Amid a fragile ceasefire in the Middle East, still holding at present time, I found myself wondering about the unwavering support the American evangelical community continues to show towards Israel. I’ve heard about the reasons, but I’ve never spoken directly to someone in that community until now.
Jerry Gramckow has considered himself a part of the evangelical community for over 40 years now. A graduate of Multnomah University with a dual major in biblical education and journalism, he’s written for several newspapers, magazines, book publishers, websites, and more. He wrote and edited for various religious publications as well. As most of you who follow our blog know, Jerry is Grumpy1180 here, and has been a valued contributor. Thanks Jerry!
So when things started to go awry again in the Middle East, as it seemingly always does, I thought immediately of Jerry, who I met through a publication that we both wrote articles for. What sets Jerry apart from many in his inner circle of evangelical friends, is his complete rejection of the man he derisively refers to as “The Messiah.” That would be the disgraced former president of the United States, the man who so many in his community have pledged their undying support.
Most of the same people who sycophantically support Trump, however, also heavily support Israel. Is there a connection? You might be surprised.
The following is an email interview I conducted with Jerry a few days ago where we discussed the origins of evangelical support for Israel and how that support ties into their sycophantic support for Donald Trump.
Jeff: With a tenuous ceasefire in the Middle East, Jerry, I’ve found myself wondering again about the intense connection evangelical Christians have towards Israel. I’ve heard about “fulfillment of the prophecy,” as well as the biblical promise of the Holy Land to Abraham and his descendants. As someone who’s been a part of that community for over 40 years, could you give some insights into this phenomenon?
Jerry: First, I need to start with a disclaimer you’ve seen before from me. I’ll outline the theological underpinnings below, only vaguely understood by most evangelicals, who tend to be almost allergic to deep study. Then another important consideration: Evangelicals come in a wide variety of sects. But, in my view, the most prominent division is between those who follow a covenant hermeneutic and those who follow a dispensational hermeneutic. Hermeneutic, in this case, means interpretive method.
Covenant hermeneutic: Composed of Catholics and the more mainline Protestants, such as Episcopalians, most Presbyterians, most Methodists, most Lutherans, some Baptists, some Pentecostals, etc.
Primary distinctions of covenant hermeneutic: 1. Much or most of the Bible is allegorical and needs to be interpreted by the clergy for “lay” people. 2. When the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God ended His covenant relationship with the nation of Israel. 3. God’s ultimate purpose is human salvation.
Dispensational hermeneutic: Composed primarily of Evangelical Free churches, Brethren churches, many Baptist sub-denominations, many Pentecostals, and most independent evangelical churches.
Primary distinctions of dispensational theology: 1. Believers should read the Bible in a straightforward, face-value manner (often referred to as “literal interpretation,” a frequently misunderstood term.) 2. God will restore the nation of Israel. 3. God’s primary purpose is His own glory.
So, no doubt you notice the differing views on the nation of Israel. The staunch, unbending evangelical support of Israel comes almost entirely from dispensational evangelicals. Because these folks take a “literal” approach to the Bible, when they read in Romans 11:25–27, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way, all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins,” they believe God will restore the nation of Israel to global prominence in an era referred to as “the millennial kingdom.”
And this view is tied to Revelation chapter 20, which repeatedly refers to a 1,000-year era in which Jesus Christ will rule the world from Jerusalem.
Now, going back to Abraham. Those in the dispensational camp take literally the story in Genesis 16, where Abraham’s barren wife tells Abraham to have a child with their Egyptian servant girl Hagar (a fairly common practice at the time). Previously God had promised Abe and Sarah a child of their own, but they became impatient. The product of this impatient pairing was Ishmael, the father of the Arabic peoples. So, according to this view, if Abe and Sarah had been more obedient and patient, the Arab peoples and the subsequent Arab/Israeli hostilities would never have occurred.
But, according to this view, despite those hostilities, when Jesus returns and takes His throne in Jerusalem for His millennial reign, all the world, including Jews and Arabs, will be at peace. The planet will, almost, be restored to a Garden of Eden peace and prosperity. The Jewish people will be restored to the land God gave Abraham in Genesis 12 (referred to as “The Abrahamic Covenant”). But the Arab peoples will also have plenty of good, productive land, as will everyone at the time.
The Bible repeatedly proclaims that God loves all people and groups of all individuals. So, as to evangelicals siding unwaveringly with Israel over its Arab neighbors, it is, in my opinion, an overreaction based on limited understanding and/or misunderstanding of the Bible.
Jeff: How much do you think evangelical support for Trump, who, as you and I have discussed many times in our correspondence, is a deeply flawed and morally corrupt narcissist, is based on his unwavering support for Israel? In addition, was moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which Trump did in 2018, a big deal for evangelicals?
Jerry: The phenomenon is circular. Trump didn’t give a rat’s ass about Israel before he chose to run for president. When he saw the growing support from evangelicals, and then his advisers informed him of evangelicals’ staunch support of Israel, he did what he always does: he jumped at an opportunity for a “deal.” He’d support evangelical causes (abortion opposition, “religious freedom,” Israeli superiority, etc.) in exchange for their unwavering political support. Thus, evangelicals’ deal with the devil was struck. And, yes, for devout dispensational evangelicals, moving the embassy to Jerusalem was huge.
Jeff: What I have a real hard time with, Jerry, is the fact that evangelical Christians seemingly ignore the plight of Palestinians, at least as it pertains to the immense human suffering they’ve endured over the years. It seems to me that it flies in the face of what Christianity teaches about the Golden Rule and how we treat others. Is this not a paradox, or am I missing something?
Jerry: It is indeed a paradox. But, again, it goes back to that “my team” mentality. The Jews are on my team, so they can do no wrong. And the Palestinians are on “the other” team, so they can do no right. It’s the same thinking we see domestically. The rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January were on “my team,” so they were honorable patriots. Meanwhile, those who protest the unwarranted police killings of Black folks are on the “other team,” so they have to be wrong. This kind of group-think is so much easier than taking the time to reason through world-views and human interactions.
Jeff: What is it that evangelicals want for the region? In other words, what do they see as the way forward for the Palestinian people? Do they think the type of apartheid-like atmosphere they endure is simply the price to pay to ensure Israel’s existence to fulfill biblical prophecies? Or, is there any support at all for a two-state solution where both sides can live side by side in peace? I realize that Palestinians are not without blame here, especially with Hamas still pledging Israel’s destruction and failure even to acknowledge their right to exist.
Jerry: Most of the evangelicals I know don’t really think much about the causes or consequences of Middle Eastern hostilities. Most are too focused on their day-to-day lives. The more affluent ones are focused on their next trip to Hawaii or what new car to buy. The poorer ones are just trying to make ends meet. And my experience has been that wealthier evangelicals are rarely inclined to share much of their wealth with their poorer “brethren.”
Jeff: Do you feel that because Islam is the main religion in the Middle East (although there are, of course, Palestinian Christians as well), and in the disputed territories, in particular, are most evangelicals wholeheartedly against them because they do not feel Islam is a legit religion? In other words, is there a sort of deep-seated hatred going on here, or is that too strong a word?
Jerry: Probably not “deep-seated hatred.” But, yes, most evangelicals I know do not see Islam as a “legit” religion. I don’t fault them for that. Here’s why: If you really do believe your religion/worldview is correct, and your faith claims exclusivity, then you must reject other religions as incorrect.
But rejecting another religion (or worldview, or political party) as incorrect should not mean treating those other folks as enemies to be conquered. Instead, they — everyone — should be treated with dignity and respect. That was the crux of Jesus’ message, particularly as revealed in the Good Samaritan Parable (Luke 10). The Jews of Jesus’ time looked down on Samaritans as beneath them, deserving of contempt. Yet in this parable, the Jewish Jesus, speaking to Jews, presents several Jews as callous and uncaring, but the Samaritan is the hero of the parable. Jesus taught His disciples to love all their neighbors — and anyone in need is your neighbor. Sadly, too many white evangelicals have lost track of this fundamental teaching.
My take on our interview is this: Sadly, many of Jerry’s evangelical brethren continue to support the former president. He is but a lone wolf out in the wilderness, it seems. But when you take a deep look at the staunch support many in his community have of Israel, and to Trump, for that matter, you get a sense that these folks simply do not have the intellectual curiosity to take a hard look at anything that might make them change their opinion.
Indeed, some evangelicals understand and are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people. Jerry was kind enough to include this link: “Evangelical Leaders Reflect on Israel, Palestine.”There, you will find a more nuanced opinion from some of the more highly educated evangelicals who have gradually transformed their views on the Middle East issue.
Unfortunately, evangelicals like Jerry are few and far between. He was able to see Trump for what he was: a “false prophet,” snake oil salesman, and habitual liar who only cared about himself. Others in his community, though, refused to see the light. And they’re also the same people who think Israel can do no wrong, and are simply waiting for the “prophecy” to come to fruition.
It’s no secret, really, why these folks are one and the same. They’re merely part of the flock — the groupthink followers Jerry referred to above. Do not go against the grain. Accept what your pastor says at all costs, or risk banishment from the church. Yes, Trump may not be the best guy in the world, but he’s our best chance at making sure Israel survives to become the seat of Jesus’ return to glory!
It’s this kind of thinking that allowed Trump to be elected in 2016, and it’s the same kind of thinking that continues to pervade the Republican Party at this very moment. Reality seems like nothing but a distant thought in today’s political right.
Unfortunately, Jesus is not coming back anytime soon. Not to reign supreme for hundreds of years in Jerusalem, nor anywhere else for that matter. What’s needed in the Middle East and here in America, is nuanced and clear-minded thinking. And a little compassion and empathy wouldn’t hurt either.
After all, is that not what Jesus preached?