Benjamin Netanyahu

Regarding Israel and the End Times, what is Dispensationalism? What is the rapture?

Regarding Israel and the End Times, what is Dispensationalism? What is the rapture?

THE QUESTION:

Regarding Israel and Bible prophecies about the End Times, what are the meanings of such terms as Dispensationalism, the rapture, premillennialism, the great tribulation,  pre-tribulationism and Armageddon?

THE GUY’S ANSWER:

A March 31 New York Times article on how religion may influence U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s approach toward Israel had this headline: “The Rapture and the Real World: Pompeo Mixes Beliefs and Policy.”

One key point was that the then-Congressman told a religious audience in 2015 that humanity faces “a never-ending struggle” until “the rapture.” Yes, think “Left Behind” books and movies.

The move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, and U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights, were thought to boost both President Donald Trump’s evangelical support and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s April 9 election prospects. Analyzing those decisions, the Times explained that “white evangelicals,” Pompeo included, believe “God promised the land to the Jews, and that the gathering of Jews in Israel is foretold in the prophecy of the rapture — the ascent of Christians into the kingdom of God.”

The Times wording was truthy but confusing, and the standard rapture belief is not taught by evangelicalism as a whole — but only one segment. Also, the “white evangelical” reference is strange, since this doctrine can be found in quite a few different kinds of evangelical sanctuaries.

So let’s unpack some elements of these complex matters.

Secretary Pompeo is a member of the Michigan-based Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a small body (89,190 members, 207 congregations) that forsook the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1981. It upholds the Westminster Confession and catechisms proclaimed by British clergy and politicians assembled by Parliament in the mid-17th Century. Churches that follow such Reformation-era credos affirm Jesus’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment, but not the modern rapture belief formulated two centuries later.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Secretary of State Pompeo's invitation-only briefing with 'faith-based media' causes a stir

Secretary of State Pompeo's invitation-only briefing with 'faith-based media' causes a stir

On Monday, I got an email inviting me to join an “on-the-record conference call” with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The message, sent to my Christian Chronicle address, indicated that Pompeo would discuss international religious freedom ahead of his trip to Jerusalem and the Middle East and take questions from call participants.

Ordinarily, I might have RSVP’d and listened to what Pompeo had to say.

But I’m still recovering (read: exhausted and taking a few days off) after my own recent travel to Israel. So I decided I’d rely on other journalists’ news coverage of the call and perhaps check out the transcript later.

Little did I know that the exclusivity of the invitation itself would make headlines.

Then today, I noticed on Twitter that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had issued a statement expressing concern about the State Department barring some journalists from the call:

On Monday, the State Department held a briefing call for only faith-based media to discuss international press freedom with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In response to inquiries from journalists who were not permitted to join the briefing, the Department declined to provide a transcript of the call, a list of media outlets who were allowed to participate or the criteria used to determine which media outlets were invited.

“The decision to bar reporters from attending a press briefing held only for ‘faith-based’ media on international religious freedom and to withhold the transcript of the discussion raises serious questions about the State Department’s understanding of — and commitment to — a free press,” said Jenn Topper, spokesperson for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Middle East images: Week in Israel gives correspondent a different perspective on news (updated)

Middle East images: Week in Israel gives correspondent a different perspective on news (updated)

The New York Times had a front-page story this week on the strong partnership between Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Times described Trump as Netanyahu’s secret weapon in his “increasingly uphill re-election battle.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Trump sees advantages in the current American debate over Israel and anti-Semitism.

I read both stories with a different perspective — and a heightened interest — after spending the past several days in Israel, my first visit ever to the Middle East.

I’m typing this post from my hotel room in Jerusalem. I’m here with a group of about a dozen U.S. religion journalists as part of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange. The project aims to give participants an enhanced understanding of issues in this part of the world and make them think about tough questions. For me, it certainly has done that!

Rather than do a normal post while I am traveling, Terry Mattingly invited me to share a bit about the trip. Honestly, I’m still processing much of what I have seen. But I’ve learned so much as we’ve traveled via helicopter and bus to visit key sites all over Israel and heard from speakers representing a variety of perspectives.

We’re still in the middle of our itinerary — with a trip to Ramallah on today’s agenda — but here, via Twitter, are a few virtual postcards:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

Soros: He's invoked from DC to Malaysia. An anti-Semitic dog whistle? Atheist straw man?

OK, readers, it’s pop quiz time. My question: What do the following political players have in common; Franklin Graham, George Soros and the Koch brothers?

Did I hear you mumble “nothing,” other than gender and the aforementioned political-player designations?

Not a bad guess. But not the answer I’m looking for at the moment.

The commonality I have in mind is that they all serve as public boogeyman — names to be tossed around to convey a suitcase of despised qualities that need not be unpacked for opponents skilled in the art of in-group rhetoric.

Those on the left tend to think of Graham and the Kochs as despicable actors poisoning the political well with hypocritical religious justifications (Graham) or by employing their vast wealth to back libertarian, hyper pro-business, anti-tax, anti-regulatory agendas (the Kochs).

Those on the right tend to view Soros as an atheist billionaire, internationalist busy-body set on destroying what they view as rightful national norms for the sake of unrealistic democratic (note that’s with a small “d”) fantasies. In America, many conservatives see him as a fierce enemy of the religious liberty side of the First Amendment.

If you paid close attention to the soul-numbing Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation fight you may know that, unlike Graham and the Kochs, Soros’ name popped up at the tail end of that scorched-earth display political bloodletting — which is why I bring him up now. (President Donald Trump, as he has before, first mentioned Soros; Sen. Chuck Grassley disparaged Soros when asked about Trump’s comment.)

But first.

My point here is not to convince you of the rightness or wrongness of Soros or the others mentioned above. Frankly, I have strong disagreements with them all. Besides, love them or hate them, I’m guessing your minds are already pretty well made up about what level of heaven or hell they’re headed for come judgement day. So what chance at changing minds do I really have anyway?

Also, they're all entitled, under current American law, to throw their weight around in accordance with their viewpoints — again, whether you or I like it or not.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Generic evangelicals working hard to build bridges between Israel and Syrians

Generic evangelicals working hard to build bridges between Israel and Syrians

As I have mentioned before, it was 20 years ago -- last weekend was Pascha, the anniversary -- that my family converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

In terms of the complex map of Orthodoxy, we became part of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, with its historic ties to Damascus. It's still based on the street called Straight (as in Acts 9:11). From 2001-2004 we were members of a West Palm Beach, Fla., congregation in which most of the families came -- one or two generations ago -- from Syria, Lebanon or Palestine. I pray every day for the protection of the church of Damascus.

Suffice it to say, the wider Mattingly family includes other people who know a whole lot about life in the modern Middle East. We will leave it at that.

If I have learned anything about that region it is this: When it comes to the Middle East, religious ties are very specific. It matters what kind of "Christians" you are talking about. It matters what branch or movement within Islam you're talking about. Secular or religious or Orthodox Jews? That matters. There's very little generic religion in the Middle East.

I bring this up because of an interesting, but in the end frustrating, USA Today report about American evangelicals -- they are not called missionaries -- who are doing some tricky work in Israel, while cooperating fully with the Israelis. The headline: "These evangelicals in Israel are on a mission to win the hearts and minds of Syrians." The overture says:

ALONG THE GOLAN HEIGHTS -- In the no-man’s land between Israel and Syria, an unlikely group of Americans toil at a makeshift clinic to care for ill and injured Syrians trapped in their country’s seven-year civil war.
For Don Tipton of Beverly Hills and his group of evangelical Christian do-gooders, their border perch is a divine mission. For the Israelis, Tipton and his group are part of a deliberate defense mission to win the hearts and minds of Syrian civilians.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Christian Zionist gathering during Sukkot takes on international tone, says The Atlantic

Christian Zionist gathering during Sukkot takes on international tone, says The Atlantic

Only religion-beat professionals used to know about the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Israel that was more Christian than Jewish and involved all sorts of odd folks waving Israeli flags on the streets of Jerusalem.

Fortunately, the Atlantic sent Emma Green to cover the 2017 version of this Sukkot festival with the angle that these days it’s not just American evangelicals populating the place -- 90 percent of the crowd is made up of internationals. And that the local Jewish population is truly OK with them being there.

From the front lines of a conference center in Jerusalem, here's what she wrote:

JERUSALEM -- The scene was like a contemporary Christian music concert, but with a lot more Jewish swag. European pilgrims wore Star of David jewelry as they swayed among the palm trees of Ein Gedi, an oasis in the Judean desert. Spanish delegates sported matching “España loves Israel” T-shirts. A tiny woman from China jogged around waving a person-sized flag bearing a Hebrew word for God, while another Chinese woman periodically blew a giant shofar, the ram’s horn that is sacred in Judaism. The crowd sang songs from the Psalms, following transliterated Hebrew on giant television screens. As night fell, their chorus of “holy, holy, worthy, worthy” seemed to fill the desert.
This was the opening ceremony for the 2017 Feast of the Tabernacles, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s annual celebration held during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. More than 6,000 Christians from all over the world had come to show their love for Israel, and I tagged along with ICEJ spokesperson David Parsons and his wife, Josepha. “It’s like a pre-celebration before Moshiach comes,” she explained, using the Hebrew word for messiah.

I remember interviewing Parsons 17 years ago when some of us came to Jerusalem in the closing days of 1999 to record what a new millennium looked like from the Mount of Olives and to write news stories about some of the crazies who thought the Second Coming was imminent.

Christian Zionism typically involves a belief that Jews must return to Israel in order to fulfill biblical prophecy. While the movement long predates the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, it got new energy from the American religious right in the 1980s. Now, according to Daniel Hummel, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the movement is undergoing a transformation, both theologically and geographically.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

Temple Mount wrap up: Where religion, nationalism and politics keep colliding

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict over control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif appears over. It ended well short of its worst possible outcome, but without any finality — again.

By “worst possible outcome,” I mean a terribly bloody escalation. By “without any finality,” I mean that sooner or later the situation will again heat up because the core of the conflict -- which side has the final word on physical control of the site -- remains unsettled.

But that’s how both sides want it for now -- save for each camp’s most radical elements who would relish an explosive fight to the finish. That’s because neither side's leadership Is capable of making the tough political compromises necessary to really defuse the situation.

So this slow-boiling tribal war over land continues. (Need to catch up with recent events?  If so, read this piece from The Economist, written part way through the episode.)

Religion reporters: Jews this week observed the solemn commemoration of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destructions of the First and Second Jewish temples (plus other Jewish tragedies across history) that stood on the Old City esplanade from which the site takes it Jewish name.

While the commemoration ran from Monday evening to Tuesday evening, it's not too late to tie Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew calendar’s month of Av)  to the current state of affairs. You might want to refer to this handy Religion News Service “‘Splainer."

I'm not qualified to speak definitively about just how the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif dispute breaks down along religious, nationalistic and political lines among ordinary Palestinians and other Muslims that support them -- as opposed to the statements of Palestinian leaders who always stress religious claims in rallying global Muslim support.

Suffice it to say that traditional Islam, far more than do contemporary Christianity or rabbinic Judaism (rabbinic, meaning post-Temple), makes little differentiation between the religious and political realms, and that for many Muslims living under undemocratic governments religion is the only outlet for political expression on any level.

However, I do know enough about the Jewish side to suggest that reporters consider the following.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Western Wall battle: Viewing Jewish culture wars from a balcony in Israel's Galilee region

Western Wall battle: Viewing Jewish culture wars from a balcony in Israel's Galilee region

The view from my hillside guest house in the northern Israeli village of Amirim -- where I'm writing this post -- takes in the lake known in Hebrew as the Kinneret and in English as the Sea of Galilee. The lake-side city of Tiberias is also visible, as is the militarily strategic high plateau called the Golan Heights.

Errant shells from fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan regularly land across the tense border in Israel, as they have during my stay here. But they’re too far away, perhaps 20 or so miles, to be of immediate concern.

Likewise, the regular threats made by the Iranian-aligned, Lebanese Hezbollah militia to eradicate Israel in a barrage of rockets. Lebanon is just a dozen or so miles due north, but that border is mostly quiet for the moment. So why be concerned now?

What is of immediate concern, however, is the recent flare up over the Israeli government’s decision to rescind an agreement allowing non-Orthodox religious Jews to share prayer space at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

The nod to Orthodox political pressure enraged the organized non-Orthodox Jewish establishment. From cries of boycott Israeli leaders to claims that Israel gave U.S. Jews “the finger,” liberal journalistic pundits and organizational leaders alike seemingly competed to express the depth of their outrage and disgust.

(A second decision negating a provision that made conversion to Judaism somewhat easier within Israel was also made, though it's attracted much less attention outside of Israel, where conversion requirements are generally less stringent than they are in Israel.)

Consider all this the Jewish world’s internal culture war -- a struggle between strict adherence to traditional religious practice versus broadening the practice to accommodate contemporary sensibilities.

Ironically, the brouhaha is of little concern to the average Israeli Jew, the majority of whom are by no means strictly Orthodox, if not outright secular (though culturally staunchly Jewish).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

In the mid-1970s, I spent a brief period working for an English-language magazine in Lima, Peru. The Peruvian Times was,  at that time, a schizophrenic blend of business news and first-person adventure travel yarns. Guess which part subsidized the other.

The magazine's office -- just blocks from Lima's nearly 500-year-old central square -- was a hangout for English-speaking journalists passing through or stationed in the Peruvian capital. Many looked to the Times'  expat staff for story ideas, context and sources.

The Times was an example of a foreign reporting truism -- which is the reliance correspondents have on local journalists for ideas and contacts. This is particularly true for those new to a nation and those who cannot fully function in the local language.

In Israel, one preferred local journalism hub has long been Haaretz, which has been called that nation's equivalent of The New York Times.

Its a false comparison because Haaretz ("The Land" in Hebrew) has limited circulation, is unabashedly and consistently left wing in its news columns as well as its editorial positions, is hostile toward religious orthodoxy -- no small thing in a nation where religion plays an enormous role in public life -- and has no where near the domestic influence or corporate wealth of the Times.

What it does have is influence in international liberal circles, which I'd say includes the majority of the Western correspondents working in Israel.

Haaretz strongly opposes the right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular its policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank. On this issue, its editorials and columnists are often quoted by those in the international media who trend liberal-left.

As such, Haaretz wields more influence internationally than it does within its home nation, giving it outsized importance in the international debate over Israel -- which is why Haaretz should be a subject of interest to American consumers of Middle East news.

Let me be clear. My intent here is not to attack Haaretz or its views, some of which I agree with (Israel's ongoing settlements policy, in particular). Rather it is to underscore the influence local media, even one with limited appeal at home, can have in shaping the international media agenda when its views are in line with the prevailing foreign media mindset.

Please respect our Commenting Policy