It's worth noting at the outset that the term "evangelical" was, until a few years ago, most commonly used to describe a certain religious orientation and not a political perspective. Among those who share the religious characteristics that we associate with "evangelicals," political perspectives in the United States range from those exemplified by Jim Wallis on the left to James Dobson on the right (and well beyond). But in spite of the efforts that Wallis and others have made to shift the terms of debate, in political contexts the term "evangelical" still conjures up the Religious Right that Karl Rove regards as the GOP's base.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, when the New York Times published a story yesterday entitled "For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel is 'God's Foreign Policy,'" the focus was on the usual suspects--James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Pat Robertson--and a less well known (but equally conservative) minister named John Hagee. These right-wingers, and not Jim Wallis, were thought to represent evangelicals' foreign policy views.
But beyond its implicit assumptions about who the evangelicals are, the Times article was interesting for the way it laid bare the foreign policy views of the aforementioned representatives of the Religious Right. Rather than arguing for U.S. support for Israel based on their eschatological beliefs alone (where at least they might claim to have some relevant training), Dobson and Company invariably feel compelled to suggest that their views are based on sound political or historical reasoning, too. They are not.
Consider: "There sits little Israel with its five million beleaguered Jews, surrounded by five hundred million Muslims whose leaders are determined to drive it into the sea." So said James Dobson during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah this summer, which he compared to "the Biblical skirmish between little David and mighty Goliath." (Dobson placed Israel in the role of David, not Goliath.) Dobson apparently knows nothing of the region's history, including Israel's war-fighting record, nor does he seem to know who has the region's only nuclear arsenal.
Or consider this: "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." This plea for war without end was John Hagee's message to President Bush as the conflict raged. Hagee apparently believes that the "five million beleaguered Jews" can kill enough of the "five hundred million Muslims" who surround them to eliminate terrorism--if only they're allowed to keep fighting.
Many have asked which Bible people like Dobson and Hagee are reading. I also wonder which IR texts they're reading.