided it’s done for reasons other than merely fulfilling an obligatory evangelical prerequisite.

Depending on if one is part of the Dispensational Camp or the Replacement Theology Camp, one will have certain pre-existing assumptions and interpretations concerning the importance of the people and land of Israel. Regardless of which camp evangelicals find themselves, the common mandate for all of us is this: to think a little more critically about why we have pitched our tents in our particular camp. When I ran across this document online, I thought it might help us conduct our own critical assessments.

Almost a decade ago, during a similar period of high tension in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many church leaders and seminary scholars got together and wrote An Open Letter to Evangelicals: The People of God, the Land of Israel and the Impartiality of the Gospel. In this open letter, which is still relevant today, the authors put forth what they believed to be two “fatally flawed propositions” of typical evangelical belief concerning Israel:

  1. …that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel.
  2. …that the Bible’s promises concerning land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land,” perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone.

Believe it or not, popular evangelical party lines, mottos and mantras are not always responsibly backed up by Scripture [please note heavy sarcasm here]. For me (and many others), it seems probable that God’s promise of land to Israel was already fulfilled under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 21:43-45). And when things like this are not clearly understood, Christians can justify the cruel violence like was done during the Crusades. What’s more, all Christians know that favor with God is unmerited and is possible only because of His gracious initiation, but many seem to make an exception for the Jews—who still seem to merit His favor because of their natural bloodline and ethnic descent (see Luke 3:8).

Whatever camp you’re in, do yourself and critical thinking a favor and read the Open Letter when you get a chance.  If you haven’t done so already, think it over for yourself. Share it in your small groups. Talk about it with your pastor. See what your Facebook friends think. Frankly, I don’t care much if you agree with me at the end of the day—as long as you do your share of wrestling through the issues with the aid of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit and the Christian community around you. To be honest, I’m still doing my share of wrestling through this.

My personal hope, of course, is that all Christians would continue to “pray for the peace (and salvation) of Jerusalem”—without forgetting to pray for the Gentiles who are just as in need of peace, justice and the gospel of grace. And let’s continue to pray for our president—that he may receive the wisdom he needs to navigate the treacherous waters of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Marc Santom
This entry was posted by on Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 at 9:59 pm and is filed under Biblical Studies, Faith & Culture, Theology, Uncategorized, Worldview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Must Evangelicals Support Israel?”

  1. Scott Pryor says:

    Fair and balanced. Uncommon for such a hot topic.

  2. Candace Laughinghouse says:

    I’m glad to read someone “of faith” no longer brain washed by spoon-fed beliefs that seem to be at the helm of certain political groups. First, it amazes me (well, really it doesn’t amaze me anymore) that a group of people want to see President Obama fail because he is black. Sorry, but the innate racism is coming out in droves. Why would someone be so concerned about the death of Bin Laden and giving Pres Obama the credit when he’s the one that gave the “ok” to enter. But that’s not the full issue of this blog post.
    Some days I am sadden to hear people continue spewing the traditional jingoism supporting anything Israel as if it’s the proverbial “hills from whence cometh our help” (Ps 137). There’s also this American ideal that we (Americans) are the new Israel. Or we see that public support for Americans to send money to Israel. Why don’t we see those same infomercials about sending money to the Middle East? There are hungry, dying, and homeless people there too.
    But such is life. I always return to Romans 11 where Paul is warning the Gentiles to remember that “you are grafted in” – so be grateful. No one is God’s first cousin, nor are we in any place to determine God’s favor being limited to “ethnic descent”. Oh my goodness. That made my skin crawl reading that statement.

    • Marc says:

      Thanks for the reply, Candace. Sorry it took a little too long to “get your comment” cleared for publication. I was out of town and forgot to check through and approve the comments. And I can tell that you feel my angst when it comes to the business of typical evangelical beliefs and politics–not to mention the rampant racism that still blankets this nation. Although I will say, in fairness to those Christians I referred to who are “covertly upset at the timing of Bin Laden’s death,” I honestly believe that 2 out of 4 of them dislike Obama because of his political leanings–and not because he is black. Not that this gives them the right to withhold praise from him when it’s due, but it is a clarification I wanted to make. God bless!

  3. jon rotter says:

    Great blog. I have been struggling with this issue and it was nice to see your insight. The Israel/American Evangelical issue is such a paradox at times. Are we supporting just another political system or real historical Judaism? I really like Elie Wiesel but Netanyahu creeps me out… This is a timely discussion and glad to see someone bringing up these issues.

  4. Steve Alt says:

    This is a typical replacement theology pont of view. Concerning the assumptions you list, God’s favor toward Israel is not based on ethnic descent; it is based on a covenant God made with Abraham and his seed. The ethnic descent is because of this unconditional promise. God’s promises last longer than a few years. As long as there are children of Abraham, the promise is still valid. And even the children of Abraham are not imited to the ethnic descent but includes all who have faith in Jesus. Itis not either/or, but both/and.

    The land grant is still active, and the children of Abraham are still the heirs. A better tack would be that present day Israel is in violation of the covenant and therefore not worthy of receiving the promise. Support for Israel should be tempered by the nations rejection of their messiah.

  5. Barney says:

    Excellent blog! Sometimes we support or do not support certain things within the Christian community out of sheer tradition without thinking about the full scope of the situation. We must remember that we are all God’s people and we have no right to treat one group of people with more favoritism then another. As Christians it is our responsibility to treat all of the God’s people (all humanity) fairly. Nice!