Why Gay Marriage—Not AIPAC—May Determine Whether Bibi Bombs Iran
Supporting Israel requires American evangelical Christians to square their theological beliefs with the modern Jewish state. Can they?
This is hardly the first time that Christian Zionism has sat on the fault line dividing American Protestants. In the early part of the 20th century, Darwinism was the main issue, but Zionism was also part of the debate—because of how the idea reflected differing concepts of America and its place in the world. Many progressive Protestants believed the Great War had shown that nationalism was the scourge of modern history, a lesson further underscored by WWII when ideologies based on blood and land slaughtered millions in Europe. Any form of nationalism—even a nationalism advocated by those who suffered most dearly in Europe—was a retrograde force to be resisted at all costs. Evangelical support for a Jewish homeland was also founded on a fundamentalist reading of scripture—which, from the perspective of the modernists, was the same sort of ill-conceived hermeneutic that had led evangelicals to back the wrong side in the Scopes decision.
The upshot of the American Protestant civil war was that the fundamentalists, who sided with William Jennings Bryan, came off as the big losers. Not only did the Scopes trial show them to be ill-educated boobs who were ridiculed by H.L. Mencken, their support of Zionism also showed them to be bad Christians. From this perspective, God calls his servants to transcend nations and national interests and embrace all mankind in a grand ecumenism. Zionism, on the other hand, was a particularist doctrine, about one nation, the Jews. Today we’re seeing the same sort of debate hashed out among Evangelicals around the issue of gay marriage.
The apparent irony of course is that Israel is one of the most gay-friendly countries in all the world. Indeed, just last week one Israeli faction introduced a law legalizing civil marriage that would extend to same-sex couples. However, just like every other aspect of Israel’s free society—from its free-market economy, free press, equal rights for women and minorities—that might be expected to win admiration from Western progressives, Israel’s actual record on gay rights and gay marriage is unlikely to affect the debate between American evangelicals. That’s because the argument has nothing to do with Israel, but rather with Israel as a symbol within the context of inter-American debates about what this country should look like—as is the case with almost every other American debate concerning the Jewish state, from the very beginning of American debates about the ingathering of the Jews.
If there’s one upside to the recent rift between evangelicals it’s that American support for Israel has less to do with what Christians, evangelical or otherwise, think about Israel than what Americans do. The men and women who founded this country drew their inspiration from the examples of the determined men and women who populate the Old Testament. In turn, Israel came to model itself in part after America’s adventurous and pioneering ethos. The kinship between the two countries transcends governments and even God; it is an inextricable part of the cultural DNA, individually and together, of both nations.
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Yuval Steinitz, a philosopher-turned-politician and former peace activist, is Netanyahu’s point person on Iran