Are Christian Evangelicals the New Jewish lobby?

In an opinion article in today's Christian Science Monitor, author Walter Rodgers is asking the question of Christian Zionists: Are Christian evangelicals the new Jewish lobby?

I recently passed a local evangelical church here in rural New England with a sign that read: “We Love You Israel. Hold God’s Land.”The sign is part of a wider phenomenon: the American Christian right’s dogmatic support for Israel and the Jewish state’s claim to the “Holy Land.” It’s a loyalty born out of a literal interpretation of the Bible and its apocalyptic narrative and a view that ascribes divinity to a physical place. And this reflexive support for Israel has spread to the broader conservative base and American political scene in general. Look no further than Glenn Beck’s “Restore Courage” trip to Jerusalem planned for this August, which at least one GOP presidential contender has noted he will attend.

Such religious attachment isn’t an isolated theological agenda. It’s at the heart and history of the conflict in the Middle East.

Mingling religion with foreign policy has a longstanding history: from the Islamic armies of Allah marching across the first millennium Christian world, followed later by two centuries of theologically dubious European Christians crusading across Mediterranean lands. In some respects, we moderns have never escaped medieval traditions. The problem is that these traditions are the foundation on which diplomats are still forced to build.

“Isn’t it unwise to use the Bible to settle real estate disputes?” I asked the pastor of the conservative congregation whose sign I’d passed.

“We take the Bible literally, every word,” he replied on the other end of the phone.

“What about Genesis 15:18, where Jehovah promised Jews all the land ‘from the river of Egypt [the Nile] unto the great river, the river Euphrates [think Baghdad]’?” I said, “Surely you don’t think Israelis have claim to a huge chunk of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, do you?”

The evangelical clergyman replied, “I am kind of excited to see what God will do for Israel.” He went on to tell me he thought all Arabs and Palestinians living within Israeli borders should be deported to neighboring Arab countries, an idea that has had underground currency in Israel for more than a decade. “God made a covenant with the Jews that the land would be theirs in perpetuity,” the minister explained.

The opinion goes on to outline that the minister above believes that Allah is a "false god," thus delegitimizing the Islamic faith.  The "Holy Land" makes a lot of money off of American evangelicals as well, and the author claims that Israeli tour guides often outright lie to American evangelical tourists:

At the root of the issue is the concept of “The Holy Land.” Although the idea of the Holy Land didn’t exist in Jesus’ time and didn’t emerge until some centuries later, Timothy Robinson, a theology professor at Bright Divinity School at Texas Christian University, noted that “for a lot of Christians, there is a deep connection to earth where Jesus may have walked.”

Israeli tour guides often fabricate facts to gull the would-be pilgrims, Mr. Robinson said. “There is a lot of tripe they feed the crowds, especially Evangelicals.” Israeli tour guides generally ignore genuine Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem like Lazarus’s tomb. That would divert tourist dollars to Arabs and lend legitimacy to Palestinian claims to being the “first Christians.”

The very idea of the Holy Land is a sticky wicket. So many of the sites in the “Holy Land” are simply “traditional,” lacking any historical corroboration. The grotto below the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, said to be where Jesus was born, is a prime example. I recall a discussion I had with one Israeli rabbi who privately acknowledged the worship of land itself probably violated the second commandment against graven images.

The article ends with an admonition:  Christian evangelicals need to back off from religious support of Israel over the concept of the "Holy Land."  The article claims such support undermines peace between Israel and Palestine, and that evangelicals are doing nothing more than "worshipping real estate," which has resulted in great bloodshed over the years.

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