• OPINION \ Nov 04, 2003
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    Why does Jerry Falwell support Israel?
Why does Jerry Falwell support Israel? As a Palestinian Evangelical, I am like many Arab Christians who are interested in understanding why do Fundamental Evangelicals in the United States support the state of Israel . Unfortunately, the answer of this question is complex and would require extensive research. Consequently, I am limiting my research to the founder and director of ?Moral Majority? (1979-1989), Jerry Falwell, whom is considered one of the most prominent figures in Fundamentalism. For example, Merrill Simon describes him as ?a spiritual leader who touches tens of millions of Americans? . Furthermore, many Israeli Prime Ministers noted his strong influence on American public opinion and sought to meet him. Thus, I believe that this study in not without merit. Indeed, I hope that studying Falwell?s influence will bring us one step closer to understanding the rationale behind supporting the state of Israel in Fundamental circles in the 1980s. I limited my research by focusing on one leader and by focusing it on one decade (1979-1989), from the founding of ?Moral Majority? to its dissolve on June 11, 1989 . This does not mean ignoring the socio-political, theological, and historical factors in previous decades. Instead, it means utilizing our understanding from previous times to clarify the reasons behind Falwell?s support of the state of Israel and to observe the perpetuation of certain pertinent Israelological beliefs .

Focusing on Rev. Falwell is based on several reasons:

1) he is an active well known Fundamentalist
2) he is consciously involved in influencing the American public opinion
3) he combines between politics and religion
4) his efforts are recognized and appreciated by the state of Israel.

These points will be seen in the following paragraphs where I am placing Falwell in his historical context in order to represent him fairly. The data is presented in chronological order.

Falwell?s Background and Context

Falwell is a Baptist Minister from Lynchburg-Virginia. He was born on August 11, 1933 in a troubled family. His father killed his uncle who was the troublemaker of Lynchburg. This incident shaped the future of his father and the rest of the family. Although, the court declared his father ?not guilty?, this proclamation did not change his father?s lifestyle. Instead, he became alcoholic and suffered until his deathbed conversion. At that time Jerry was only fifteen years old; however, the memory of his father will continue to shape his life for a long time.

On January 20, 1952 Jerry became a follower of Christ at Park Avenue Baptist Church. The youth pastor of the church, Jack Dinsbeer, trained him and encouraged him to become a full time minister. As a result, he went to Baptist Bible College in Springfield-Missouri and earned his B.A. Soon after his graduation, he became the pastor of 35 members who left Park Avenue Baptist Church. Later, this church of dissenters became one of the biggest Baptist Churches in the world and it has now more than 22000 people . Clearly, Thomas Road Baptist Church is the core of his ministry and the spiritual mother of many other ministries, such as, the radio and television Old Time Gospel Hour, and Liberty University.

On January 23, 1973 Jerry was extremely disturbed by the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion. This issue was the first spark that convinced him of the importance of engaging culture and influencing the American public opinion. In 1979, his efforts gave birth to the first board of directors of the Moral Majority. The board included four Baptist pastors and one Presbyterian . They were pro-life, pro-traditional family, pro-moral, and pro-American which, in their mind, meant being pro-national defense and pro-Israel . And they hoped to promote their goals by establishing a big voting block. They wanted ?to politicize and unify the frustrated and fragmented conservative, fundamentalist religious community and mold it into a political voting block? .

In 1979, Israel gave Falwell a Lear Jet (a private airplane) and in 1981 he received the Jabotinsky Award in New York . This award is named after Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), a Jewish militant Zionist from Russia, the founder of so-called Revisionist Zionism, who advocated a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. In 1981, Menachem Begin Prime Minister of Israel called Falwell asking for his support after the Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear facility. These few incidents reveal how the state of Israel appreciated the support of Jerry Falwell and it uncovers his importance in their eyes. Indeed Falwell is a significant Fundamentalist who supports Israel. But why does he support the state of Israel? Falwell answers this question by stating three main reasons: humanitarian, political, and theological .

Falwell?s Reasons for Supporting Israel

First, Falwell supports the state Israel for humanitarian reasons. Like many Americans, Falwell feels a commitment towards the Jews and thus towards the state of Israel. He believes that supporting Israel is the antidote of anti-Semitism.

Second, Falwell supports the state of Israel for socio-political reasons.

He believes that America must stay righteous and resist the spirit of humanism which prevents Fundamentalists from sharing it beliefs freely. Also, America must stay strong so that Fundamentalists will continue to send missionaries around the world. In short, Falwell?s Moral Majority sought a spiritual revival and a political renewal at the same time. Falwell expressed his views of Israel by saying that the state of Israel and the United States are connected politically at several levels:

A) Both parties have a similar democratic ideology. They are unlike Arabs who refuse the American way of life and promote a totalitarian system seeking to regain lost territories and to aggrandize new ones.
B) Supporting Israel is the antidote of anti-Semitism.
C) Israel is a stumbling block against the Soviet Union dominion. Many Fundamentalist writings in the 1980s expressed their fears from the spread of communism and of the power of the Soviet Union who possess nuclear powers. They believed that according to scriptures, the Soviet Union is going to dominate the world and possibly destroy America. The Soviets will control the oil of the Middle East and attack Israel, America?s alley. However, God will interfere to protect Israel and thus through the latter America?s hope of destroying the enemy (USSR) will be accomplished. But now, Israel needs America?s help and must be protected.

Third, Falwell supports the state of Israel for theological reasons. In 1982, in an article edited by Falwell, John Feinberg who was the chairman of the Department of Theological Studies at Liberty Baptist Seminary explained why Christians should support Israel. In four points he presents a typical theology of premillennial pretribulational coming of Christ with the full blessing of Falwell who subscribes to the same school of thought.

A) There are two peoples of God, Israel and the Church, or the national and the spiritual respectively. God distinguished the former with ?socio-politico-economic blessings?.

B) God?s Abrahamic covenant with national Israel is unconditional. Unconditionally and without limiting receiving the divine promise by Israel?s obedience, the Lord promised her all of historic Palestine as well as other portions of the Middle East. ?Biblically, prophetically, and ultimately, the ?land? will include that area promised to Abraham in Genesis 15: 18?.

C) Prophetically, there are several things that are stored for Israel:
- in unbelief, they will return to the land before the tribulation and reveal God?s providence in ?the miracle of statehood?.
- Israel will have a government and make a seven year covenant with the Beast.
- Israel will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and will offer animal sacrifices.
- Israel will go through unparalleled persecution.
- At Armageddon God will deliver national Israel from political persecution and lead her to Christ.
- Christ will initiate the Millennium Kingdom where Israel will live in peace.

D) In view of the previous discussion, Christians should spread this pertinent theology, fight anti-Semitism, pray for the state of Israel, and actively support its divine rights to all her promised land. Falwell adds that God?s blessings and curses on nations depend on their relationship with national Israel. He highlights the importance of Israel?s statehood and considers it the most important event in history since the Ascension of Christ. And based on KJV of Genesis 12: 3, ?I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee?, Falwell concludes that America unconditionally and ?without hesitation? should give ?total financial and military support to the State of Israel?. He adds saying that to ?stand against Israel is to stand against God

Industrialism and Nationalism in the United States pushed towards bigger social units bringing together different cultures and religious perspectives and thus leading to the private/public distinction in order to keep the peace and maintain this heterogeneous structure. Consequently, religion became a private matter, however, Falwell who rightly insisted that religion should shape the public opinion rejected excluding the influence of religion and insisted that abandoning it will lead to the destruction of our societies. He emphasized literalism, traditional values, and right behavior or orthopraxy over orthodoxy. And he resisted privatizing God insisting on God?s activity in our world and proclaiming the importance of connecting this divine activity to America?s national identity. Moreover, Falwell believes that God is active in the world today whether through blessing societies or through bringing his wrath on them. His wrath is seen in pestilences, diseases, earthquakes, and many other medical and natural problems, while his blessing is seen in supernatural divine actions and in providence especially the establishment of the state of Israel. In other words, for Falwell, eschatology is a major indicator of God?s existence and activity in the 20th and the 21st centuries. Furthermore, the national identity must reflect God?s existence, activity, and moral standards. And in order to accomplish this goal, Falwell insisted on drawing the law from the sacred text.

This sacred text, in Falwell?s mind, justifies giving the Holy Land to Israel. Unfortunately, by moving in this direction, Falwell have missed few important things and consequently have harmed the cause of Christ especially in the Middle East. In the following few paragraphs, my intention is not to attack Falwell but to point out few significant dangers in his approach hoping that those who subscribe to his school of thought will be alarmed.

First, Falwell?s approach consciously overlooks the injustices against Palestinians whether in 1948 or throughout the history of the state of Israel. Falwell calls the establishment of the state of Israel the ?miracle of Statehood? while Palestinians call it (al-nakba), the catastrophe. Mitri El Raheb describes this event stating that as a result of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, four hundred eighteen (418) Palestinian towns or villages were completely destroyed. He elaborates explaining that many Palestinian children were killed; many lost their properties and became homeless. More than 712,000 Palestinians lost their homes and became refugees. They lived in very harsh conditions after being kicked out of their own houses. Fortunately, the National Council of Churches and other humanitarian organizations were sympathetic to these Palestinians who were deprived of their basic human rights. Unfortunately, the Israeli oppression against Palestinians continues to this day. Palestinians became the victims of victims, and those who were persecuted by anti-Semitic movements put millions of them under military law for decades and continue to confiscate their lands and suppress them until. Ironically, in order to control Palestinians the Israeli government follows strategies similar to the ones practiced under anti-Semitic regimes. For example, in order to identify Palestinians quickly, the state of Israel assigned certain colors to their license-car plates and to their I.D. cards. In short, Falwell failed and continues to fail in hearing the cries of the oppressed Palestinians because he is overemphasizing the needs of the oppressor.

In 1998, several Evangelical Palestinian pastors and leaders tried lovingly to point out to Falwell his unjust pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian stance. They said, ?We, your brothers and sisters in Christ, prayerfully and in the spirit of love, appeal to you to reexamine your positions regarding Israeli policies in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.?

However, Falwell did not respond. Furthermore, in a personal conversation with Dr. Bishara Awad, president of Bethlehem Bible College, he informed me that he and other evangelical Palestinian leaders have invited Dr. Falwell to come and see the Palestinian situation for himself. They invited him to be their guest. Sadly, according to Bishara, Falwell did not respond.

Second Falwell?s approach overlooks divine agape love concerning the inhabitants of the Middle East. His biblical understanding marginalizes the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians along with many others in the Middle East, and makes the destiny of the Jews worse than the holocaust. In other words, Falwell?s approach sacrifices the enthusiasm of evangelizing the Middle East and sharing with them God?s love; instead he promotes an eschatological massacre. Dropping divine love from his politico-religious agenda leads him to dogmatism and to parochial interpretations of the Bible.

Last, there are many inconsistencies in Falwell?s theological position whether his understanding of the identity of Israel, the land, or the church. He overlooks the diachronic development of the word Israel and instead adopts a synchronic definition. Consequently, he wrongly equates Israel to the state of Israel. He also overlooks several important biblical texts that explain the theological aspects of the land; instead he limits himself to the territorial aspect of the land, and to territorial and temporal eschatology where righteousness, justice, mercy, and love are less central than eschatological plans and agendas. Finally and sadly, Falwell overlooks his brothers and sisters in Christ who are Palestinians. For him, to stand against Israel is to stand against God but for us to overlook sin and promote injustices is to stand against God.
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