The Christian influence on Trump’s decision was evident at Monday’s embassy-opening ceremony in Jerusalem, where one Hasidic rabbi, Zalman Wolowick, said a prayer, while two evangelical pastors, including the Trump adviser Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, the head of the lobbying group Christians United for Israel, offered blessings. “Let the word go forth from Jerusalem today that Israel lives!” Hagee said. “Let every Islamic terrorist hear this message: Israel lives!” When I asked Jeffress ahead of the ceremony what he would be praying for, he told me—tears in his eyes—that he wanted “to thank God for his faithfulness to Israel for the last 4,000 years. Because, you know, if God keeps his promise to Israel, he’s going to keep his promise to us.”
Evangelical Christians, in particular, have a “tendency to view Israel as fulfillment of prophecy,” Gordon Robertson, the CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network, told me in a phone interview. “The embassy is part of that.” Many also support the politics of the move: Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, told me that even “if there wasn’t a biblical record, we certainly believe this is the right thing to do, because Israel is the nation that most mirrors the United States in its origin.”
For most Christians, however, prophecy does not bleed into an end-times fantasy, Jeffress told me. “People have said, ‘Oh, evangelicals are so excited about this because they think it will bring about the apocalypse.’ I don’t know any respected evangelical who thinks that.”
Even as the mood was celebratory at the embassy opening, with guests eagerly chatting over festive march music, it took place amid chaos and controversy. Left-wing American Jewish groups like J Street object to the embassy move, predicting in December that it would “anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent U.S. diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict.”
Some who presumably support the move objected to the way the Trump administration has presented it. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tweeted on Monday that Jeffress’s past comments toward Jews, Mormons, and Muslims should disqualify “such a religious bigot” from giving a prayer at the embassy opening in Jerusalem. (“I think it’s sad that Mitt would rush out and [speak] in anger like this on such a historic day as this,” Jeffress told me. “Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that Jesus Christ is the exclusive way to salvation. … Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the father but by me.’ Jesus was Jewish. Was he anti-Semitic?”)
But the greatest dissonance with the embassy celebration was undoubtedly the bloodshed happening on the border with Gaza. For weeks, Gazans have been protesting, building up to this chaotic week. People have gathered along the border fence with Israel, throwing rocks and flaming kites, in protest of Palestinian displacement from their historic homelands. Hamas, the group that rules over Gaza and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, organized the protests coinciding with the embassy move, one of many markers of the conflict’s history this week.