Saturday, November 2, 2013

Evangelicals and the World Abroad

Dear friends, brothers and sisters in Christ,

Bear with me as I relay three personal stories from the last month that have been weighing on my heart.

Story 1: I'm on the plane to Cairo early last month.  I strike up a conversation with the friendly Egyptian Muslim man next to me.  He tells me about his family and his fears for his culture and his country.  I tell him about my previous visit to Egypt and my love for his country.  He speaks perfect English.  He pretends to be impressed by my Arabic.  At some point, I tell him that I'm an evangelical Christian.  He reacts with surprise, and keeps prodding me about my beliefs.  Finally, he tells me about his one other encounter with an evangelical: he was traveling in the U.S. on business during Israel's war with Gaza in 2008-2009, in which 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of women and children, were killed. 

Needless to say, he wasn't a fan of the war.  But the evangelical businessman he met was.  And why was that?

Because, the man told my friend, it means Jesus is coming back sooner.

I apologize, and try to explain that not all evangelicals are like that.  I'm not like that.  My pastor's not like that.  Some of us, I tell him, are moderates.

Story 2: I'm in Nairobi, Kenya, where evangelical and pentecostal Christianity are thriving.  I'm flipping channels in my hotel room, and come across John Hagee preaching a sermon on "The Four Blood Moons of the Apocalypse" or something or other.  Knowing that Hagee is one of the most powerful American Christian leaders, commanding, among other things, a pro-Israel organization with 13 million members, I decide to watch.

In this particular segment, he is preaching on Ezekiel 38-39, a prophecy of a coming war between Israel and a collection of nations led by an unspecified northern power, a war that will end with the divine destruction of the attacking nations.  Ezekiel identifies the nations in this prophecy as Gog, Meshek, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, and Gomer.  John Hagee says that this war is coming within the next two years - because blood moons! (I didn't understand that part) - and he helpfully tells us which nations these are.

Gog, Meshek and Tubal are identifiers for Russia, he says.  Persia is Iran.  Put is Libya.  Cush, Hagee says, is "Ethiopia and all the other Arab Spring countries." Confused because Ethiopia is a Christian African country, not an Arab Muslim one, and that the principle Arab Spring countries, Egypt and Syria, don't get a spot on the list?  Don't be, because we're already moving on.

Gomer, John Hagee says, is Germany.  Yes, Germany.  Germany is going to attack Israel next year, and God will totally wipe it out in response.  Why?  Because Germany killed the Jews in the Holocaust, and - this is what he said - "God doesn't forgive sins that you don't confess."

Thus, in the space of about three sentences, one of the most famous American Christian leaders condemns Germany - a country of 80 million people, 50 million of whom call themselves Christians, the home of Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Beethoven  - to total destruction.

This brings a few questions to mind: Hasn't Germany confessed to the Holocaust?  Haven't they made reparations to the Jews?  Does God punish children for the sins of their grandparents and great-grandparents (cf Ezekiel 18)?  Could total genocide be the punishment of a just God for attempted genocide?  Does God have plans to avenge other "unconfessed" genocides in this manner - say, the United States' genocide of Native Americans?  Does Pastor Hagee actually know any Germans?  Has he run this theory past them?  Has he thought about trying to warn the Germans of their impending doom (cf Jonah)?  Can we hear from Pastor Hagee on any of this?

Nope, because Germany's 30 allotted seconds in Hagee's sermon have passed, without any indication that Hagee or anyone in his audience spent more than 30 seconds thinking about it, and now we're talking about the outrage of Obama's Benghazi coverup.

Story 3: Famed American Christian author Joel Rosenberg has a new book out, Damascus Countdown, and it's climbing the bestseller lists.  SPOILERS AHEAD: The book ends with Damascus getting destroyed in a nuclear attack in a war between Israel and Iran, thus fulfilling Isaiah 17.  On Rosenberg's website, it is advertised with the tagline, "Is it a novel or today's headlines?"

Well, in point of fact, today's headlines will tell you that Damascus and Syria are being torn apart, not by nuclear weapons, but by a vicious government and an equally-vicious rebel movement being extensively funded, armed and supported by the U.S. government and its allies.  Syrian Christians are being systematically driven out of areas where the rebels have taken control.  One might think that the destruction of Syrian Christians at the hands of the American government would be of interest to American Christians, as opposed to thinly-disguised fantasies about cities full of brown people getting nuked.

Judging by the bestseller lists, one would be wrong.

Let me reassure you: the common theme I see in these three totally true stories is not "evangelicals are stupid" or "evangelicals are racist" or "I, Joel Veldkamp, American evangelical, am smarter than other evangelicals." (God forbid.)

This is the theme I see: A large swathe of evangelical Christianity in America seems unaware that other countries are real.

Intellectually, of course, we know that other countries are real.  But our truly-felt beliefs are reflected in our words and actions.  And judging by the popularity of John Hagee, Joel Rosenberg, and the State of Israel among evangelicals, for far too many of us, foreign countries exist only as props in our dreams about the Rapture. That has to change.

Let me leave it at this: if you wouldn't be comfortable explaining your hope for the last days to a German person, a Palestinian person, an Iranian person, a Syrian person, or an Ethiopian person, you're doing it wrong.


  1. Preach it, brother. Many have fallen, sweet and well-intentioned people I'm sure, for that bizarre eschatology because they buy so willingly the whole "evangelical" worldview, believing it to be the Truth. Thanks!

  2. Yes, please keep highlighting this! Because even worse than John Hagee or Joel Rosenberg preaching this kind of eschatology is the fact they're passing it along to Arab pastors who are being trained in western seminaries that ascribe to this apocalyptic worldview. I heard one of these pastors (a Syrian who now lives in Jordan) today. It wasn't quite as bad as Hagee and Rosenberg, but I was still somewhat speechless. As we both well know, Arab Christians (and particularly Syrian Christians right now) have enough to deal with without some from their number throwing terrible theology into the mix.