Mutual Back-Scratching

Jennifer J. Schwirzer July/August 2005

But heading home after church might yield a starkly different type of show, which could lead the uninformed to check the radio dial to make sure they were still listening to Christian radio. For instance, one might hear the sharp rhetoric of Laura Ingraham, a conservative talk radio personality whose show "drives the liberals nuts."

More and more Christian radio stations are segueing into the secular arena by airing shows that are patently political. More and more, the fuzzying of the line between radio religion and politics leads listeners to assume that Christianity and Far Right political conservatism are peas in a pod.

One of the more striking examples of this trend is the presence of Michael Medved, also featured on KSKY. Medved, who might be called a media moralist, lambastes Hollywood for its contribution to the moral vacuum of popular culture. In 1992, his Hollywood vs. America was published, prompting perturbed members of the entertainment establishment to denounce him as a "fundamentalist Christian fanatic." The problem with this label is that Michael Medved happens to espouse the Jewish faith.

Medved joins a host of Jewish radio personalities in an ever-growing public alliance between conservative Jews and Evangelicals. The tsk-tsking Dr. Laura Schlessinger has been praised and promoted on James Dobson's Focus on the Family for her advocacy of commandment keeping. Dobson has also aired Rabbi Daniel Lapin's take on the "culture war and the fate of America." While many Christian radio stations devote all their airtime to the proclamation of the gospel, increasing numbers are giving the microphone to politicians and policymakers, some of them Jewish.

Does this growing friendship flourish out of the moral commonality of Judaism and Christianity? Not likely, since the Judeo-Christian ethic was in place in the early part of the twentieth century when right-wing Christianity was rife with anti-Semitism. Author William Martin says of that era, "Because Jews were explicitly not Christians, they could be depicted as enemies of Christianity, and, since being a Christian was virtually synonymous with being 100-percent American, it was difficult to regard them as fully American."

Because of the substantial Jewish presence in the morally corrupt entertainment industry, and because they were generally antiprohibition and pro labor unions, they were seen as part of the bane of modernism that was sweeping Western culture. Prominent Fundamentalists disseminated their anti-Semitism quite proudly. For instance, Gerald Winrod, founder of Defenders of the Faith, toured the country decrying biblical criticism, evolution, the Social Gospel, alcohol, and modernism. In 1934 he emerged as a full-fledged anti-Semite, blaming Jews for the Depression and praising Hitler's efforts "to defy Jewish occultism, communism, and finance."

Most likely, increasingly frequent and passionate public displays of Christian-Jewish affection among radio celebrities are but the fruit of an intertwining of grass roots in a movement called "Christian Zionism." This movement is most recently traceable to the 1970 release of Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, which has sold over 35 million copies and was cited by the New York Times as being the best-selling nonfiction book of the decade. Advancing an eschatology called pre-millenial dispensationalism, this book popularized the view that modern Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. An example of the many passages applied is found in the writings of Amos the prophet: "I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel. . . .I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God" (Amos 9:14, 15, NRSV).* No doubt Lindsy was fueled by the Six Day War in 1967-in which Israel captured all of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. These events galvanized premillenialists to believe that the last days had begun.

Premillennialism's most popularized feature is the rapture theory, which conveniently depicts Christians escaping the coming global meltdown referred to as "Armageddon." The expected events are as follows: Before the millennium of peace comes to earth, the Jews will return to, and completely possess, their homeland. A great tribulation will follow, and Christians will escape the carnage of Armageddon because God has promised to snatch them away in the rapture. During the time of tribulation, Jews will have an opportunity to accept the Messiah and receive deliverance. Those who do not will be destroyed with the rest of the impenitent.

With the 1995 release of Tim La Haye and Jerry B. Jenkins' Left Behind novel, the rapture theory went gangbusters, infusing its end-time scenario into the collective consciousness of the masses. The series has sold in excess of 55 million copies and is considered some of the best-selling fiction of our time.

If Jewish possession of the homeland is a precursor to the awaited rapture, what self-respecting premillennialist wouldn't do all they could to assist the cause of Zionism? The result of this impetus is Christian Zionism, a movement among Evangelicals that specializes in assisting Jews financially and spiritually in returning to, and taking full possession of, the land of Palestine.

The ante of the cause has been upped in recent years. It's true that the alliance of Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby dipped during the Clinton administration because of the Oslo peace accords, which called for reductions in the expansion Jewish settlements and asked Israel to withdraw from a significant portion of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. But when in 1996 the conservative Likud Party's Benyamin Netanyahu became prime minister, a new era began. He invited 17 prominent U.S. Fundamentalists to tour the Holy Land. While there, they forged a collective statement that included a blanket rejection of any attempt to pressure Israel to abandon the settlements. This group envisioned a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty rather than a Jerusalem shared by Palestinians and Israelis.

Since then, a plethora of organizations have supported the settlements with their prayers, their votes, and their dollars. Jews for Jesus, Bridges for Peace, Ebenezer Trust and Exobus are a few of the more than 200 evangelical groups in the U.S. and Canada that are tied to Christian Zionism. These groups infuse the Christian world with their ideas and political strategies through tours to Israel, prophecy conferences, films, books, magazines, Web sites, and videos. Religious/political rallies electrify the devotees, who receive affirmation from a rainbow of well-connected officials such as House of Representatives majority whip Tom DeLay, the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, and the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

The latter was interviewed on 60 Minutes in October 2003, several months after the Israeli attack of the West Bank city of Jenin. Bush appealed to Sharon to withdraw from Jenin, but the pro-Israel lobby and the Christian Right saw things differently. They immediately mobilized their masses to barrage the White House with more than 100,000 e-mail messages, calls, and visits urging the president to allow Israel to defend itself. Bush grew suddenly silent toward Israel, and the activists considered it a signal victory. Referring to this incident, Jerry Falwell told the nation, "I think now we can count on President Bush to do the right thing for Israel every time."

When a religious figure speaks-however obliquely-of puppeting a president, advocates of religious liberty must stand up and take notice.

Just how much muscle do Christian Zionists have in Washington? First consider their numbers. Mainstream Evangelicals number about 100 million, but only about 25 percent of them-about 25 million-could be called "Fundamentalist" or "dispensationalist" and could thus be included in the Christian Zionist movement. Yet September 11 triggered an explosion in Fundamentalist Christian support of Israel. A growing sentimental/religious bond with Jews founded on dispensationalist interpretations of prophecy, mingled with a fear of Islamic terrorism, produced a growth spurt that defies calculation.

In considering the strength of this movement, we must also factor in its high profile. Consider the fact that almost 90 percent of religious radio and television in the U.S. is dominated by the Far Right of Christendom, and thus favors a Christian Zionist orientation. Gifted communicators and lovable personalities combine their talents to draw sharp lines in the sand. Eloquent Christian talk show host Janet Parshall says that support for Israel is a litmus test for those who claim to be America's Moral Majority.

And we mustn't forget the "golden rule" that gold rules in determining the strength of a platform. Perhaps not so much the wealth of its constituents, but the fervency and utter devotion of Christian Zionists make for the movement's financial strength. The hope of hastening the coming rapture and ensuring their own deliverance no doubt motivates dispensationalists to dig deep into their pockets. When in 1997 an organization called the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews conducted a campaign to raise funds for resettling Soviet Jews, a single church-John Hagee's Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas-donated $1 million.

But not all Evangelicals share John Hagee's enthusiasm. Reformed theologian Donald E. Wagner believes that there are underlying contradictions. When Israelis are justified in violence against Palestinians, he says, they are encouraged in the breaking of their own Torah. He questions the apparent na
Article Author: Jennifer J. Schwirzer