Apocalyptic views are shaping policy at the highest levels.
Dec 12, 2017
To those who don’t circulate in fundamentalist religious crowds, apocalyptic thinking—the belief that the world will soon be coming to an end, fulfilling biblical prophecy—might seem strangely fringe and hardly worth serious attention. Perhaps for this reason, the topic rarely gets much consideration in mainstream press. But it would be a mistake to be dismissive of “End Times” beliefs, because their influence in American policymaking is far from marginal.
A case in point is the recent declaration by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Though it was reported in the media that this move was intended to appease Trump’s conservative Christian base, few news accounts explained in any detail why the religious right considers the issue so important. Their motivation is not any desire to promote peace in the turbulent region, but in fact, the exact opposite: they sincerely believe the move will hasten the end of the world.
Robert Jeffress, a high-profile evangelical leader, praised Trump’s decision, calling Jerusalem “the touchstone of prophecy.” The “prophecy” in question is the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, which depicts Jesus returning and an epic battle with forces of evil. Florida legislator Doug Broxson, while introducing Trump at a rally last week, couldn’t contain his excitement over the policy change and its biblical implications: “I don’t know about you, but when I heard about Jerusalem – where the King of Kings [applause], where our soon-coming King is coming back to Jerusalem – it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.”
“Evangelicals are ecstatic” about the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital “for Israel to us is a sacred place,” explained pastor Paula White, who led the invocation at Trump’s inauguration. The restoration of Israel, along with various events incidental thereto, is seen as a necessary condition for the End Times.
Israel may be a Jewish state, but many fundamentalist Christians clearly feel they have their own theological skin in the game. Scriptural interpretations vary, but the End Times are generally understood by believers as the culmination of all of history, the climactic point where God’s promises are fulfilled, where the righteous are rewarded and God’s wrath is delivered to unrepentant sinners. And the role of Israel in all of this Christian prophecy is central.
This perceived importance is reflected in poll numbers comparing the views of white evangelicals and American Jews on the question of whether they believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people: evangelicals hold the belief at a rate more than doubling that of Jews, 82 to 40 percent.