A certain love affair has been playing out on the international stage. Because love affairs do not get covered unless celebrities are involved, this one has gone mostly unnoticed. It involves two nations: Israel and the diehard community of born-again Christians, the two redheaded stepchildren of bodies politic. Generally, they get covered in the mainstream press when they’re in trouble (an attack on Israel) or causing it (the right-to-life movement). Unbeknownst to many outside the evangelical population and the Israeli tourist industry, Israelis and born-again Christians–not all, but those who believe in the literal Second Coming of Christ–have been tangoing across the flaming desert sands since shortly after the inception of the Jewish state in 1948.
That moment in history is regarded by fundamentalist Christians as the fulfillment of two major biblical prophecies: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number” (Jeremiah 23:3), and “I will make rivers flow on barren heights and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs” (Isaiah 41:18, which is said to refer to the flowering of Israel).
The Christian/Jewish tango became more intimate when Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967, reclaiming Jerusalem and thus fulfilling another relevant prophecy: “And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek God’s favor” (Zechariah 8:22). On the fiftieth anniversary of Israel, in 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed an American group in Washington called Voices United for Israel. Most of the 3,000 in attendance were evangelicals, including Ralph Reed and other prominent members of the born-again community. Netanyahu said, “We have no greater friends and allies than the people sitting in this room.” Reed recently elaborated on this theme in the Washington Times: “I think it would be fair to say that Evangelical support for Israel and its legitimate security interests has been paramount to Israel’s support in Congress and in many administrations, second only to the Jewish Committee.”
Nowadays, the affair between Jews and born-again Christians is more passionate than ever, as events that seem to unfold almost daily in the Holy Land are interpreted by some evangelicals as preordained indicators of the Second Coming of Christ. Trouble in Jerusalem? It’s in Zechariah 12:1-5. The advent of the Internet? That’s what it says in Matthew 24:14. According to Scripture, Israel is the designated staging area for Christ’s return; it follows that if Israel goes, the Savior will have no place to land. This is why born-again Christians see divine linkage between America (the only country that can save the Jewish state), Armageddon, getting inside those pearly gates and the fate of Israel.
Not surprisingly, when speaking to the mainstream press about their beliefs, born-again Christians rarely cite their personal interest in meeting Christ as the actual reason they embrace Israel. In the Washington Post, Gary Bauer said recently that conservative Christians believe “America has an obligation to stand by Israel” based “on readings of the Scripture, where evangelicals believe God has promised that land to the Jewish people.” (He didn’t mention that once Christ returns, Jews–at least those Jews who have not accepted Jesus as a personal savior–get a one-way ticket to hell.) Such impassioned support for Israel among the GOP’s base of religious conservatives counters the Republican tradition of bowing lower than the Democrats when it comes to Mecca.