The 14 May 2018 marks an historical moment for Evangelical Christian Americans (timesofisrael). It’s the day the U.S. president’s representatives officially opened a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem signifying the ancient city is the capital of Israel (whitehouse; on Youtube).
The media posts spread as soon as photos from the event appeared online. Here’s one example from Franklin Graham whose post garnered 61K reactions, 13,374 shares, and 1,673 comments in 13 hours.
Christians have not always seen eye-to-eye with Jews as any student of history knows. In fact, even amongst American evangelicals there’s divided opinion about Jews and their faith. For example, a Baptist pastor from Dallas Texas, Robert Jeffress, was quoted as saying that Jews “can’t be saved.” Despite his history, Jeffress pronounced the blessing at the opening ceremony (read more at CNN). Jeffress defended his remarks on twitter declaring that salvation is through Christ.
As in past crusades, the “entry” into Jerusalem was accompanied by violence (BBC). It was 1095 when Emperor Alexius I asked Pope Urban II to send troops. In November, the Pope called on Christians to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims. The first crusade began the next year, 1096, and continued until 1099. Several groups of Christians headed to Jerusalem. One army led by Count Emicho massacred Jews in the Rhineland (History). Eventually, the Crusaders wrested control of Jerusalem from the Egyptian Fatimids in mid-July, 1099. Additional crusades occurred over the next centuries with the last one ending in the year 1271.
Fast forward to the present (or at least recent times). Last year, 2017, marked the entry of Field Marshal Edmund Allenby into Jerusalem during World War I. The Ottoman Turks, who controlled Jerusalem at the time, surrendered to the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force on 9 December, 2017. Descendants of Allenby were present at the 100th anniversary celebration (TimesofIsrael).
The British ended their rule over Palestine in 1948. The United Nations partitioned the area into Jewish and Arab states. The modern State of Israel was proclaimed 14 May, 1948 by David Ben-Gurion. During the years 1917 to 1948, many discussions were held about the future of the area controlled by the British. Jews from Europe flooded the territory--including holocaust survivors. Arab-Jewish relations were tense. British and American leaders made commitments to Jews and Arabs. The control of the city of Jerusalem was a particular problem for those seeking to keep the city open to all interested parties (US Dept of State).
Now, 70 years after Israel became a modern State, and after decades of conflict and attempts to negotiate peace, the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as its capital by opening its embassy there. Not surprisingly, there is violence (JPost 2018).
Christians: Belief and Behavior
The history of Israel and the history of the three major world religions tied to Jerusalem are complex narratives with many opinions about what events took place and how such events led to the present state of tension. Currently, American evangelical Christians view the events in Jerusalem as evidence that ancient prophecies are coming true.
According to Pew Research (2013), 82% of white evangelicals believed God gave the land of Israel to Jews. In contrast, only 40% of American Jews believed their land was God-given. The general American sample was more divided with 44% saying “yes” to the belief. Interestingly, Christians who live in Israel only share the belief at a rate of 19% (see also CT,2016).
Marking the occasion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quoted an evangelical favorite verse from Zechariah 8:3: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” (NIV)
Another belief relevant to the celebration centers on Jesus. Lifeway research (2018) reported that about half of American evangelicals believe most Jews will accept Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah. The study also found that 28% of the sample believed Christians have replaced the Jews in God’s plan for the redemption of humanity.
PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION
It is not surprising to find that beliefs drive behavior or that deeply held religious convictions can motivate people to take action. The events in Jerusalem provide a highly potent example of the power of religious beliefs to influence behavior over thousands of years.
The potential for peace and violence linked to variations in religious belief-behavior connections indicate the importance of religious studies for all leaders. The contributions of Psychology of Religion studies should be added to studies of Theologies, Sociology, and Anthropology to understand the complexities of the present and predict behavior patterns in the near future.
Some observations--some of course are obvious but perhaps worth reconsidering:
Religious beliefs can influence the behavior of government leaders.
Evangelical Christian beliefs influence some of the behavior of the American President.
Religious beliefs can be linked to current acts promoting peace and violence and many other acts.
Interpretations of sacred texts from thousands of years ago are linked to contemporary beliefs and behaviors.
What happens in Jerusalem does not stay in Jerusalem.
Jesus’ sayings become different beliefs and different belief-behavior connections for different Christian Cultures.
Christians are A House Divided when it comes to many aspects of right conduct.
Scriptures, national leaders, and religious leaders are mostly men in 2018. What might be different if women were the interpretes of texts or leaders of nations and religious groups?
People become emotionally invested in their beliefs, especially when events seem to confirm their beliefs. So, even if things do not go well after this celebration, the principle of sunk costs predicts that narratives will emerge to support the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem as the right move.
A good time for the faithful to…
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” (Psalm 122:6, NIV).
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