Kevin Cramer, a Republican U.S. senator from North Dakota, was the keynote speaker this week at a Bismarck gathering titled, "A Night to Honor Israel." It was hosted by the state chapter of Christians United for Israel.
There was little media attention paid to the event, likely in part because of its innocuous title. Honoring Israel seems a harmless thing to do on a random autumn evening in North Dakota.
The facts are, though, that there is little harmless about the Christians United for Israel and Cramer keynoting an event for them should not be viewed as innocuous.
Christians United for Israel promotes a dangerous foreign policy based on biblical end times, one that has the organization's founder pounding the war drum against Iran. It has an outsized influence on the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It is a frightening organization. And, to boot, strongly anti-Muslim.
CUFI is an conservative Christian organization, admittedly huge with an estimated 7 million members, founded by wealthy Texas evangelist John Hagee. Sandy Hagee Parker, daughter of John, was at the Bismarck event.
The group lobbies intensely for pro-Israel policies, not based necessarily on support of Jewish people, but because it subscribes to Christian Zionism, a belief the existence of Israel is a necessary precursor to the apocalypse that precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ. These conditions assure Christian ascension into Heaven, the belief goes.
This is one reason evangelicals like Pompeo and vice president Mike Pence so strongly back Trump. Supporting Israel might be strictly a political calculation by the president to solidify his base support among evangelicals, but people like Pompeo and Pence can carry out their beliefs through the U.S. government.
Foreign policy via the Bible. That doesn't seem at all dangerous, does it?
"Many of them relish the second coming because for them it means eternal life in heaven," Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University told the Guardian newspaper. "There is a palpable danger that people in high position who subscribe to these beliefs will be readier to take us into a conflict that brings on Armageddon."
Hagee has long been a saber-rattler when it comes to Iran, calling multiple times for a first strike on the rogue nation because he sees it as a direct threat to Israel. Hagee called President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran "a finger in the eye of God."
This blend of politics, foreign policy and religious ideology has those paying attention nervous.
"In CUFI's philosophy, war and violence are celebrated as harbingers of the end times," Rabbi Alissa Wise told the San Antonio Express newspaper. "That’s extremely frightening to me. It should be extremely frightening to all of us. This kind of religious extremism empowered by those with the ability to make U.S. foreign policy is alarming."
This is why Cramer speaking at an innocuously named event sponsored by the Christians United for Israel matters. He's a U.S. senator and, perhaps more critical in this case, an evangelical. It isn't necessarily as harmless as it seems.