Christian Nationalists and their cousins, Christian Zionists – have made their way into the halls of power, and may be the key to another four-year term for arguably the most catastrophic president in US history.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught an oppressed, occupied people the ways of mercy and nonviolent resistance. In the intervening centuries, some strains of Christianity have transformed themselves from these humble roots into dominant, imperial forces.
Their “Christian” voices speak the language of the Bible, but their ideologies have little to do with the Bible’s message. Their followers – knowingly or unknowingly – encourage authoritarianism and racism with a stamp of approval from God.
These groups – Christian Nationalists and their cousins, Christian Zionists – have made their way into the halls of power, and may be the key to another four-year term for arguably the most catastrophic president in history.
Nationalism, according to the Oxford Dictionary and “Political Ideologies,” is “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations,” which “aims to build and maintain a single national identity.”
Christian Nationalism, then, promotes the interests (and perhaps, doctrines) of a particular strain of Christians, and aims to build a single Christian national identity – to the exclusion of the interests of other Christian groups in the nation and the interests of other nations.
Christian Nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.
Christian Zionism is a Christian movement that similarly promotes the interests of certain types of Jews in Israel, aiming to support them as they build a single, privileged Jewish national identity – to the exclusion of the interests of other groups in Israel and the interests of other nations.
Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), an international movement seeking a just peace for Palestinians, opposes Christian Zionism. Jonathan Brenneman, the communications coordinator for FOSNA, described Christian Zionism to MintPress as:
An ideology which uses Christianity in the name of hate. Their mission is to increase their “Christian” influence on U.S. policy…upholding U.S. and Christian supremacy in its support of Israel’s worst practices.”
Christian Zionists see themselves as the only people who understand God’s plan, and they have the duty to implement it at any cost.”
As Pew Research reported in March 2020, half of Americans hold the Christian Nationalist belief that the Bible should have a “great deal” or “some” influence over U.S. laws (though they might not label it as such). Some 28 percent believe that “if and when the Bible conflicts with the will of the American people, the Bible should have more influence on the laws of the land.”
In addition, roughly 70 million Americans profess the Christian Zionist beliefs that “God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was for all time,” and that the creation of modern Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy leading to the return of Jesus Christ.
MAGA and Israel
As the U.S. has become more diverse and secular, the relative numbers of Christians – especially white Christians – has been declining. White Christians have “lost their perceived standing as the country’s decision-makers amid their declining status,” driving many to Christian Nationalism as a path back to power.
Many of these Christian Nationalists heard in Candidate Trump’s MAGA slogan a promise to return America to its former greatness – the good old days when we “didn’t need no welfare state, everybody pulled his weight.”
Trump also promised to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, pull out of the treaty with Iran, and support Israeli settlements on Palestinian land – all wildly popular with Christian Zionists.
Some 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump – either to save America or to usher in the second coming of Christ.
The awkward issue of (Trump’s) sin
Trump’s evangelical fan club had a dilemma on its hands as his skeletons kept tumbling out of the closet. He was a hot mess, but they needed him.
In a piece for Salon, Paul Rosenberg goes so far as to suggest that a righteous candidate would have been a bad idea, writing that “When push comes to shove, the more vicious the leader, the better. The moral restraints of the deeply pious are the last thing you want for the job.”
Every day brought a new crisis – and a new rationalization: “Only God knows what is in Trump’s heart.” “Democrats have baggage too.” “He is the spirit of Cyrus.” “We’re all sinners.”
Under the new, Trump-inspired Christianity, some leaders portrayed him as “God’s choice,” and instructed followers to stand with him no matter what. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the oldest megachurch in the U.S., demonstrated this just before the 2016 election when he quite literally contradicted the words of Jesus in defense of Trump:
I don’t want some meek and mild leader or somebody who’s going to turn the other cheek. I’ve said I want the meanest, toughest SOB I can find to protect this nation.”
From Bible to policy
The Trump campaign, and then administration, has always included a large number of evangelical leaders – including Christian Zionists. They were not there only to pray, but according to Trump advisor Mike Evans, to have “a seat at the table.” Christian Zionists in Trump’s inner circle use their access to present their interpretation of scripture as potential foreign policy. And Apparently Trump listens.
Evans has been part of that inner circle. He was in on private briefings with the president before the unveiling of the so-called Deal of the Century – Trump’s “peace plan” for Israel and Palestine, which heavily favors Israel. “Israel just got kissed by God,” Evans said of the plan. “I am not referring to Donald Trump as God, but I am saying he has Divine inspiration.”
Trump’s actions on behalf of Israel, which are often reckless and violations of international law and human rights, are understood as obedience to Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you [Abraham], and whoever curses you I will curse.”
The most powerful guest at the table has to be CUFI – Christians United For Israel – an organization boasting eight million members, and the quintessential mechanism of Christian Zionism.
At the CUFI’s helm is John Hagee, who teaches as fact his dispensationalist interpretation of the situation in Israel and Palestine. As Hagee puts it, “Israel exists because of a covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob 3,500 years ago – and that covenant still stands,” and “From a biblical, historical, and legal perspective, Israel owns, and does not occupy, the Holy Land. And one can not be an occupier on land it owns.” (The global community almost unanimously disagrees with the second statement, based on international law.)
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo themselves self-identify as Christian Zionists and Pence has even visited Israel on CUFI’s dime. Both have spoken at CUFI’s annual summit. At least three other high-level members of the Trump administration attended as well.
The organization is effective. The Hill listed at least five congressional seats and one governor that CUFI helped flip from blue to red in 2018. Their millions of members are ready to “show up at the polls and cast their ballot for the candidate that is best for the Jewish state.”
How? According to Sandy Hagee Parker of the CUFI Action Fund, “With approximately 50 events nationally per month, CUFI’s field staff is in constant education mode…”
“CUFI members don’t see Israel as a political issue, but as an exercise in their faith – and that will never change,” Hagee Parker boasts.
CUFI members can be mobilized as needed to support legislative action, visit a Congress member, attend a town hall meeting – whatever is needed to keep the agenda moving forward. Bottom line, in John Hagee’s own words:
We’re not another paper-shuffling, hand-clapping group of Christians…We are 4.5 million people who are organized in every state, every city, every voting district.”
War with Iran
Iran is public enemy number one to Christian Zionists, who believe that the end times must be preceded by war and bloodshed. Iran is more than just a geopolitical enemy – it is, as religious historian Diana Butler Bass explains, “sort of a prophetic dog whistle to evangelicals…they’re eager for Christ to return and they think that this war with Iran and Israel has to happen for their larger hope to pass.”
And so John Hagee – a pastor, mind you – has repeatedly called for Iran to be hit with a “maximum pressure campaign,” including at one point a preemptive strike.
In 2017, Christian Zionists pestered Trump to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. According to the Christians United For Israel website:
CUFI has made moving the embassy to Jerusalem a central focus of its 2017 agenda…Pastor John Hagee, has used White House audiences with Pres. Trump and Vice Pres. Mike Pence to urge them to move the embassy.
Days before Pres. Trump’s inauguration, the CUFI Action Fund held a Washington fly-in during which more than 260 leaders representing 49 states urged that the embassy be moved. And CUFI members have sent more than 137,000 emails to the White House in support of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
The embassy move took place in May 2018 amid peaceful protests that resulted in dozens of Palestinian deaths by Israeli sniper fire.
The only side of the story?
Just 40 percent of Jews living in Israel believe that God gave them the land; meanwhile, 82 percent of white American evangelicals believe it. How is that possible?
Brenneman explained that because there is no visible counter-argument against the damaging narrative of Christian Zionism, “Most people don’t even realize that they hold a Christian Zionist perspective.”
Like all extremist ideologies, it is built upon ignorance and insularity to perpetuate a warped perspective about Palestinians and what is happening in Palestine…
People passively hold these views because they are shielded from seeing devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences of their beliefs.
Christian Zionism [presents a binary construct in which] Israelis are good and barbaric Palestinians are bad, [and] places good “Western” Israelis against evil “Eastern” Muslims.”
The concealed truth
While mainstream media will never give a completely accurate picture of world events, it does manage to contradict Trump on a regular basis. He deals with these inconvenient truths by delegitimizing them as “fake news” and, as Kellyanne Conway famously gave us, the phrase “alternative facts.” His flock follows suit.
In the arena of accurate news on Israel and Palestine, many sources committed to rigorous reporting and educating are routinely denounced as “anti-Semitic” for daring to show Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians. Most Americans are thus not exposed to the truth about the injustice that Christian Zionism is inflicting on Palestinians through its support of Israel.
What about 2020?
As determined as progressives are to make Trump a one-term president, evangelicals and conservatives are resolute about winning him four more years. They are also well-organized and well-funded.
Data analysts are scouring statistics nationwide, looking for new conservative voters to register and recruit. Thousands of conservative, and also often evangelical radio stations, sing Trump’s praises; tens of millions of churchgoers are faithful to him.
Mike Evans, a Trump advisor, pointed out that the evangelical bloc “gave” Trump the presidency because of his pro-life stance and his support for Israel – and that same group has the power to “fire” him if he does not continue to toe the line. The current test will be if Trump endorses Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the Palestinian West Bank, a move deemed illegal under international law.
When asked about Trump’s re-election prospects, Evans explains how pro-Israel policy translates into votes:
I have 68 million Facebook followers. When the president blesses Israel, they feel strongly that God is going to bless us – He won’t get 90 percent; he will get 100 percent of this base.”
In fact, according to a 2019 Public Religion Research Institute poll of Trump supporters, 31 percent of white evangelicals said there is essentially nothing he could do that would lose their vote.
“Stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody”? Apparently he can do no wrong.
Feature photo | Attendee sing worship songs during a President Donald Trump campaign event courting devout conservatives by combining praise, prayer and patriotism, July 23, 2020, in Alpharetta, Ga. John Amis | AP
Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.