This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."
Few Americans understand the real reasons for the alliance between Christian fundamentalism and the most extreme segments of right wing Israeli political life. Grace Halsell has written an important book, Prophecy and Politics (Lawrence Hill and Co) on this very subject. Halsell worked as a White House speechwriter during the Johnson administration.
During two of Jerry Falwell'??s Holy Land tours, the author interviewed fundamentalist members of the Moral Majority, all of whom believed that the biblical prophecy of fighting World War 3 must be fulfilled before Christ can return to earth.
This strain of fundamentalism is known as "dispensationalism". Halsell writes that these fundamentalists believe the world will soon be destroyed: "God knows it will happen. He knew it from the beginning. But, God kept His plan secret from all of the billions of people who lived before us. But now â?¦ He has revealed the plan â?¦ we must move through seven time periods, or dispensations â?? one of which includes the terrible battle of Armageddon, where new and totally destructive nuclear weapons will be unleashed and blood will flow like mighty rivers â?¦ ."
The cult of Dispensationalism spread throughout America largely through the efforts of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, born in 1843. His belief system originates with John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century Irishman and one-time priest in the Church of England. Dispensationalists believe that in the Old Testament God promised the Jewish people an earthly kingdom ruled by Messiah ben David, and that when Christ came He offered this prophesied kingdom to the Jews. When the Jews of the time rejected Christ and the earthly kingdom, the promise was postponed, and the "mystery form" of the kingdom - the church - was established.
The church, according to dispensational doctrine, was unforeseen in the Old Testament and constitutes a "parenthesis" in God's plan for Israel. In the future, the distinction between Jew and Gentile will be reestablished and will continue throughout all eternity. The "parenthesis", or church age, will end at the Rapture when Christ comes invisibly to take all believers (excepting OT saints) to heaven to celebrate the "marriage feast of the Lamb" with Christ for a period of seven years.
On one occasion, Scofield reminded his audience that year after year he had sounded the same warning: our world will end "in disaster, in ruin, in the great, final world-catastrophe." But, he said, "born-again Christians should welcome such a catastrophe because once the final battle has begun Christ will lift them up into the clouds." While most rational human beings understand the foregoing to be superstitious nonsense, it is important to remember that we have a great capacity for profound but irrational belief systems.
Grace Halsell became a participant in two of Jerry Falwell's sponsored journeys to Israel, where she mingled with many dispensationalists. One of them, Owen, explained his belief system, which entailed the need to destroy Jerusalem's most holy Islamic shrine, and the necessity of waging a nuclear war [Armegeddon] to destroy the world.
Christian fundamentalists donate generously to Israel's repression of Palestinians along with the billions in taxpayer's funds that the US sends to Israel every year. Large contributors to Israel's unrest include oil and gas tycoon Terry Reisenhoover, a frequent White House visitor, and "Mission to America" Chairman Dr. Hilton Sutton; as well as Dr. James DeLoach, pastor of Houston'??s Second Baptist Church. DeLoach once boasted that he and others had formed a Jerusalem Temple Foundation specifically to aid those intent on destroying the Dome of the Rock and muslim Al-Aqsa mosque and building a new temple mount.
Dr. John Walvoord, who teaches at Southwestern School of Bible in Dallas, explained the dispensationalist beliefs to Halsell: "God does not look on all of His children the same way. He sees us divided into categories, the Jews and the Gentiles. God has one plan, an earthly plan, for the Jews. And He has a second plan, a heavenly plan, for the born-again Christians. The other peoples of the world â?? Muslims, Buddhists, and those of other faiths as well as those Christians not born again â?? do not concern Him. As for destroying planet earth, we can do nothing. Peace, for us, is not in Godâ??s book â?¦ ."
At a meeting of Christian Zionists in Basel, Switzerland, the group adopted resolutions calling for all Jews living outside of Israel to leave the countries where they are now residing and move to Israel. The Christians also urged Israel to annex the West Bank. When an Israeli in the audience urged more moderate language, pointing out that an Israeli poll showed that one-third of Israelis would be willing to trade territory seized in 1967 for peace with the Palestinians, one of the Christian leaders, van der Hoeven of Holland, replied, "We don'??t care what the Israelis vote! We care what God says! And God gave that land to the Jews!"
The danger is that Israel and America's radical religious right really are at cross purposes. While Israel wants to protect and expand its territory [including territory it gained after the 1967 war] the American Christian right extremists want to foment a war that will lead to Armageddon - and for them the sooner the better. After all Falwell and his followers are not getting any younger in their wait for Christ to return to earth!
Some Fundamentalist Christians have become dominant among Republican leaders in Congress from Texas and Oklahoma, while politically they provide moral cover for the Israeli Lobby, which otherwise has lost much of its idealistic support. According to these radical Christians the Israeli government must never be criticized because Israel is doing God's will; but they will criticize any Israeli government which tries to bring about peace -- witness how Rabin and Barak were so attacked. These are the radical Dispensationalists.
The radical Christian alliance with the Israeli Lobby is very two sided -- each thinks it is using the other for its own ends. So Israel's right-wing Likud gets crucial support from the Republican Party for its West Bank occupation and settlements, while the Dispensationalists get encouragement in their belief that the end of the world is nigh.
The Dispensationalists believe that they will go straight to Heaven without the pain of dying, while the rest of the human race - including Jews who don't convert - will soon be wiped out with great suffering. In their passion for the return of Christ, or the Rapture, these people forsake the most fundamental Christian principles of humanity toward other human beings (and even Christians) in the Middle East and they humiliate Muslims anywhere and everywhere. Any policies that promote conflict and misery in the Middle East are "good" for their own ends, because the more misery there is in the world then the sooner they believe that Christ will return and deliver them from evil.
The profound Catholic libertarian philosopher, Dr. Leonard Liggio, once remarked how surprised he was that Americans who lived overseas nearly always came to the same conclusion, that American foreign policy is generally misguided. Today most Dispensationalists are very insular and know very little about the outside world, however they are a major factor in US foreign policy under Bush.
As an example of Dispensationalism in the Bush administration, NSC Near East and North African Affairs director Elliot Abrams sat down with the Christian fundamentalist Apostolic Congress in an attempt to massage their theological concerns. Claiming to be "the Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital," the members vociferously oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza may enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and Solomon's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.
Abrams attempted to assuage their concerns by stating that "the Gaza Strip had no significant Biblical influence such as Joseph's tomb or Rachel's tomb and therefore is a piece of land that can be sacrificed for the cause of peace."
Three weeks after the confab, President George W. Bush reversed long-standing U.S. policy, endorsing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in exchange for Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip.