While Democrats have gathered their forces to impeach Donald Trump over the past several months, the president has met each blow by steadily strengthening ties to his evangelical base, which does not shift in allegiance or fervor. I grew up in this culture, which wove evangelical and charismatic rhetoric together into a double bind theology that favored warfare over love, and obedience over grace. You either believed in a certain version of God, or you were in danger of going to hell. An exception was made for those of Jewish descent. “They are God’s anointed, his chosen people,” my mother would explain “and he has a special plan for them.” This plan was only hazily explained in relation to the battle of Armageddon.
However, that was all I knew of Jewish culture. I didn’t learn about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I only understood Hanukkah as a kind of surrogate Christmas. Neither pastor or parent discussed anti-Semitism or the Jewish diaspora or the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this particular evangelical narrative, Jewish people were presented as felt board cutouts along with Noah, King David, and Queen Esther. They belonged to a mythic past or apocalyptic future, and existed in the present only as a kind of interstitial entity that needed constant protection by Christians.
Trump’s latest executive order, which he signed last week, is yet another chapter in this spiritual story created by evangelicals and constantly revised by the GOP. According to Trump, the order will protect Jewish students from being the target of anti-Semitic rhetoric on college campuses. Addressing his supporters at the White House Hanakkuh Reception, he asserted that, “As president, I will always celebrate and honor the Jewish people and I will always stand with our treasured friend and ally the State of Israel.” He then cited opening the American embassy as the “true capital of Israel in Jerusalem,” as well as “recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” noting that “nothing happened until I came along.”
Robert Jeffress then spoke a few words, arguing that, “President Trump is the most pro-faith president in history, when you look at what he has done for people of all faiths.” Yet he only cited the “Jewish and Christian believers” when talking about Genesis 12, where God says he’ll bless and curse whoever blesses and curses Israel, thereby amplifying the spiritual warfare rhetoric that preacher Paula White has helped keep in play since also coming on board in an advisory role to the president.
Rather than think White and Jeffress as pastors handing down a cliched rhetoric, please understand they are storytellers bringing into reality this unseen, supernatural war. They give it shape and depth and no other administration has made it as immersive as Trump’s. Storytelling is the hardest reality to fight because it already requires the suspension of disbelief, and no one is better at it than the evangelical who's constructed their entire worldview around a narrow, apocalyptic interpretation of the Bible. White House correspondents Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman argue that Trump’s order might actually do more harm than good by “effectively interpret[ing] Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.” But such an argument has little power to dissuade the evangelicals who already believe that Judaism is a nation state sanctioned by God, with Trump as its champion.
The danger in these power plays is how Trump’s rhetoric continues to push the Jewish population further into the evangelical mythic past and future, thereby erasing any true conversation around the growing anti-Semitism we are seeing in the U.S. and abroad. In fulfilling his promises to the evangelicals for the past two years to protect their rights, Trump has also protected their particular narrative that claims a kind of ownership over Jewish history.
I thought that reading the book of Revelation and other scripture gave me all the information I needed to know about that history. It wasn't until I moved out of my evangelical circles and had multiple Jewish friends in writing and academic communities that I realized there is no one monolith Jewish culture. The “Judeo-Christian" mindset eclipsed their individual stories. Christians helped to create this rhetoric, and we need to dismantle it before it’s too late.