To understand Donald Trump’s real motivation in moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, just look at the pastors he had offering prayers at the opening of the new embassy. The benediction was delivered by Pastor John Hagee, who in the 1990s preached that Adolf Hitler was an instrument of prophecy by returning Jews to Israel. And Pastor Robert Jeffress, who also offered a prayer at the embassy opening—a prayer closing, of course, “In the name and the spirit of the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Lord”—has railed against just about every faith but his own specific one. Including Judaism.
But Jeffress has also called Islam and Mormonism heresies “from the pit of hell,” suggested that the Catholic church was led astray by Satan, accused then-President Barack Obama of “paving the way” for the Antichrist, and spread false statistics about the prevalence of HIV among gays, who he said live a “miserable” and “filthy” lifestyle.In recent years, Jeffress has frequently denounced Islam, calling it an “evil religion” that “promotes pedophilia” because the Prophet Muhammed married a 9-year-old girl. (Many modern Muslim scholars disagree about her age.) The pastor has also said that Mormons, Muslims and Hindus “worship a false god.“
The choice of Jeffress drew widespread raised eyebrows, and prompted Mitt Romney to issue one of his occasional “principled and open-minded Republican” statements, saying that “Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.” Romney, however, can pound sand since we all know that Jeffress’ attacks on Mormonism and Romney himself are the real issue here.
Jeffress responded to criticism by saying that “Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The fact that I, along with tens of millions of evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy,” although most Christians don’t go around calling other major world faiths heresies “from the pit of hell,” and Pope Francis for one disagrees with Jeffress’ view that it’s clear-cut who does and doesn’t go to heaven or hell. But I guess he would say that, what with the Catholic Church having been influenced by Satan.
Trump doubtless had his own personal reasons for wanting to move the embassy to Jerusalem—mainly wanting to do something other presidents hadn’t, never mind that they had had good reason for not doing so—but the reason this was an issue on his radar was because of the prominent evangelicals who believe Israel will be critical in bringing on the end times to the benefit of Christians. Jeffress and Hagee are at the embassy opening because their theology is central to Republicans wanting the embassy in Jerusalem to begin with—so Jeffress’ views of Judaism (and Islam and Mormonism and Catholicism) aren’t some minor beside-the-point thing. They’re at the center of Trump’s policy move.