Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them?
Liberalism can’t abide conservative evangelicals.
Winter 2008 Vol.18 No.1In the United States, the two groups that most ardently support Israel are Jews and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Jewish support is easy to explain, but why should certain Christians, most of them politically quite conservative, be so devoted to Israel? There is a second puzzle: despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are disliked by many Jews. And a third: a large fraction of African-Americans are hostile to Israel and critical of Jews, yet Jewish voters regard blacks as their natural allies.
The evidence about evangelical attitudes is clear. In 2006, a Pew survey found that evangelical Christians were more favourable toward Israel than the average American was—and much more sympathetic than either mainline Protestants or secularists. In another survey, evangelical Christians proved much likelier than Catholics, Protestants, or secular types to back Israeli control of Jerusalem, endorse Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and take Israel’s side in a Middle Eastern dispute. (Among every religious group, those who are most traditional are most supportive of Israel. The most orthodox Catholics and Protestants, for instance, support Israel more than their modernist colleagues do.)
Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favour: in one Pew survey, 42% of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists. As two scholars from Baruch College have shown, a much smaller fraction—about 16%—of the American public has similarly antagonistic feelings toward Christian fundamentalists.
The reason that conservative Christians—opposed to abortion and gay marriage and critical of political liberalism—can feel kindly toward Jewish liberals and support Israel so fervently is rooted in theology. One finds among fundamentalist Protestants a doctrine called dispensationalism. The dispensationalist outlook, which began in early-nineteenth-century England, sees human history as a series of seven periods, or dispensations, in each of which God deals with man in a distinctive way. The first, before Adam’s fall, was the era of innocence; the second, from Adam to Noah, the era of conscience; the third, from Noah to Abraham, of government; the fourth, from Abraham to Moses, of patriarchy; the fifth, from Moses to Jesus, of Mosaic law; and the sixth, from Jesus until today, of grace. The seventh and final dispensation, yet to come, will be the Millennium, an earthly paradise.
For dispensationalists, the Jews are God’s chosen people. For the Millennium to come, they must be living in Israel, whose capital is Jerusalem; there, the Temple will rise again at the time of Armageddon. On the eve of that final battle, the Antichrist will appear—probably in the form of a seeming peacemaker. Fundamentalists differ over who the Antichrist will be (at one time he was thought to be Nero, at another time the papacy, and today a few have suggested the secretary-general of the UN), but dispensationalists agree that he will deceive the people, occupy the Temple, rule in the name of God, and ultimately be defeated by the Messiah. Many dispensationalists believe that how a person treats Israel will profoundly influence his eternal destiny.