It's a topic that comes up every now and then when mainstream reporters try to figure out the foreign policy implications of all of those bizarre evangelical beliefs about Israel and the end of the world. The assumption -- the journalistic template -- seems to be that there is this giant voting bloc out there in red-zip-code land made up of premillennial dispensationalists who can't wait for Israel to triumph, knock down the Dome of the Rock, rebuild the Jewish Temple and, thus, clear up all the messy final details that are slowing down the Second Coming of Jesus and the theological and literal shock and awe that they believe will go along with that.
Israeli leaders are always said to have mixed feelings about this Christian Zionist crowd, but, hey, it's good for politics and tourism.
This brings us to that New York Times story with the headline "For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is 'God's Foreign Policy'" by David D. Kirkpatrick, a reporter this blog praises more often than not.
The hook for this article, which seems to have been in the works for quite some time, is the outpouring of evangelical support for Israel linked to its showdown with Hezbollah and, thus, with the looming shadow of Iran. A key figure in this is the Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio, which leads us to this summary:
Many conservative Christians say they believe that the president's support for Israel fulfills a biblical injunction to protect the Jewish state, which some of them think will play a pivotal role in the second coming. Many on the left, in turn, fear that such theology may influence decisions the administration makes toward Israel and the Middle East.
Administration officials say that the meeting with Mr. Hagee was a courtesy for a political ally and that evangelical theology has no effect on policy making. But the alliance of Israel, its evangelical Christian supporters and President Bush has never been closer or more potent. In the wake of the summer war in southern Lebanon, reports that Hezbollah's sponsor, Iran, may be pushing for nuclear weapons have galvanized conservative Christian support for Israel into a political force that will be hard to ignore.
For one thing, white evangelicals make up about a quarter of the electorate. Whatever strains may be creeping into the Israeli-American alliance over Iraq, the Palestinians and Iran, a large part of the Republican Party's base remains committed to a fiercely pro-Israel agenda that seems likely to have an effect on policy choices.
Mr. Hagee says his message for the White House was, "Every time there has been a fight like this over the last 50 years, the State Department would send someone over in a jet to call for a cease-fire. The terrorists would rest, rearm and retaliate." He added, "Appeasement has never helped the Jewish people."
Now it seems that the Left Behind Right has locked its sights on a new Antichrist figure -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are all of the usual reasons for this paranoia, such as Holocaust denial and visions of large clouds over Israel. Kirkpatrick does a fine job covering that in as little space as possible.
It seems that Ahmadinejad was the hot topic for many discussions at the recent "Night to Honor Israel" at Hagee's San Antonio megachurch. However, we are not told much about what these evangelicals had to say about the president of Iran.
What topics did the 5,000 or so pastors and activists discuss? A few specifics would have been nice.
For example, I predict that one of the hot topics -- not mentioned at all in the Times piece -- was the following passage from that high-profile speech that Ahmadinejad made at the United Nations. When reading these words, please remember that the subject of this news feature is a complicated set of beliefs held by some -- repeat, some -- evangelical Christians about the Second Coming of Jesus and the impact that their beliefs may or may not have on American foreign policy.
In words avoided by most American news outlets, Ahmadinejad said the following as he neared the end of his message to the world:
"I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet.
"O, Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause."
Like I said, I think the odds are good that this open call for the apocalyptic return of the Twelfth Imam in all of his victorious glory was one reason that Hagee and his pastor allies were buzzing about Iran and Ahmadinejad's quest for nuclear weapons.
It's possible. It might have been a good topic to discuss in the article. You think?