Donald Trump finds himself ever more dependent on Evangelical voters. Having lost control of the House of Representatives in November, and under ever closer scrutiny for his campaign’s links to the Kremlin, Trump’s instinct has been to cleave ever closer to his most loyal supporters.
Almost alone among major demographic groups, white evangelicals are overwhelmingly in favor of Trump’s border wall, which some preachers equate with fortifications in the Bible.
Evangelical links have also helped shape US alliances in the Trump presidency. As secretary of state, Pompeo has been instrumental in forging link with other evangelical leaders in the hemisphere, including Guatemala’s Jimmy Morales and the new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Both have undertaken to follow the US lead in moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem.
Trump’s order to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv – over the objections of his foreign policy and national security team – is a striking example of evangelical clout.
The move was also pushed by Las Vegas billionaire and Republican mega-donor, Sheldon Adelson, but the orchestration of the embassy opening ceremony last May, reflected the audience Trump was trying hardest to appease.
The two pastors given the prime speaking slots were both ardent Christian Zionists: Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor on record as saying Jews, like Muslims and Mormons, are bound for hell; and John Hagee, a televangelist and founder of Christians United for Israel (Cufi), who once said that Hitler and the Holocaust were part of God’s plan to get Jews back to Israel, to pave the way for the Rapture.
These point were all made in “‘Brought to Jesus’: the evangelical grip on the Trump administration” Julian Borger writes in the Guardian (January 11, 2019), about the influence of evangelical Christianity is likely to become an important question as Trump finds himself dependent on them for political survival.
For instance, Borger points out that in setting out the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, one of the first things Mike Pompeo made clear to his audience in Cairo is that he had come to the region as “as an evangelical Christian”.
In his speech at the American University, Pompeo said that in his state department office: “I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo both cite evangelical theology as a powerful motivating force. Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil.
“We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle … until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”
For Pompeo’s audience, the rapture invoked an apocalyptical Christian vision of the future, a final battle between good and evil, and the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the faithful will ascend to heaven and the rest will go to hell.
For many US evangelical Christians, one of the key preconditions for such a moment is the gathering of the world’s Jews in a greater Israel between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It is a belief, known as premillennial dispensationalism or Christian Zionism – and it has very real potential consequences for US foreign policy.
It directly colors views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and indirectly, attitudes towards Iran, broader Middle East geopolitics and the primacy of protecting Christian minorities. In his Cairo visit, Pompeo heaped praise on Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for building the new cathedral, but made no reference to the 60,000 political prisoners the regime is thought to be holding, or its routine use of torture.
Pompeo is an evangelical Presbyterian, who says he was “brought to Jesus” by other cadets at the West Point military academy in the 1980s. He is working to make American foreign policy “Bible based.” That suits the hard core Israeli cynics fine: They mock American evangelicals and see them as the ultimate useful idiots.
“Many of them relish the second coming because for them it means eternal life in heaven,” Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University said. “There is a palpable danger that people in high position who subscribe to these beliefs will be readier to take us into a conflict that brings on Armageddon.” Of course secular Jews running Israel know this is all nonsense. But they love the gullibility.
For many evangelicals, the move of the embassy to Jerusalem cemented Trump’s status as the new Cyrus, who oversaw the Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The tightening of the evangelical grip on the administration has also been reflected in a growing hostility to the UN, often portrayed as a sinister and godless organization.
There is an increasingly evangelical tinge to the administration’s broader Middle East policies, in particular its fierce embrace of Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, the lack of balancing sympathy for the Palestinians – and the insistent demonization of the Iranian government. Evangelical influence is not driven by wanting what is good for America or the world, but rather by trying to prove the Bible true by helping along the fulfilment of prophecies. We are in deep trouble.
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