“Mike Pence’s faith drives his support for Israel. Does it drive Mideast policy” is a headline on the Times of Israel news website. Pence, the Vice President of the United States has been rapturously received during his visit to Israel in the wake of President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Pence broke the news that the US embassy will be moved to Israel by the end of 2019 in his speech to the Israel Knesset (parliament).
The Times of Israel story would have been read mostly by Jews rather than Christians although the English language papers out of Israel clock up a large North American readership and the rival Jerusalem Post actually has a Christian News section.
“My Christian faith is at the very heart of who I am.” – Mike Pence
Israel is aware that US Christian views are important to them, Mike Pence and everyone else.
The JTA (Jewish Telegraph Agency – a syndicated news service) writer Ron Kampeas is clear in the Times of Israel article – Mike Pence does support Israel because of his evangelical Christian faith. He puts it this way: “Pence, a convert to evangelical Christianity from Roman Catholicism, has spooked some liberals by rooting his pro-Israel bona fides in his evangelical Christian faith as much as realpolitik considerations of US national security.”
Pence actually describes himself as a “born-again evangelical Catholic”. However, the authoritative Religion News Service says that his real affiliation is evangelical, his family background is Catholic.
Unlike Donald Trump, Pence has a long history of being a Christian. “My Christian faith is at the very heart of who I am,” he told the audience at the vice presidential debate in 2016. “My Christian faith became real for me when I made a personal decision for Christ when I was a freshman in college. And I’ve tried to live that out however imperfectly every day of my life since.” He was chosen by Trump to shore up the evangelical vote.
The church Pence attends gives a real clue to how his Christianity may have influenced his views on Israel.
Kampeas quotes Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel: “The promises of the Hebrew Bible are the foundation of Christian Zionism, but our motivations for supporting Israel do not end there,” he told JTA in an email. “We see in Israel a democracy that shares Western values and is a force for stability in the Middle East. While standing with Israel is a Biblical mandate, it is also a moral imperative and in the national security interests of the US. I am confident that all three of these considerations inform the Vice President’s approach to the Middle East and I believe that is perfectly appropriate.”
Mike Pence was reported in 1995 to have joined the Grace Evangelical Church in Indianapolis. This gives a real clue to how his Christianity may have influenced his views on Israel.
Grace Evangelical Church comes across as a ‘Great Commission’-focused church: “We value a vibrant and personal relationship with our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“We are set apart for a love relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ.” They also have a high view of scripture: “We value God’s Word as the source of absolute truth to transform lives.”
But their Statement of Faith contains one element that is less common in Australia. “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will, in glorified resurrection body, return to establish His Millennial kingdom, which will climax the fulfillment of Israel’s seventieth week called the Tribulation.”
This is the doctrine called premillennialism which 100 years ago would have been found in a majority of Australian Churches, but is much less common here than in the US. This is partly for historical reasons. The story goes that William Griffith Thomas, an early dispensationalist (a more extreme form of premillennialism) was a candidate for Principal of Sydney’s Moore College – but he missed out. Griffith Thomas went on to found Dallas Theological Seminary, the home of dispensationalism in the United States.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope, and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Dispensationalists believe that the revival of the nation of Israel is part of God’s purpose and that, for example, the Jerusalem temple will be rebuilt and that the Old Testament promises to Israel will be fulfilled in the nation state of Israel.
One group misses out in all this – the Palestinians, especially the Christian Palestinians, as well as the Christian among the Arab Israelis.
On the other hand, many Israeli Jews are uncomfortable that the future of their nation may be dependant (at least to some extent) on the support of the world’s only super power – and that support is shaped by a religion they remain suspicious of. Ron Kampeas notes a comment in the Forward, New York’s Jewish paper by editorial writer Jane Eisner: “Trump has handed Israel policy to Evangelicals. That’s terrifying.”
But Kampeas’ story begins: “When Mike Pence moved to Washington earlier this year, he and his wife took with them a framed phrase they had for years hung over their fireplace in their Indiana home, and then over the fireplace in the governor’s mansion in that state. Now it hangs over the mantle at the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington DC.
“The words, from the Book of Jeremiah, read: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope, and a future.’”