Grace Halsell, Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1986).
While there is nothing particularly new about Christian fascination with the Biblical “holy land,” Grace Halsell provides an important contemporary portrayal of the means by which this has been molded to enhance the political legitimacy of modern Israel. She documents the growth of a “cult of Israel” among the ranks of “born-again” Christians in the United States.
This phenomenon contrasts sharply with the position of the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches whose official denominational statements, especially since the 1967 war, have kept their distance from what they see as a militant, expansionist Israel. For some US Christians, though, the Israeli capture of Jerusalem 20 years ago was a portent of the “end times” which would include a final earthly destruction just before the second coming of Christ and the establishment of a new kingdom based in Jerusalem. For Israeli political planners, the psychology of religion took on serious strategic import.
Prophecy and Politics provides valuable insight into how twentieth-century Israel is woven into the hearts and minds of some born-again Christians. Halsell conducts disquieting interviews with her fellow travelers on a holy land tour arranged by televangelist Jerry Falwell in cooperation with the Israeli government. She speaks with Clyde, a retired US fundamentalist Christian and an adherent of “dispensationalist” theology. “You read in Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39, it describes a nuclear war, saying there will be ‘torrential rains and hailstone, fire and brimstone, and great shaking of land,’” he says. “Ezekiel could scarcely have been referring to anything other than an exchange of tactical nuclear weapons.”
Then there is the wife of a California business executive, Bobi Hromas. Back in Washington, DC, she maintains a home within eyesight of the Israeli embassy in order to provide a prayer chapel for Christians, many of them high-ranking US government officials. She holds prayer vigils for the “redemption of Israel,” i.e., Jewish sovereignty of all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates.
Individuals like Clyde and Hromas form a second flank of gentile Zionism that dovetails with traditional Israel support circles in the United States. Prophecy and Politics provides a glimpse of those religious broadcasters who daily fill the airwaves with an unchallenged Armageddon theology, in which Israel is the site for the final battle between the forces of good and evil. “We can do nothing to prevent nuclear war in our lifetime,” these preachers tell their audience which, according to a Nielsen survey, includes 61 million Americans. One relatively minor religious broadcaster, Kenneth Copeland, reaches 4 million households each week. “God has raised up Israel,” says the Rev. Copeland. “We’re watching Him move in behalf of Israel…. What an excellent time to support our government as it supports Israel … What an excellent time…to let God know how much you appreciate the very roots of Abraham.”
The book’s final segment tells how a Christian grassroots movement translates primordial religious expression into economic and political support for Israel. Halsell perhaps overstates her case, but she provides a vital jolt of reality when she describes what has become acceptable civic behavior in contemporary political debate shaping US policy toward Israel. There is room for argument over the exact numbers of Christian fundamentalists who actively adhere to this creed. But Halsell’s account of “militant evangelists on the road to nuclear war” exposes the lack of serious political work on this issue by many religious peace and justice groups in the US. For too long, they have been uncomfortable about committing energy and resources to press for open debate into the causes of escalating violence in the Middle East. Halsell reminds us, moreover, that when it comes to the Middle East there are plenty of sins of omission to go around, starting with academic, public affairs and religious circles.