The Current

'Christians are thrilled': American evangelicals embrace Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as capital

"We're very, very pleased that the Jewish people in the Jewish state could have a capital," says American evangelical Christian leader Jerry Johnson.
For years, evangelical Christians in the U.S. have been pushing their government their to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has sparked days of unrest among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. 

In an emergency session on Sunday, the Arab League called on the White House to reverse its decision. Pope Francis also urged world leaders to work together to avoid what he called a "new spiral of violence" over Jerusalem.

But there's one group overjoyed by Trump's announcement.

"Christians are thrilled about this," says Jerry Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, a Christian media organization.

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      "We're very, very pleased that the Jewish people in the Jewish state could have a capital. [It;s] the capital they wanted, the capital that Israel had 3,000 years ago," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

      Johnson points out it's not a novel idea, noting that former presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George W. Bush all made the promise in the past.

      This is their capital. And it's been a matter of U.S. policy for years.- Jerry Johnson

      According to Johnson, "this was a matter of U.S. law" and he suggests Israel will have a greater sense of security that will help in negotiations.

      "From that position of security, I think they can go into negotiations feeling not as threatened as they were before."

      Why Jerusalem is important to evangelicals in U.S.

      Johnson, who also has a PhD in theology, says Jewish control of Jerusalem holds no significance for the second coming.

      "I've not heard one evangelical theologian in my camp say that Christ is waiting to return on the U.S. president declaring or recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," he says.

      "We don't believe that the return of Christ is contingent on what the U.S. says or does."

      Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to the European Union to ask allies to join the U.S. in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. But EU foreign ministers see the move as detrimental towards the peace process. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

      What it comes down to is a matter of human rights, according to Johnson. "This is their capital. And it's been a matter of U.S. policy for years," he says.

      There was broad support for this move amongst evangelical Christians in the U.S. According to a Pew survey from 2013, 80 per cent of white evangelicals believed Israel was given to the Jews by God, while only 40 per cent of Jews held the same belief. 

      For evangelicals, in particular, Jerusalem is a sign that the Jews are God's chosen people.-  Stephen  Spector , author of Evangelicals and Israel

      "For evangelicals, in particular, Jerusalem is a sign that the Jews are God's chosen people," says Stephen Spector, author of Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism.

      Spector, who teaches at Stony Brook University, notes that Jerusalem is where Jesus was said to live for much of his life, and the place where he will return; "therefore, it has to be undivided," he says.

      Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with U.S. President Donald Trump during his May visit to Israel. (Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images)

      Evangelical Christians strong force in Trump's base

      There are some 50 million evangelicals in the U.S., making them a formidable political force. 

      Spector says it's too hard to say if Trump's announcement is religiously motivated, but says the U.S. president has the most evangelical group of advisers and cabinet members in the history of the country. 

      "He also knows that evangelical Christians are the essence of his base."

      Spector says Trump runs "a transactional presidency" and his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital is part of fulfilling a promise he made to an important voting group.

      "Also [Trump] was courting conservative Jews, and particularly Sheldon Adelson."

      Leaders around the world - from Moscow to Paris- have expressed concern about President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel means for the prospect of peace. (Oded Balilty/Associated Press)

      Adelson, a pro-Israel casino magnate, is also one of several major Trump donors listed in the Paradise Papers.

      At a recent White House Hannukah party with only Trump supporters invited, Spector shares an illuminating story with The Current.

      "One of the evangelicals who attended said, 'Look. he's an investor and he knows where the best return is. So he is rewarding the people who supported him and who will support him in the future."


      Listen to the full conversation above.


      This segment was produced by The Current's Julian Uzielli, Willow Smith and Amra Pasic.