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Strange Bedfellows, Part I: Israel and Christian Fundamentalists

Why do fundamentalist Christians throw their support behind Israel?

January 20, 2003

Why do fundamentalist Christians throw their support behind Israel?

Conservative Christians standing up for Israel? Just what is the story behind this surprising political twist?

Much of the Christian support for Israel comes directly from the prevailing theology among the fundamentalists.

These "pre-millennial" Christians draw on a century or more of Biblical interpretation — and speculation about the future.

That speculation centers on the order of events around the second coming of Jesus. Much of the discussion is quite complex and depends on the interpretation of various Biblical sources.

But the key for Christian relations with the Jews is this: In one manner or other, those Christians believe, the second coming of Jesus will be preceded by — or accompanied by — the return of the Jews to Israel.

In some versions of this "future history" a great battle will occur at "Armageddon." Armageddon is simply the Greek/English version of the Hebrew "Megiddo," which is an ancient — and modern — town in northern Israel.

To many fundamentalist Christians in the United States, the creation of the State of Israel — and even more curiously, its military victories — are, in fact, clear and literal indications that these apocalyptic prophecies are true.

Israel is a sign that the second coming itself is not far away. Little wonder then that Israel enjoys significant popularity among fundamentalist Christians.

This general theological view is by no means limited to a few right-wing believers. To assess its popularity, just look at the enormous success of the "Left Behind" series of novels.

These books provide a fictionalized account of how the pre-millennial prophecies would play out in today's United States. About 35 million copies of the first ten books have been snapped up by eager readers.

Those are sales figures that would bring envy to even some of the biggest best-selling U.S. authors. All of this leads millions of religiously fundamentalist Americans into the pro-Israel camp.

And their support is bound to be quite strong. The enemy, after all, that will be fought at Meggido is none other than the Antichrist — and Jews, in the pre-millennial story, are ultimately on the side of the godly people in that battle.

This kind of reasoning also explains why the Palestinians have such a hard time to build a positive image in the United States.

After all, if today's Israel is actively engaged in fighting the forces of the Antichrist, where does that leave Yasser Arafat?

But this picture — soothing as it may appear at first — is still one that leaves Jews uncomfortable. Why? Because the Jews, according to this fundamentalist Christian vision, will also ultimately accept Jesus as their savior.

In other words, Jews may well be fighting the Antichrist. But they will ultimately fight as Christians — not as Jews.

Indeed, there are versions of the story in which Christians need to convert Jews before the great battles start.

That leads some fundamentalist Christians to the kind of behavior — aggressively targeting Jews for conversion — that the Jewish community regards as borderline anti-Semitism.

Of course, not all Christians in the United States — even fundamentalist evangelicals — believe in these premillenial prophecies.

And a desire to convert Jews or an expectation of their eventual conversion is by no means the only reason why politically right-wing Christians there support Israel.

Many of these Christians simply respond to a long-standing sympathy among many Protestants — especially in English-speaking countries — for Jews and Jewish causes.

Nevertheless, the unavoidable conversion issue means that this politically convenient right-wing Christian support is met by deep ambivalence on the Jewish side.

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