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Strained Sympathies

But in addition, a Jewish refuge was needed. And here Christian sympathies were quickly exploited by Jewish Zionist dreams reaching back to the 19th century. Carenen uses commentary in Moody Monthly, Christianity and Crisis, and The Christian Century to help us follow widely held sentiments. Yet there were still disagreements both in the Jewish camp and among Protestants. Conservative Christians insisted that support depended on seeing Israel as a religious state, which was a problem, since Israelis had no such interest. But these objections soon disappeared. Zionist voices were well organized and dominant, networking all members of Congress to petition the President to embrace a new Israeli state. As Israel anticipated declaring statehood in 1948, President Truman had been thoroughly lobbied by Christians and Jews alike. While his State Department and Middle East ambassadors warned about ambiguity and foreign policy imbalance, within an hour of Israel raising its flag, Truman acknowledged the new state and war erupted. Both liberal Protestants and evangelicals saw this as a victory of careful, tactical policy efforts.

But post-Holocaust sympathy for Israel quickly came under strain. "Once American Protestants learned about the displacement of greater than 700,000 Arab Palestinians, many of whom were violently expelled by Israel, their complaints soared."However, evangelicals soon discovered the mystique of preaching about the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and when Israel conquered the Sinai in 1956, prophecy conferences suddenly found new inspiration. Still, Christian Zionist organizations were well-prepared, organized, and allied with Jewish groups to influence public opinion. According to Carenen, politically these pro-Israel mainline and evangelical lobbyists simply "outmaneuvered the anti-Zionist" Christians at every turn.

It is hard to overestimate the spreading influence of premillennial eschatology from, say, 1950 to 1965. Even for those who didn't understand dispensationalism, premillennial eschatology soon became the default view of conservative Protestants in America. And with it came an overt support for Israel as the harbinger of the culmination of history and the second coming of Christ.

Another strain on Christian sympathies came in 1967. If the expulsions of 1948 had been a problem, Israel's conquest of the entire country, its annexation of Jerusalem, and the further Palestinian expulsions threw mainline Christians into a tailspin. Calls were sounded to aid swelling refugee populations to whom Israel denied reentry. The National Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation (just to name two examples) objected strenuously. Evangelicals, on the other hand, celebrated. Tracking the published words of John Walvoord, then president of Dallas Theological Seminary, makes this evangelical zeal clear. Likewise, Eternity Magazine and Christianity Today (begun in 1956) defended Israel's conquests. The map of Israel was beginning to look like maps in their Bibles. In 1970, Hal Lindsey published what would become an evangelical bestseller, The Late Great Planet Earth. This book, shaped by a dispensationalist view of Israel's role in divine history, quickly sold over 10 million copies. By 1990, 28 million were in the hands of American Christians.

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