This seems nice: Christian churches in the United States are raising money for philanthropic groups in Israel to, like, give food parcels to poor little old ladies in Jerusalem and feed homeless people in Tel Aviv. Sounds innocuous enough. Didn’t Jesus say something about helping the poor?
Turns out, however, that it’s all an absolutely terrifying unholy alliance between two religious blocs that are using each other for their own purposes. What’s worse, this is not some little internecine tug-of-war between God-botherers that has no impact on the rest of us. Oh no. This has huge geopolitical implications that we all should be deeply worried about, whether we’re believers — of any stripe — or not.
Emmy Award–winning Israeli filmmaker and journalist Maya Zinshtein explains why in ’Til Kingdom Come, her deep dive into how evangelical Christians in the United States have teamed up with charities in Israel even though they are at entirely cross purposes to one another. She tells this sordid tale through associate pastor Boyd Bingham of the Binghamtown Baptist Church in Appalachian Kentucky — he loves guns and Trump as much as he loves God — and Yael Eckstein, second-in-command of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Both are following in the footsteps of their fathers, heads of their respective organizations. Very Judeo-Christian. And that isn’t the only similarity.
The cognitive dissonance on display with these two is astonishing, and Zinshtein lets it play out with a figurative straight face, letting the multiple underlying ironies go unspoken. Bingham is the film’s stand-in for evangelical Christians, who believe that Israel is key to “end-time prophecy”… literal Biblical Armageddon, the final battle of humanity. Bingham somehow convinces the poor, desperate people of his depressed small town that, in order to earn God’s blessing, they should give money they can’t spare to Eckstein’s fellowship, because God wants them to protect and preserve Israel… so that it can be destroyed, by God’s hand, once Jesus returns to Earth. Which they deem to be imminent. Eckstein takes their money even though the people giving it believe that during this upcoming time of tribulation, any surviving Jews will be converted to Christianity; the unconverted, of course, will be burning in Hell. Charming. “It’s a paradox,” she says, with a shrug, of this partnership. And it’s difficult to tell if she’s being deliberately obtuse or if she also sees God’s hand in this, if in a completely contradictory way.
All this is beside the fact that evangelical Christians and Jews cannot both be God’s sole chosen people; someone notes that here, saying “they can’t both be right,” but misses the corollary that they could be wrong. And it’s beside the fact that no one seems to wonder why a people chosen by God for special treatment at his hands would endure the deprivation and poverty we see here, in both nations.
But never mind. Why shouldn’t the rest of us let them get on with their delusions and their mutual exploitation? Because the evangelicals have the likes of Donald Trump and other American right-wingers on their side, and as we’ve seen in the weeks since Trump left the White House, these people are not going away. American evangelicals — with the power of the US political establishment behind them — are actively working toward bringing about the end of the world. “We’re God’s instruments for his end-time plan,” the pastor insists. They welcome strife in the Middle East because they think it means the prophecies they believe in are coming to pass. And strife they are getting, because Israeli right-wingers — the ones who support Palestinian apartheid and controversial Jewish “settlements” in disputed territory — are the ones courting the American evangelical support. They wholly embraced the 2018 move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city Palestinians also claim as their capital; this provocation by Trump threw gasoline on the fire of Middle Eastern turmoil. “This is political Christianity,” Israeli diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid says here, “in which politics is a continuation of a prophetic vision.”
All of this should be seen as thoroughly horrifying by anyone who values progressive, secular culture, as well as a planet not riven by war. If you’re politically aware, you may have already had a vague idea of what was happening in this particular realm. Zinshtein lays out the details in ’Til Kingdom Come in a way that is straightforward and unsensational, but it will scare the shit out of you anyway.