Why has the suffering of the Middle Eastern Christian communities not ignited outrage and support from Western Christians? The answer has something to do with Israel and the Second Coming, writes Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.
The problem is a Protestant one, going right back to sixteenth-century Reformation. From Martin Luther onwards, many Protestants have eagerly been awaiting an imminent end to the world, the return of Christ in glory. Reading the Bible, it’s easy to link this to the idea that a necessary precondition for Christ to return is that his ancient people the Jews convert to the Christian faith; and so many Protestants have sought the right conditions for that to happen. It was one of the reasons that the Puritan statesman Oliver Cromwell agreed to the readmission of the Jews to England in the 1650s, after more than three centuries of expulsion; so the English could convert them. But by the nineteenth century there was a further thought: the Jews must return to their Promised Land of Israel. In 1846 there was founded a worldwide Evangelical Alliance. One of its main concerns was to return Jews to Palestine and convert them there; German and British Evangelicals even backed the setting-up of a new Anglican bishopric in Jerusalem to provide for the conversion (the first bishop was indeed a converted Jewish rabbi). This was an unprecedentedly practical attempt to hasten on the Last Days, that recurrent Protestant preoccupation. The Evangelical Alliance found many other battles to fight as new threats to the Evangelical world-view repeatedly emerged, but its first close association with Jerusalem projects was a precocious sign that international Evangelical Protestantism was going to link itself to the fate of the land of Palestine, even before many Jews began to share that concern.