Evangelical Christians pray daily for the peace of Jerusalem.
With days to go until his electoral fate is decided, US President Donald Trump is working to harness the love those worshipers hold for Jerusalem in a last-minute diplomatic blitz to ensure they get out and vote.
In the past four years, the president has effectively politicized religion, reawakened the national conversation about faith, religious liberties and moral decline, and kept Evangelical Christian leaders in his inner circle.
His decisions this week to remove political limitations on research cooperation between the United States and Israel, and to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to choose to put Israel on their passports, are meant to reaffirm his commitment to America’s 90 million Evangelical Christians.
Trump’s recent moves – and predictably there will be more where these came from in the coming days – are seen by Evangelicals as manifestations of the Bible.
These new announcements will remind voters of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and announcement that America no longer views Israeli settlements as illegal.
When packaged with the recent normalization agreements the president helped forge between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now Sudan, Trump becomes the biblical savior Evangelical Christians seek in the White House.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus told the Christians. The Apostle Paul said that, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
“God has answered our prayer for peace,” Evangelical Pastor Johnnie Moore told The Jerusalem Post on the day of the UAE announcement. Now, he said, it is “incomprehensible what can happen, and I think the miracle that has taken place is a miracle of pulling the scales off the eyes of people who are more alike than different and letting them see a common future for their children and the region.”
Appealing to the Evangelical community using a political agenda wrapped in the language of faith worked for Trump in 2016. Then, eight out of 10 white Evangelicals supported Trump over Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton.
The president is clearly praying it will work for him again.
Recent polls, such as a Pew Research Forum survey released in July, showed that while Trump’s approval rating among Evangelicals slipped slightly, 82% still said they would vote for him again in November.
But with general polls showing Democratic candidate Joe Biden and Trump neck-to-neck at best – with Trump trailing slightly behind in some cases – the president knows he has to take extraordinary measures to galvanize his base.
Evangelicals have long threaded a biblical narrative into Trump’s presidency, likening him to Cyrus, the historical king of Persia who liberated Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple.
“There was a supernatural aspect to the election of Trump to the Oval Office,” Stephen Strang, founder and CEO of Charisma Magazine, said in an interview at the 2018 National Religious Broadcasters conference. “I think Trump feels a part of destiny.”
For many Evangelicals, God raised up Trump much like he raised up British prime minister Winston Churchill just more than 70 years prior.
In the book God & Churchill, authors Jonathan Sandys (Churchill’s great-grandson) and former White House staffer Wallace Henley point out that Churchill led from a core belief in Divine destiny. They write that as a 16-year-old school boy, Churchill prophesied to a friend that London would one day be attacked and that he would lead England to victory.
During World War II, it was Churchill who urged the free world to rise and defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Trump gained much of his understanding about the need to support the State of Israel through his relationship with Evangelist Paula White, senior pastor of the New Destiny Christian Center in Orlando, Florida.
After they met in 2003, they became quick friends and when Trump became president, she served as his personal pastor and religious adviser. Earlier this year, he gave her a formal role in the White House: adviser to the Faith and Opportunity Initiative in the Office of Public Liaison, the part of the White House responsible for overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president’s base.
Evangelicals have written off the president’s sometimes unfavorable or even unethical or unfaithful comments by arguing that biblical leaders tend to be flawed. They also defend their support for him by reminding themselves that the Bible teaches to judge people by their actions – and Trump has delivered.
This time around, Trump seems to also be hoping his Israel-love will rally another constituency to the polls in his favor: older Democratic Jews torn between the far-left, progressive pro-Palestinian policies of some modern Democrats and their love for the State of Israel.
This is especially necessary for the president to secure his win in states such as Florida, where Jews account for 5.4% of voters in the ultimate swing state and he is leading Biden by just 0.4%, according to the most recent Real Clear Politics polling average.
Some other polls show Trump trailing slightly behind.
With its 29 electoral votes, the Sunshine State is crucial for the win.
“Trump deserves credit for making Israel’s defense his number one priority,” as well as shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal,” said the Republican Jewish Committee’s communications director Neil Strauss in an interview with Moment Magazine earlier this month.
He told the magazine that the organization’s first priority is “identifying and mobilizing every one of the state’s Republican Jewish voters. Next, yes, talking to independent Jewish voters, and less committed Jewish Democratic voters.”
Polls of how Florida’s Jews will vote differ, but some analysts have predicted that as much as 33% of the state could side with the president, mostly because they are happy with his Israel policy.
However, while Israel was historically a hot issue for American Jewish voters, political analysts in recent years have argued that the Jewish state has dropped in priority for Jewish voters, who are more focused on domestic issues than foreign policy.
Nationally, more than 70% of Jewish voters have said that they will vote for Biden, according to a separate Pew Research Survey published earlier this month. However, among Orthodox Jews the numbers are different: 62% support Trump versus 36% for Biden, according to a poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy.
Jews around the world on Passover pray that “next year” they will be in Jerusalem. Christians pray that Jerusalem will be “restored.”
For Trump, a restored Jerusalem has become one of his paths to help ensure that come next year, he will still be in the White House.