The Rapture of Dominionists: Now Evangelicals are Dictating US Mideast Policy

By Julie Ingersoll | (The Conversation) | – –

President Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, Dec. 6 that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel received widespread criticism. Observers quickly recognized the decision as related not so much to national security concerns as to domestic U.S. politics and promises candidate Trump made to his evangelical supporters, who welcomed the announcement..

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Why Jerusalem matters to evangelicals.
jaime.silva, CC BY-NC-ND

Historian Diana Butler Bass posted on Twitter:

“Of all the possible theological dog-whistles to his evangelical base, this is the biggest. Trump is reminding them that he is carrying out God’s will to these Last Days.”

It is true that evangelicals have often noted that their support for Trump is based in their conviction that God can use the unlikeliest of men to enact his will. But how did conservative American Christians become invested in such a fine point of Middle East policy as whether the U.S. Embassy is in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?

For many of President Trump’s evangelical supporters this is a key step in the progression of events leading to the second coming of Jesus. There’s an interesting story as to how that came to be.

Ushering in the kingdom of God

The nation of Israel and the role of the city of Jerusalem are central in the “end-times” theology – a form of what is known as “pre-millennialism” – embraced by many American conservative Protestants. ​

While this theology is often thought of as a “literal” reading of the Bible, it’s actually a reasonably new interpretation that dates to the 19th century and relates to the work of Bible teacher John Nelson Darby.

According to Darby, for this to happen the Jewish people must have control of Jerusalem and build a third Jewish temple on the site where the first and second temples – destroyed centuries ago by the Babylonians and Romans – once were. In Darby’s view this was a necessary precursor to the rapture, when believers would be “taken up” by Christ to escape the worst of the seven-year-period of suffering and turmoil on Earth: the Great Tribulation. This is to be followed by the cosmic battle between good and evil called Armageddon at which Satan will be defeated and Christ will establish his earthly kingdom. All of this became eminently more possible when the modern state of Israel was established in the 1940s.

But to understand the power of this way of looking at the world, it is necessary to do more than point to theological tenets. It is their dissemination through culture that determines which thought systems take hold and which ones are lost to history.

As author of “Building God’s Kingdom,” I focus on various aspects of conservative American Protestantism in American culture and politics. In my research I have seen how some thought systems get lost in history and others take hold.

Here is what happened with the end-time narrative that made it a core undercurrent to how these Christians look at the world and history.

The origins of this narrative

The end-times framework was popularized in the 1970s with an inexpensive and widely available paperback by evangelist and Christian writer Hal Lindsey called “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Lindsey argued that the establishment of the state of Israel in the 1940s set up a chain of events that would lead to Jesus’s return.

Waiting For The Word, CC BY

He calculated a date for that return in the 1980s. Lindsey, like many end-times prognosticators before him, argued that he lived in the “first time in history” when the biblical prophecies could possibly be fulfilled. This, he thought, was due in large part to the reestablishment of Israel.

Despite his claim to be reading the Bible literally, Lindsey’s interpretation was far from literal. He said, for example, that the locusts predicted in the one of the plagues in the book of Revelation were “really” helicopters.

As adults were reading Lindsey’s book, a generation of young people watched an “evangelistic” film, “A Thief in the Night,” in church services and youth group meetings.

Beginning with an ominous ticking clock, the film begins at the rapture. It shows how all the faithful Christians suddenly disappeared. For those who remained, there was one more chance to accept the Gospel but that chance required living through extreme persecution.

The film scared young people into conversion by depicting the experiences of these young Christians who were suffering because they had arrogantly dismissed warnings from their friends, families and churches to repent and had missed the rapture.

According to scholar Amy Frykholm, an estimated 50 million to 300 million people viewed “A Thief in the Night.”

The end-times and the culture wars

The use of popular media to spread a terrifying vision of the end of history to draw young people into repentance continued in the 1980s with the apocalyptic novels of Frank Peretti. The Peretti novels depicted a vibrant and active spiritual world in which cosmic forces of good and evil were vying for supremacy all around us.

As the book presented it, every person is obliged to play a part for one side or the other in very literal ways. This applies to all people: “True Christians” were meant to fight on God’s side, and the rest on the side of Satan. The first of these was called “This Present Darkness.”

Though clearly recognized as fictional, these books were also perceived as “real.” For example, while the seat of the diabolical scheming was the fictional local college and the chief antagonist was a fictional professor, it wasn’t lost on readers that they were to perceive colleges and professors as likely enemies.

The depiction of literal “good guys” and “bad guys” as regular people aligned with God and Satan, respectively, played into the increasingly divisive culture war battles of the time. These books were powerful and effective until a decade later when they were replaced in popular Christian culture by the “Left Behind” series, co-authored by culture warrior Tim LaHaye.

These 16 books and four films, released over the course of a decade, also trace the lives of the latecoming believers who had missed the rapture and were now part of the “Tribulation Force,” as they endured the post rapture world and sought to remain faithful despite persecution. The series’ successes included a New York Times best-seller, while seven others set sales records. The entire series sold more than 65 million copies.

Natasha Padgitt, CC BY-NC-SA

It’s impossible to overemphasize the effects of this framework on those within the circles of evangelicalism where it is popular. A growing number of young people who have left evangelicalism point to end-times theology as a key component of the subculture they left. They call themselves “exvangelicals” and label teachings like this as abusive.

It’s hard to get away from the invocation of mythic narratives in American politics. They get used often and are invented and reinvented to be deployed at different times in history. While supporters and opponents of the Trump announcement agree that the results might be cataclysmic, some of the supporters are happy. That is because they are reading it through a lens that promises the return of Jesus and the establishment of God’s kingdom.

The ConversationEditor’s note: in a previous version of this article the date of President Trump’s announcement about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was incorrect. It has been corrected to Dec. 6.

Julie Ingersoll, Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

17 Responses

  1. It’s too bad that the “book of Revelation” wasn’t relegated to the Apocrypha many centuries ago. History shows that people anticipating the End of the World tend to be right – for themselves. And literature, from Oedipus Rex (or earlier) to Harry Potter and Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice & Fire to purists) emphasizes that those who try to force prophesy pay heavily.

  2. Thank you for this text.
    As an exvangelist, I will never really get over the trauma of end time thinking; as humans are no more people you love, but pions in God’s vengeful wrath.
    By adopting end time theology, christianity transforms itself from a religion based on inclusiveness and compassion into a cold, exclusivist ideology…

    • Thomas, Jesus/Yeshua, came to earth and became flesh, took on the shame and punishment of the whole world, was crucified and rose again, so that we could live. He did that for ALL of mankind, that’s what you call inclusivesness. And that is the mindset we must have, as followers of Christ, towards each other, as we witness to the lost. God has called us ALL, to be evangelists.

    • but this dominionist millenialist evangelical fundamentalism stuff, while truly a mainstream religion,
      is not the same stuff taught by Jesus and spread by Paul.
      please don’t think of it as christianity, any more than LDS or Jehovah’s witnesses.

  3. Well, as soon as the cornerstone of the Third Temple is down, won’t the time be right to start the Armageddon Ball rolling with a nuke strike in North Korea? Led by the reincarnated Prince of Peace, a/k/a Donald Trump, of course.

  4. This is an excellent article that gives perspective into the worldview of Christian Zionists and why they play an important role in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel.

    While the Jewish-American vast influence via the “Israel Lobby” has been well-documented by scholars and reported on in the media, the concept of Christian Zionism and its vast political influence has been relatively esoteric and ignored by the mainstream media.

    Christian Zionists are prevalent in the evangelical churches in the U.S. – Baptist and Pentecostal denominations – whereas the Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christian Zionism is a false religious doctrine.

    Pastor John Hagee of Texas is perhaps one of America’s most influential Christian Zionists and has been a personal friend to every Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin. He fully believes that the Third Temple will be constructed and the Islamic religious sites at Temple Mount demolished to accommodate that construction – and that a vast cataclysmic war against Israel will result by enraged Muslims which – as Pastor Hagee believes – will usher in the Second Coming. Hagee’s expounded upon beliefs reflect the mainstream thought of Christian Zionism among U.S. evangelicals.

    Hagee’s voluminous published writings on Israel fully ignore the fact of human rights violations, land theft, and systemic discrimination against Palestinian Arabs by the Israeli government. Critics of Pastor Hagee have suggested that he – and the Christian Zionism movement in general – care little if anything about either Palestinian Arabs or Israeli Jewry – but have as their overarching primary concern the construction of the Third Temple in fulfillment of their interpretation of end times prophecy.

    Christian Zionist evangelicals form a key bloc within the Republican Party and its affiliated state party organizations, often holding key officer positions and having a significant percentage of the precinct delegate base in most states. It is largely via this base – and various advisory councils – that they have the ability to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel.

    Christian evangelicals were instrumental in electing Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 and re-electing him in 1984. Donald Trump and the GOP leadership would be remiss to ignore their positions on Israel.

  5. John Darby didn’t come up with “pre-millennialism” that is taught by Christ. Darby come up with heresy of “pre-tribulation” not taught by anyone in the scripture.

  6. Neither one of you are correct. Read the Bible first before you complain. There is NO end to this earth! It is the End of the Age Of Grace, the Church age. This is the time after the Rapture of the Church, the Bride of Christ and then the rise of the anti-christ!

  7. I find it disturbingly curious that all this talk of modern day Israel being the fulfillment of biblical prophecy disregards the fact that these people are in no way the Hebrews of the Bible, and have only been there for a century by way of the dubious Balfour Declaration

    • It is a major issue in both Christian and Jewish discussion as to whether the current State of Israel has any type of legitimacy as a Jewish nation of biblical or divine origin.

      The Roman Catholic Church rejects Christian Zionism as a false teaching and only in the last few years has recognized the State of Israel – only after Israel made concessions to the Palestinian Authority was this recognition granted.

      Pope John Paul II enraged then-PM Menachem Begin in late 1982 after receiving P.L.O. Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Vatican after Arafat and P.L.O. fighters were evacuated out of West Beirut following an Israel Defense Forces siege during the summer of 1982. The pope was photographed with Arafat, and Arafat was interviewed at the Vatican by 60 Minutes offering acceptance of a Palestinian state on any land occupied by Israel.

      John Paul II later blessed Arafat and his family after he acceded to the chairmanship of the Palestinian Authority.

      The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 claimed no formal religious basis of its government and no constitution was adopted over arguments between religious and secular Jews over whether such a religious foundation should be incorporated into a proposed constitution.

      Today, ultraorthodox Jews in Israel do not believe the state has any legitimacy as a divine Jewish homeland since there is no messiah – but chose to reside there due to Jewish historical link to the land.

  8. And pretending Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel all these years has got us What?
    Who is living in a fantasy world all this time?

  9. I think I know why we Papists cannot get on board with this modern version of christianity.
    We see God as very powerful, even all powerful.
    But these “christian zionists” see themselves as able to manipulate God into doing what they want. making their God somewhat weak.

  10. As has been pointed out, this article conflates ‘Historic Premillennialism’ (which dates right to the beginnings of Christianity — see Wikipedia for verification) with ‘Dispensational Pretribulational Premillennialism’ (a much newer system dating to Darbay in around 1830′. I suggest that the article be corrected to reflect this :)

  11. Prophecy only fact once full filled may bè we should all read the book of zechariah about jerusalem it made me wonder

  12. Even in areas of Religious Studies ignorance is pervasive. Professor Ingersol has presented in this article what amounts to a Mulligan Stew of facts that are not facts but a collection of misinformation. Such maladjusted “so called facts” are what has created great confusion within the church and non-religious onlookers. There is among the Evangelical community a great variety of opinions and teachings with a very diverse end times picture. How sad that the public overall thinks things are like this article presents them to be.

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