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Land: Evangelical support for Israel stronger than ever

WASHINGTON (BP)–American evangelical Christian support for Israel “has never been more widespread than it is today” and can be traced back to the 17th century Puritans, Southern Baptist religious liberty specialist Richard Land told a gathering of Christians and Jews recently in Washington.

Speaking at a briefing sponsored by a pro-Israel organization, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said the understanding that God has given the Holy Land to the Jews forever in an unconditional covenant is a “settled conviction” for most evangelicals. That belief was not discovered by evangelicals in the 19th century, as some believe, but was rediscovered two centuries before by the Puritan forefathers and passed on to evangelicals, Land said.

The Sept. 28 speech marked the second time in a week Land had spoken on evangelicals and Israel before a Washington audience. On Sept. 22, he participated in a dialogue with members of the Council on Foreign Relations regarding evangelicals and the Middle East.

In his Sept. 28 speech at the Stand for Israel briefing, Land said 18th century evangelicals “inherited from their Puritan forebears an interest in the land and the people of Israel as they related to prophecy and end-time events. [Massachusetts pastor] Increase Mather and other American Puritans in the 17th century, for example, had predicted that Israel would be restored politically and spiritually in the future, before the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth.”

That belief, which Land said he believes is taught in the New Testament, “was taken up by the most influential and probably the most gifted theologian that America has yet produced, Jonathan Edwards, in the 18th century,” he said. Edwards “was absolutely determined when there were no Jews in the Holy Land that the Jews would return to the Holy Land,” Land said.

Such evangelical belief, as well as support for Israel, has continued, manifesting itself in the years leading to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and in the decades since, Land said.

He cited an August poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that found white evangelicals gave stronger support to Israel than any other group. In the survey, 54 percent of white evangelicals sympathized more with Israel than with the Palestinians, while only seven percent favored the Palestinians over Israel.

Land acknowledged he does not speak for all “conservative, Bible-believing Christians.”

“There are those who accept what is called a replacement theology, particularly many in what is called the reform tradition, who argue that Israel has now been replaced by the church.” Many who hold to that view support Israel “based on other arguments,” he said.

“[W]hile not all evangelicals believe [God’s covenant with Israel still exists], more evangelicals believe it today than ever before in the history of the Protestant faith since [Martin] Luther, and those evangelicals make up a higher percentage of American voters than ever before in the history of our nation,” Land said.

“It is a deep religious conviction in our bone marrow, in our genetic code — God gave the land of Israel to His chosen people the Jews,” he said. “And God blesses those who bless the Jews and curses those who curse the Jews…. And we have seen no more dramatic demonstration of it than we’ve seen in the 20th century. Look at the 20th century history of Russia and Germany, and compare that to the 20th Century history of the United States.”

Land said he believes a major reason God has blessed the United States “to the extent that He has and has not judged us more than He has and as much as we deserve is because we have been the least anti-Semitic nation in the West, and … from even before the U.N. vote that established the Jewish state, we have been the strongest supporter of Israel.”

In comments to the Council on Foreign Relations, Land said evangelicals do not “give blind acceptance of everything that the state of Israel does or has done.”

At a banquet Sept. 28, Stand for Israel gave its annual Friend of Israel awards to former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D.-Conn.

Stand for Israel is an initiative of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which seeks to build understanding between the two groups, assist Jews throughout the world and support Israel.