How Evangelical Theology Affects American Foreign Policy Regarding Israel and the Middle East

evangelical support of Israel

President Donald Trump, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have set in motion the withdrawal of the United States from UNESCO — United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Israel released a statement today saying that they too will be leaving UNESCO. What, you ask, did UNESCO do to warrant the Trump administration’s decision to cut American ties with the organization? News reports cite UNESCO’s recognition of the Palestinian state and anti-Israel bias as the reasons for the decision to withdraw. The withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.

UNESCO was founded in 1945 by thirty-seven nations, citing as its purpose “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture.” What’s not to like, right? Remember, a new day has arrived in America. “America First,” along with the dismantling of everything accomplished during the eight years of the Obama administration, now drives domestic and foreign policy.  If President “my IQ is higher than yours” had his way, the United States would withdraw from the United Nations altogether. Much like Ronald Reagan, who also withdrew the United States from UNESCO in the 1980s, President Trump views the world through xenophobic glasses. “America First” has become “America Only.” Other countries are viewed as inferior, unable to match America’s power, prowess, and greatness. Millions of Americans rabidly support Trump’s flag-waving, national anthem-singing, pussy-grabbing Christian nationalism. Finally, white Evangelicals, KKK members, and white supremacists say, we have a president who understands the importance the CHRISTIAN God and guns; a president who “gets” the plight of white working-class Americans!

Key to understanding Trump’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO is the manner in which many Americans, especially members of Congress and presidential cabinet members and their staffs, view the State of Israel. Fueled by Evangelical theology, which I will discuss later in this post, the United States’ foreign policy is driven by the belief that Israel is God’s chosen people — a nation that must be protected and defended at all costs. Americans have strong opinions about Israel, much as they have in the current debate over NFL players kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. Opposing Israeli policies towards Palestinians, for example, quickly leads to charges of antisemitism. On several occasions as I traverse the back roads of rural Northwest Ohio looking for photography opportunities, I have come across homes proudly flying Israel’s flag, right next to the red-white-and-blue. I doubt that the same scene can be found in Israel. Why do some Americans think that is perfectly normal to fly another nation’s flag right next to America’s flag?

The modern Jewish nation, officially called the State of Israel, was founded on May 18, 1948, and admitted as a member of the United Nations in 1949. Israel’s history, however, tracks back thousands of years to the mythical Bible figure Abraham. Genesis 12:1-7 states:

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.

Four take-aways from this text:

  • God commanded Abram (later Abraham) to leave the country of his birth and, by faith, travel to a land that God planned to give Abraham and his descendants.
  • God promised to bless Abram and make him a great nation
  • God promised to bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse him
  • God said all nations of earth would be blessed because of Abram moving to a new land (that new land would later be called Israel)

While Abraham did not see the fulfillment of God’s promises to him, God promised in Genesis 15:18 that his progeny would indeed inherit the land:

 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates

When the mythical Abram (there is no non-Biblical evidence for the existence of Abraham) was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him, promising yet again to make him a great nation. Genesis 17:1-11 states:

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.  And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

Several things to note from this passage of Scripture:

  • Abram’s name is now Abraham
  • The covenant between God and Abraham/Israel is a never-ending covenant
  • God commanded Abraham to cut the foreskin off male genitals as a “sign” of the covenant between Jehovah and Abraham (Just remember men, the next time you look at your circumcised penis, blame God, Israel, and the Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.)

Abraham, married to Sarah, was, thanks to his wife’s infertility, childless. Sarah, wanting Abraham to experience the joys of fatherhood, gave her servant Hagar to Abraham so he could marry her and bear him a child. Hagar gave Abraham a son whose name was Ishmael. Sarah, at the ripe old age of ninety, finally conceived and bore a son named Isaac. When it came time for God to pass on his covenant, he skipped Abraham’s oldest son, choosing instead to bless Isaac. From that moment forward, there was conflict between Ismael and Isaac. The historical foundation of centuries of conflict in the Middle East rests on two brothers who couldn’t get along with each other. The same can be said for Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau.

Keep in mind that the aforementioned Biblical “history” is what drives current Evangelical beliefs about the modern Israel, Palestine, and the Judeo-Christian war against Islam. In what other realm would mythical stories be acceptable reasons for foreign policy? Yet, that is exactly what currently drives American foreign policy as it relates to Israel, the establishment of the Palestinian state, and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Many Evangelical sects/pastors/churches/congregants believe that modern Israel is God’s chosen people; that the land inhabited by Israel (Isaac) was given to them in perpetuity; that Palestinian (Ishmael) land claims are baseless. President Obama was the first post-World War II president to challenge these assumptions, resulting in Obama being accused of antisemitism — the intense dislike (hatred) for and prejudice against Jewish people. Obama supported a two-state solution for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian state, but thanks to irrational (and immoral) support of Israel’s “right” to own ALL the land given to them by God, no progress was made on this front. Israel’s abhorrent policies towards Palestinians, and America’s blind eye to behavior that would be roundly condemned if done by any other government, are driven by the belief that a land covenant made between a fictional God and a mythical Abraham is still in effect.

Liberal and progressive Christians tend to not believe that Israel has a God-given right to their land. Many of the people behind the two-state solution and attempts to broker peace in the Middle East are people of faith. Unfortunately, not many of these people of faith are Evangelical. Thanks to their literalistic reading of the Bible and their commitment to the belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, Evangelicals generally believe that Israel is the Judeo-Christian God’s chosen (covenant) people; that the land grant given to Abraham thousands of years ago is still in effect today, Further, Evangelicals believe that God blesses nations who support Israel and curses nations who don’t. This blind loyalty to God’s chosen people is held by countless Christian/Jewish congressmen/presidents — either out of a commitment to Evangelical theology or political expediency — leading to unwavering military funding and support for Israel.

We in Congress stand by Israel. In Congress, we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel. (Nancy Pelosi)

Now is not the time to be picking fights with Israel in what seems to be an attempt to curry favor with the Arab world. Now is the time when the United States must stand with Israel in the global struggle against the threats posed by radical Islam. We must remember what happens when Americans and decent minded people everywhere fail to stand up to evil. The message to us is: we must do all we can to ensure the survival of the State of Israel. At a time like this, it is crucial to stress the message that a strong Israel is in the best interest of American national security. Should any of us waver in our resolve, we must let the lessons of history propel us to action. If you deal with Iran, you are not welcome to deal with the United States. Our willingness to use force is on the table. (Eric Cantor)

Israel [is] the state where Jews entered into world history again like (the Biblical) ‘nation like all other nations.’ A state where Jews took up again after two millennia the precious burden of nationhood. Like all nations, our relationship has its trials and tensions. The disagreements of the moment cannot and will not undo the bond of generations. We (Eric Cantor and I) are sending a letter signed by a large number of Members of Congress to the administration to send the message that there should be no confusion anywhere in the world that whatever differences there may be on policy, at the core, there is an unbreakable, unshakable bond between Israel and the United States. (Steny Hoyer)

Through centuries of struggle, Jews across the world have been witnesses not only against the crimes of men, but for faith in God, and God alone. Theirs is a story of defiance in oppression and patience in tribulation — reaching back to the exodus and their exile into the diaspora. That story continued in the founding of the State of Israel. The story continues in the defense of the State of Israel. (George W Bush)

I make this promise to you: My Administration will always stand with Israel. (Donald Trump)

We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100 percent, 1,000 percent. It will be there forever. (Donald Trump)

Pat Robertson, speaking to a gathering of Jews, had this to say about how Evangelicals view Israel:

Ladies and Gentleman, evangelical Christians support Israel because we believe that the words of Moses and the ancient prophets of Israel were inspired by God. We believe that the emergence of a Jewish state in the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was ordained by God.

We believe that God has a plan for this nation which He intends to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

According to the virulent Evangelical site World News Daily:

The Jewish people have a biblical mandate to occupy and control the land of Israel.

Evangelical pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), had this to say about Israel in an introduction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

He also changed the path of Christianity in America, when he asked me in 2006 if he thought American Christians could unite for Israel. Ancient Israel had Moses who led them in the desert; during the golden era they had King David, who conquered Jerusalem, and today, when there are existential threats, Israel has a champion who can confront the challenge; please welcome the prime minister…

the israel pledge

According to their website, CUFI has three million supporting members; people who support the following statement:

We believe that the Jewish people have a right to live in their ancient land of Israel, and that the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of this historic right.

We maintain that there is no excuse for acts of terrorism against Israel and that Israel has the same right as every other nation to defend her citizens from such violent attacks.

We pledge to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel and to speak out on their behalf whenever and wherever necessary until the attacks stop and they are finally living in peace and security with their neighbors.

Make no mistake about it, when push comes to shove, the United States will stand behind and in front of Israel no matter what that nation says or does. Donald Trump, along with many congressional Republicans, is itching to destroy Iran — one of Israel’s archenemies. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if someday Israel, at the behest of the American government, attacks Iran in an attempt to destroy its nuclear facilities. This, of course, will lead to war, and the United States will be standing at the front the battle to defend Israel’s action. Why? Because thousands of years ago a mythical God promised a mythical man that he would make him a great nation and give him a plot of land in perpetuity. And this same mythical God promised to bless the United States if she politically and militarily defends Israel and give her billions of dollars a year in aid and military support, and curse her if she didn’t.

Is it any wonder that foreigners increasingly view America as a land of religious nut jobs, enslaved to a Bronze Age religious text? My God, they think, here’s one of the most scientifically advanced countries on earth, yet their foreign policy is driven by the belief that the events recorded in the book of Genesis are real history, and not myths and fables.

As long as the Bible is given preferential and serious treatment by politicians, rational Americans should expect to see policies driven by Evangelical interpretations of the Bible. We see the same ignorance behind demands for creationism to be taught as science in the public schools, global climate change denial, anti-abortion laws, the execution of murderers, and other issues deemed “Biblical” by Evangelical leaders. At times, knowing this leads me to despair, but I remind myself that Evangelicalism is hemorrhaging Millennials, leading to numerical and financial decline. Someday, reason, not fanaticism, will triumph. Although I do not expect to see it myself, I hope my grandchildren will see a day when the Bible is finally relegated to the dustbin of human history.

As long as the Bible is given preferential and serious treatment by politicians, rational Americans should expect to see policies driven by Evangelical interpretations of the Bible. We see the same ignorance behind demands for creationism to be taught as science in the public schools, global climate change denial, anti-abortion laws, and the execution of murderers, along with any other issue deemed “Biblical” by Evangelical leaders. (sentence seems clunky, but I am too exhausted to think) At times, knowing this leads me to despair, but I remind myself that Evangelicalism is hemorrhaging Millennials, leading to numerical and financial decline. Some day, reason, not fanaticism, will triumph. Not in my lifetime, but perhaps my grandchildren will see a day when the Bible is finally relegated to the dustbin of human history.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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17 Comments

  1. Lynn123

    Hi Bruce just wanted to say hello miss you still reading your posts.

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      I certainly miss your input. I thought it was a good counter balance, sharing a more socially/ politically conservative or libertarian perspective as a non theist.

      Reply
      1. Lynn123

        Wow, just saw this. Thank you, Rebecca. I appreciate that very much. Maybe I’ll chime in now and then.

        Reply
        1. Rebecca

          Awesome, Lynn.

          Reply
  2. Brian

    Wow, sensible talk in a nation knocked out of their senses by nationalism and religion! You will be hated, of course, for having sense and sharing it. I think it is time to support UNESCO like never before! In fact, as the months of the Trump presidency go on, I can pretty much be assured that any statement or policy he imposes is one I will reject. The man is a blot. Thank-you for being an American I can admire, for seeing and protesting the damage done by thoughtless flag-wavers and Bible-thumpers. That any nation can hold another hostage as Israel continues to do with Palestine, demonstrates that we have a long way to go in this world to achieve even the most common decency. The evangelical Christian religion like evangelical Islam, sows hatred worldwide and guarantees continued suffering for humankind. Both Koran and Bible can be thanked for the world-as-it-is… All excessive belief is harmful.

    Reply
  3. RJW

    This whole thing is just too horrible for words. Israel is just another country, and they are oppressing Palestine. Now, the Palestinian leaders have things to answer for, but they are penned in. And they really lived in the country first.

    I realize there was a terrible Holocaust and Jews found a place to be. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the people who were already living there.

    (Yes, I’m actually not using my name today. I just don’t feel that strong.)

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      Well, my husband and I have been studying and trying to understand this whole issue. I think there has been wrong done on both sides of the proverbial fence. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis can make convincing arguments why they should have a “right to the land.”

      I personally think that the only viable solution which can bring lasting peace is the two state solution. However, there are extremists on all sides that war against this, and make it unlikely to happen in my lifetime. It’s very sad.

      Reply
  4. kittybrat

    Yes. I was very glad when President Obama questioned the divinity of Israel and actually hinted they may be the aggressors… Gee ya THINK!?!?!

    The U.S. love affair with the bully state of Israel will be our downfall. To say anything rational, as you do in such a stellar post here, is to be labeled anti-Semitic! WHY?!?!?

    Dammit. They’ll all MAD!

    Reply
  5. Joel

    This thing has a long history that far predates the present administration. The US also pulled out of UNESCO under the Reagan Administration. We rejoined under GWB in 2002, but stopped paying dues back in 2011 under Obama when Palestine joined (US laws said we couldn’t fund UN organizations that recognize Palestinian state). After not paying dues the US voting rights were pulled in 2013, and we have racked up $500M dues in arrears since then.

    Reply
  6. Appalachian Agnostic

    Wait… George W. Bush used the word diaspora correctly in a sentence? That’s amazing.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Well, his speech writer did anyway. ? Bush wasn’t an intellectual giant, but he is a genius compared to Trump.

      Reply
      1. Geoff

        I have a feeling that Trump has at some time been measured as having a high IQ, probably in circumstances that simply suited him at the time, and that’s why he’s dying for someone to challenge him. Of course, high IQ and commonsense aren’t the same thing.

        Reply
        1. Trenton

          Commonsense is misnamed, its not that common?

          Reply
        2. Becky Wiren

          Except I see no sign that Trump has intelligence. He has cunning and an ability to connect with people’s fears. But a high IQ? No.

          I was just reading over at another blog etc. A friend of a professor of Trump’s at Wharton (professor deceased) said Trump acted like he knew everything, but was impossible to teach. THAT sounds exactly the same as he is today. A know-it-all who knows nothing.

          (Admittedly this is hearsay.)

          Reply
  7. Trenton

    I’m pretty sure most people have a basic knowledge of who has inhabited the land Israel currently inhabits including the Egyptians, various Canaanite peoples, the Philistines,the ancient Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, European Crusaders, Ottomans etc. Needless to say the whole situation is a mess and the extremely long record of history in the region makes it even harder when grudges have been around longer than the United States. Hopefully people will start looking for a more rational solution and start ignoring fundamentalists’ eschatological orgasm at any mention of not protecting their golden calf without question.

    Reply
  8. Appalachian Agnostic

    This is one of the issues that really upset me when it comes to dealing with my family. My mom is so sure that the Jews are God’s chosen people that anything that shows them in a bad light is going against God. Your parents are your first teachers, and it is normal to look up to them and learn from them. But this belief is so absurd. It make me feel the same way I would feel if she insisted that Cinderella was real and denying that she actually went to the ball and lost her glass slipper would cause you to be turned into a pumpkin.

    Reply
  9. Wayne Beamer

    Bruce: The Texas legislature signed into law this past summer a law that compelled contractors to pledge support of Israel over Palestine, causing issues with people doing FEMA work after hurricane Harvey. I believe the ACLU is fighting this…

    https://theintercept.com/2017/10/19/to-get-hurricane-rebuilding-money-in-texas-contractors-must-promise-they-wont-boycott-israel/

    Reply

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