Earlier this week, I suggested that many evangelical Christians are both pro-Israel and anti-Semitic. For those not familiar with rightwing Christianity, it is easy to assume that the pro-Israel talk of American conservative Protestantism is pro-Jewish, and, indeed, defenders of our hawkish policies on Israel will say that they are evidence that US political leaders aren’t anti-Semitic.
But what looks like pro-Israel theology is generally just an End Times vision that sees Israel as a setting for violence and Jews as supporting characters. While there are countless “prophetic” theories explaining what this will look like, the details are, I think, less important than the fact that Christians have been concerned with this since the establishment of modern Israel in 1948. The 1970s saw a huge boom in interest in this area with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (ghostwritten by Carole C. Carlson, who was later credited as a co-author. The book has sold more than 35 million copies, has been translated into at least 50 languages, and was turned into a film narrated by Orson Welles. It’s theological and historical garbage, but it helped turn American Christians on to the idea of the apocalypse. Specifically, an apocalypse that we could predict and perhaps even shape through world politics. And, at the center of those politics is Israel.
Explains journalist Timothy P. Weber in an article in the evangelical Christianity Today, describing the American politicians who turned out to celebrate an anniversary of the founding of Israel:
Most of those who gathered in Washington to show their support for Israel believe that the Holy Land will be ground zero for events surrounding the second coming of Jesus Christ. Such evangelicals read the Bible as though it were a huge jigsaw puzzle of prophecies, with Israel in the center. They believe that human history is following a predetermined divine script, and they and Israel are simply playing their assigned roles.
The “assigned roles” of Jews depends on one’s particular eschatology. In the 1800s, most American Christians believed that God was done with the Jews–that they’d had their chance and, in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, blew it, so Christians had replaced them in God’s eyes (hence why this theory is called the “replacement theory”). Others came to believe that God still had plan for the Jewish people–maybe even that he would restore them to Israel. Christians started looking to Jerusalem, even setting up communes there, to witness what they believed would be the start of the end of time. When the Balfour Declaration–the British intention of building a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, where the minority of the population was Jewish–was announced, these Christians felt vindicated: Western politicians were making their prophesied dreams come true.
Today, thinking on the topic of Israel’s role in End Times is both muddled and precise, like all prophecy, in conservative Christian circles. Prophecy works by being broad enough that whatever happens can be read back onto it (which is how Hal Lindsey, nearly 50 years after predicting that the End was nigh still has a TV show in which he spouts predictions) and specific enough to keep believers alert. But all premillennialist theology has some elements of violence. People are going to die, for sure. Maybe Jews still have special favor with God; one common explanation is that Jesus will give Jews another opportunity to identify him as their savior, and some will do so–essentially, converting to Christianity. For Christians, this looks like love of Jews–a second chance to become Christians that people of other non-Christian faiths might not be given.
But it doesn’t look like love of Jews for many of us; it looks like coercion and condescension. And it courts violence in this life, violence that hurts Jewish people now, as well as Palestinians and others living in Israel.
Which brings me to one of my favorite places on the internet: the Rapture Index. (And, by “favorite,” I mean in like in the way that some people like celebrity gossip magazines. Rapture Index is like that for people who like trashy religion.)
Rapture Index recognizes that “no man knows the day or the hour” of Jesus’ return (“the Rapture,” which will usher in the start of the end in this framework), and you just get egg on your face when you try to guess. BUT–we can know if humanity is speeding up (Wheee!!!) or slowing down (Boo!!!) on its path toward inevitable destruction. The prophets over at Rapture Index “read” the signs of the times, assess them and award them a number value, then factor these values together to create a single number that tells us if we’re going slow (100 and below), moderate (100-130), fast (130-160), or, in the words of Rapture Index, “fasten your seatbelts” (160 and above). (Yes, these categories are not mutually exclusive, but these are prophets, not social scientists.)
As of March 11 (the last update), we’re careening along at 176 on the Rapture Index, near our all time high of 189 on October 10, 2016, when the possible election of Hillary Clinton sent those numbers very high.
The Rapture Index considers 45 different variables, including:
- arms control (bad because it’s an effort to find peace without God)
- debt and trade
- earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, droughts, etc.
- interest rates
- inventions (more of them are a sign that we’re headed to the End Times)
- liberalism (bad, obvs, but good in that “fanatical opposition” to Donald Trump drives up this number and increases our pace toward the Rapture)
- the peace process in the Middle East
- immorality (which will eventually slow, because we’ve run out of “perversions”)
and, of course,
Here is the most recent report:
The prophets over at Rapture Index are a little concerned that, this week, “Israel remains strangely peaceful.”
And that is my point–for many conservative Christians, peace in the Middle East is what is strange. Peace doesn’t move the world forward in this terrible timeline; violence does. Israel is seen as a source of violence. Indeed, the Rapture Index calls it “a burdensome stone,” quoting from Zechariah:
On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.*
Rapture Index provides a timeline of history that includes both Biblical stories and present-day events to illustrate how the world is moving against Israel. And, ultimately, in this view, that’s a good thing, because it brings us closer to the end.
That doesn’t look like real support for Israel or love of Jewish people to me.
The Rapture Index–and the many, many websites and YouTube channels and sermons and books–devoted to making sense of Middle East politics through premillennial dispensationalism may not be useful in understanding Israel, but reading it illuminates the thinking of many Americans.
*Rapture Index uses the KJV, but I think the NIV is clearer here.