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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 9, New Delhi, February 13, 2021

Trump to Biden: Change is ‘not’ good for Christian Zionism | Zahid Salam

Friday 12 February 2021

by Zahid Salam *

Among the few well-known personalities, who thanked former US President Donald Trump for his achievements during the four-year term is the evangelical pastor John Hagee; leader of the largest Christian Zionist organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI). [1] Pastor Robert Jeffress after declaring himself an enthusiastic supporter of Trump, described the 45th president as the most pro-religious president in the history of the United States. [2] Pertinent to mention here is the marathon prayer organized by the evangelist Paula White, calling for angelical reinforcements for the re-election of the former president. [3] The prayer was held in the middle of the vote count when ballots started favoring Joe Biden in the race for the Oval Office. White was recently named among the fifty leading defendants and advocates of Israel by the Israel Allies Foundation. All the three evangelical leaders have served as religious and spiritual advisors to Donald Trump. Many other evangelical figures had confidently prophesized the re-election of Donald Trump with a few among them yet to accept Biden’s presidency, waiting for some divine intervention to overturn the results. [4] Such a predilection of evangelical Christians towards the Republican presidential candidates is nothing new in the US polity. However, the support they offered to Donald Trump and his administration in multiple forms trumped all the previous standards. Evangelical Christians being the largest religious constituency with a vote share of 20 percent in the US electorate overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. As per the AP VoteCast Survey and Edison Exit Polls, Trump secured 80 percent of white evangelical votes in 2016 and between 76 and 81 percent in the 2020 elections. [5] His approval ratings among the evangelicals vis-à-vis his policies in domestic and foreign affairs always remained high during his presidential term.

For those who may be wondering why is evangelical politics being discussed here, it is important to mention that Christian Zionism has most of its adherents in the evangelical Christian strand, not only in US but across the globe. The survey of Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found 82 percent of white US evangelicals sharing at least one major belief of Christian Zionism that Israel was gifted to Jews by God. [6] The survey by Middle East Research and Information Project suggests that 80 percent of adult evangelicals in the US believe the creation of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecies, which speak of regathering of the Jewish people in the holy land. [7] Moreover, most of the US evangelical heavyweights like John Hagee, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Pat Robertson are self-proclaimed Christian Zionists. The belief of Christian Zionism stems from a doctrine known as Pre-millennial Dispensationalism, which is based on an eschatological interpretation of Biblical prophecies. [8] This doctrine founded and preached by the Irish preacher, John Nelson Darby posits the awaited return of Jesus Christ or Messiah is conditioned upon the ingathering of Jews in the biblical holy land and the restoration of Israel as an ethnonational entity. [9] The establishment of Israel is considered a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his Kingdom with its center in Jerusalem. Yaakov Ariel, An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews, (New York University Press, 2013), p. 37 & Palestinian Evangelicals and Christian Zionism, Jerusalem Quarterly, Issue 76, pp. 70-76.127.]] In addition to that Jews are believed to enjoy a special relationship with God and remain his chosen people through an eternal covenant. [10] The doctrine is also termed as Dispensationalism, Pre-Millenarianism, or Restorationism. The dispensational belief, which associates the second coming of Jesus with the state of Israel, has turned the evangelical believers into ardent supporters of the Jewish state. Christian Zionist leaders and their followers are very vocal about the love for Israel and have engaged themselves in relentless activism in the United States to serve their eschatological agenda. Their positions reflected through the statements and practices are ironically sometimes more pro-Israel than that of Jewish Zionists. For example Jerry Falwell, a prominent evangelical leader said in 1981, “to stand against Israel is to stand against the God”. [11] Pastor John Hagee once described the US support of Israel as “God’s foreign policy”. [12]

Apart from preaching the Dispensational beliefs through various public platforms, Christian Zionists maintain a strong lobby in the United States and have been partnering with the Republican Party and its presidential candidates to pursue the theological agenda. Such a multi-pronged approach has so far proved instrumental in securing favorable policy outcomes with respect to Israel. Though every US president particularly after 1967 has offered unwavering support to and a commitment to the security of the State of Israel, Republicans under the influence of evangelical electorate and activism are seen as more Israel friendly than Democrats.

Donald Trump during his tenure went extra mile in his favors towards Israel, making himself the all-time favorite of the Christian Zionists. John Hagee’s CUFI on its official website declared him “the most pro-Israel president the United States has ever had”, whose achievements and legacy are the shining examples of friendship to the Jewish people. The former president fulfilled almost every major demand that Christians Zionists put before his administration or were made to the earlier administrations. The movement of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of the contested city as the capital of Israel was a dream comes true for Christian Zionists. The relocation of the embassy has long been the top priority of their lobbying enterprise. Pastor Hagee commenting on his lobbying efforts said in an interview that “I told him (Trump) that the moment that you do that (move embassy), I believe that you will step into political immortality.” [13] Here one should also be reminded of what Trump said regarding the embassy move during his recent election campaign. Addressing the rally held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin he pronounced “we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem and that is for evangelicals”. [14] Likewise, he tried to describe the signing of Abraham accords as yet another favor to evangelical Christians. While speaking to the Fox and Friends he called the UAE-Israel normalization deal an incredible event for evangelicals because they love Israel. [15] The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal known as JCPAO and the sanctioning of Iran under the so-called ‘maximum pressure’ policy was again great news for the Christian Zionists, who like the Netanyahu led right-wing government have been vehemently opposing the hard-earned agreement, deeming it a threat to the security of Israel. Christian Zionists resent the idea of Two-State solution due to their belief of Jewish people possessing the divine and exclusive right to the ownership of Biblical holy land. They support the expansion of Israel into the West Bank through illegal settlements by raising funds to finance the settlement activity. [16] Moreover, Christian Zionists oppose the concept of West Bank being occupied by Israel and refer to the territories in biblical terminology as Judea and Samaria. [17] To their delight, Trump administration in contravention to the traditional US position and that of the international community essentially legalized the settlements, when his secretary of the state Mike Pompeo declared in November 2019, that the United States no longer views the settlements as inconsistent with international law. [18] Owing to their belief, the announcement made by Pompeo, who is himself a fervent evangelical was music to the ears of Christian Zionists. More than that has been the Middle-East peace plan conceived by the Trump team; the highly touted “Deal of the Century”, which if implemented would be a disaster for the Palestinian quest of statehood. In the disregard of numerous UN resolutions and peace mechanisms like that of the Oslo Accords, the deal legalizes the unilateral annexation of many sensitive hotspots by Israel from the Occupied Territories, which would only accelerate the demise of long-pending Two-State solution. The former President also stopped the funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which deals with the Palestinian refugees. [19] UNRWA has been condemned by the CUFI website as a tool for the enemies to wage war against Israel and alleges it of the promotion of anti-Semitism through the agency funded schools for Palestinians. The appointment of David Friedman as the US ambassador was yet another venture, which earned the Trump administration huge goodwill of evangelical Zionists. After intense lobbying for his nomination and senate confirmation, Christian Zionists welcomed the decision of his appointment calling him the President’s choice and right man for the extremely challenging post. [20] Friedman has been so staunch a supporter of Israel particularly the settlements in the occupied territories that it earned him a designation “de-facto Israel’s ambassador to the US”. [21] It was under his watch as the representative of Donald Trump, US closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, which served as a de-facto embassy to Palestinians since Oslo accords. Friedman was recently honored upon the completion of his tenure by pro-Israel groups including the CUFI. Pastor Hagee in a letter to the outgoing ambassador said “his legacy is marked by one success after another, by righting historic wrongs and by helping to bring US policy in the Middle-East in line with our highest moral aspirations.” [22] He was also thanked by Knesset officials Zvi Hauser and Yariv Levin for fulfilling the dreams of Jewish people through the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and sovereignty over Golan Heights. [23] The list of favors to the Jewish state relished by the Christian Zionists also include the labeling of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic, signing the Never Again Education Act into law, shutting down of PLO mission in Washington, aid cuts to Palestinian Authority and much more. Donald Trump undoubtedly promised US citizens to MAGA; Make America Great Again but for Christian Zionist believers he was MIGA; Making Israel Great Again. Anyways Pastor John Hagee did not thank Donald Trump for something achieved concerning his home country USA, rather the gratitude was extended to him for being the true friend of Israel and supporting God’s chosen people.

The election loss of Donald Trump has evoked mixed reactions from the evangelical camp. Notwithstanding the initial reluctance amid claims of voter fraud, most of the prominent evangelical leaders have accepted the new presidency and even extended their warm wishes and prayers to Biden. However, there are those who are not ready to concede and remain adamant on the account of their prophecies. [24] These faith leaders and their followers watched in utter disbelief as the transition towards new administration was taking place after the November election results. Such inability to believe is very much reflected in the words of the Reverend Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological who said during a phone interview “The idea of a Biden-Harris administration is unthinkable for many evangelicals.” [25] Possibly, the same disbelief complemented by the vote fraud allegations drew a large number of evangelicals along with other Trump loyalists to Washington DC. on the 6th of January, where US congress was certifying the President-elect Joe Biden’s win. The supporters stormed the Capitol building, carried out acts of vandalism and violence against security personnel, resulting in many fatalities and injuries on both sides. The supporters were carrying religious symbols such as Christian flags, wooden crosses, and banners with religious slogans in the riot described by The Atlantic as Christian insurrection. [26] The assault on the symbol of US democracy was an alarm for the US security establishment, who now feared its repetition on the inauguration day. However, amid tight security, Joe Biden was successfully inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States on the 20th of January.

Now, with Biden in the Presidential office, ready as promised to reverse many of the Trump enacted policies, there are signs of unease in the evangelical camp. They are watching in dismay as the new President revokes one after another the policy decisions that were taken by the previous administration in favor of Israel. President Biden has vowed to return to the traditional US policy towards Middle-East and the one in line with the international law. The new president since taking office has affirmed the US commitment to the two-state solution and announced the plans to rejoin Iran nuclear deal, re-open the Palestinian diplomatic mission and restore the financial aid to the Palestinians. [27] Such a swift shift in policymaking is a clear display of diminished say in and influence of Christian Zionists on the new administration. The erasure of their earned achievements was very much expected by the faith leaders and their followers in case of a change in the administration. Possibly this is what Pastor Robert Jeffress, one of the only two evangelical speakers appointed by Trump for the Jerusalem embassy opening event and a staunch Christian Zionist warned his fellow believers about. Upon the declaration of Biden as President-elect, Pastor Jeffress said, Church must be prepared for increasing persecution under new administration”. [28] The departure of Trump from the White House, that too replaced by a Democrat and a Catholic, has reduced the Christian Zionist voices to only vocal criticism directed against the Biden’s Middle-East policies. The primary target of the opposition so far has been the administration’s plan of salvaging the Iran nuclear deal. The chairwoman of CUFI Action Fund, a subsidiary of Christians United For Israel Sandra Parker, while voicing her opposition termed the deal as “the errors of 2015” and asked the Biden administration not to repeat the same. [29] She has also criticized the appointment of the new special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, calling him the wrong person for the Job. [30] The planned restoration of financial and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians has also been censured by the Christian Zionists with the allegations of Palestinian Authority using the US money to aid terrorism and violence. [31] The only decision of the new administration that favors the eschatological ambitions of evangelicals has been Biden’s promise of not moving the US embassy back to Tel Aviv. However, their approval or condemnations are no longer honored in the same manner as they were until the 20th of January, 2021. Because, the new president is neither surrounded by the faithful evangelical executives like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo nor is he advised by the likes of John Hagee, Robert Jeffress, or Paula White. With the arrival of the Biden team, White House has undergone a profound change and this change is ‘not’ good for Christian Zionists.

(Author: Zahid Salam is a Research Scholar at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi)


[1See Trump’s legacy regarding Israel shows he was a true friend of the Jewish people, Christians United For Israel, (https://www.cufi.org.uk/news/trumps-legacy-regarding-israel-shows-he-was-a-true-friend-of-the-jewish-people/), accessed on Jan 23, 2021.

[2Rick Jervis, Marc Ramirez and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, ’No regrets’: Evangelicals and other faith leaders still support Trump after deadly US Capitol attack, (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/01/12/evangelicals-donald-trump-capitol-riot-voter-fraud/6644005002/), accessed on January 23, 2021.

[3Joe Sommerlad, ’The Lord says it is done’: White House spiritual adviser Paula White prays for ’angels from Africa’ to cement Trump’s re-election,
(https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-election-2020/us-election-trump-paula-white-house-prayer-b1616014.html), accessed on January 23, 2021.

[4Craig Keener, Failed Trump Prophecies Offer a Lesson in Humility, (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/trump-prophets-apologize-election-prophecies-humility.html?), accessed on January 23, 2021.

[5Frank Newport, Religious Group Voting and the 2020 Election, (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/324410/religious-group-voting-2020-election.aspx), accesssed on January 24, 2021 & Tom Gjelten, 2020 Faith Vote Reflects 2016 Patterns, (https://www.npr.org/2020/11/08/932263516/2020-faith-vote-reflects-2016-patterns), accessed on January 24, 2021.

[6Pew Research Center, "A Portrait of Jewish Americans", 1 October 2013, cited in Paul D. Miller, Evangelicals, Israel and US Foreign Policy, Survival, Vol. 56, no. 1, DOI: 10.1080/00396338.2014.882149.

[7Joel C. Rosenberg, Evangelical Attitudes Toward Israel Research Study, Life Way Research, p. 7

[8Shalom L. Goldman, Christians and Zionism, American Jewish History, Vol. 93, No. 2, (2007), pp. 245-260

[9Paul Charles Merkley, Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel, (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2001), p. 188; Evangelizing the chosen people: missions to the Jews in America, 1880—2000(The University of North Carolina Press, 2000), p. 11.

[10Stephen Spector, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism, (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 10.

[11Ed Dobson, Edward E. Hindson and Jerry Falwell, The Fundamentalist Phenomenon/the Resurgence of Conservative Christianity, (Baker Pub Group, 1986).

[12David D. Kirkpatrick, "For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is ‘God’s Foreign Policy’", (https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/14/washington/14israel.html), accessed on January 24, 2021.

[13Joel B. Pollak, "Exclusive: Hagee Says Trump, Like Truman, Earned ‘Political Immortality’ by Moving Embassy to Jerusalem", (https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2018/05/11/john-hagee-trump-jerusalem-embassy/), accessed on January 25, 2021.

[14Matt Mathers, Trump admits moving US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was ‘for the evangelicals’, (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-election/trump-us-embassay-evangelicals-wisconsin-rally-a9675466.html), accessed on January 25,2021.

[15Jack Jenkins, Praising Israel-UAE deal, Trump points to influence of evangelicals, (https://religionnews.com/2020/08/17/praising-israel-uae-deal-trump-points-to-influence-of-evangelicals/), accessed on january 25, 2021.

[16Mimi Kirk, "Countering Christian Zionism in the Age of Trump",(https://merip.org/2019/08/countering-christian-zionism-in-the-age-of-trump/), accessed on January 25, 2021; See "Christian Evangelicals and U.S. Foreign Policy", (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/christian-evangelicals-and-us-foreign-policy), accessed on January 25, 2021.

[17Shalom L. Goldman, Christians and Zionism, American Jewish History, Vol. 93, No. 2, (2007), pp. 245-260.

[18See Pompeo: US no longer considers Israeli settlements illegal, (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/18/pompeo-us-no-longer-considers-israeli-settlements-illegal), accessed on January 25, 2021).

[19Hady Amr, In one move, Trump eliminated US funding for UNRWA and the US role as Mideast peacemaker, (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/09/07/in-one-move-trump-eliminated-us-funding-for-unrwa-and-the-us-role-as-mideast-peacemaker/), accessed on January 26, 2021).

[20See CUFI Welcomes Senate Confirmation of Amb. David Friedman, (https://cufi.org/issue/cufi-welcomes-senate-confirmation-of-amb-david-friedman/), accessed on January 26, 2021.

[21Quoted from Ludwig Watzal, Bannon: ‘I’m Proud To Be A Christian Zionist’ — OpEd, (https://www.eurasiareview.com/14112017-bannon-im-proud-to-be-a-christian-zionist-oped/), accessed on January 26, 2021).

[22See Outgoing Amb. Friedman honoured for “extraordinary contribution” to US-Israel ties, (https://www.cufi.org.uk/news/outgoing-amb-friedman-honoured-for-extraordinary-contribution-to-us-israel-ties/), accessed on January 26, 2021.

[23Ibid.

[24Craig Keener, Failed Trump Prophecies Offer a Lesson in Humility, (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/trump-prophets-apologize-election-prophecies-humility.html?), accessed on January 23, 2021.

[25See Evangelicals stick with Trump, see upside even if he loses, https://www.timesofisrael.com/evangelicals-stick-with-trump-see-upside-even-if-he-loses/amp/?), accessed on January 27, 2021.

[26Jim Denison, Was the Capitol riot a “Christian insurrection”? Why we must “live as though the truth were true”, (https://www.denisonforum.org/columns/daily-article/was-the-capitol-riot-a-christian-insurrection-why-we-must-live-as-though-the-truth-were-true/), accessed on January 28, 2021. & Harry Farley, Trump’s Christian supporters and the march on the Capitol, (https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-us-canada-55578096), accessed on January 28, 2021.

[27See Biden administration to restore aid to Palestinians, (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55824227), accessed on January 29, 2021.

[28Leah MarieAnn Klett, Robert Jeffress: Church must ’be prepared’ for increasing ’persecution’ under Biden, (https://www.christianpost.com/amp/jeffress-church-must-be-prepared-for-persecution-under-biden.html?), accessed on January 30, 2021.

[29See Sullivan, Blinken and Malley seek to establish new parameters for ‘escalating nuclear crisis’, (https://www.jns.org/bidens-national-security-advisor-suggests-expediated-timeline-to-rejoin-iran-nuclear-deal/), accessed on February 01, 2021.

[30Ibid.

[31See The Palestinian Authority Is Still Paying Terrorists, (https://cufi.org/issue/the-palestinian-authority-is-still-paying-terrorists-opinion/), accessed on February 02, 2021.

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