A Shift Among Evangelicals … Especially Among the Young
We documented yesterday that the biggest supporters of Israel are American evangelical Christians … Protestants or – to a lesser extent – Catholics.
But that support base is slipping …
Buzzfeed reported in January:
Figures with deep roots in America’s religious right have launched a quiet effort aimed at pushing evangelical Christians away from decades of growing loyalty to Israel and toward increased solidarity with the Palestinians.
The campaign by a coalition of religious leaders, international nonprofits, and activists has taken place in recent years largely behind the scenes and away from the prying eyes of the political press — and it’s being driven by a generation of Evangelicals alienated by the way their faith was yoked to Republican foreign policy during the Bush years. Now, organizations like the Telos Group and the large Christian nonprofit World Vision have joined a small army of ministers and Christian opinion-makers working to reorient Evangelicals’ stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — producing documentaries about the plight of Palestinian Christians, providing theological rationale for a more “balanced” view of the issue, and taking Evangelicals on trips to the Middle East.
The campaign has alarmed America’s most committed Christian supporters of Israel, who acknowledge their rivals’ message is gaining momentum within the church.
The Forward noted in March (via Haaretz):
Support for Israel is weakening among evangelical Christians, prompting a new struggle for the hearts and minds of younger members of America’s largest pro-Israel demographic group.
Evangelical leaders on both sides of the divide on Israel agree that members of the millennial generation do not share their parents’ passion for the Jewish state; many are seeking some form of evenhandedness when approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“What is happening is that the hard line of Christian Zionists was not successfully passed forward to the next generation, because it was based on theological themes that are now being questioned by younger evangelicals,” said David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta.
The grip of Christian Zionists over young evangelicals has been loosening for several years, according to observers within the community. But in recent weeks, the leading evangelical pro-Israel organization, Christians United for Israel, has set off alarm bells in articles and interviews decrying the inroads made by pro-Palestinian activists into the evangelical community. CUFI’s leaders are calling for a new strategy to block them.
In June 2011, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey …. A majority of American evangelical leaders (49%) expressed neutrality when asked if they sympathize more with Israelis or with Palestinians. Thirty percent expressed support for Israelis, 13% for the Palestinians.
The survey polled only leaders who participated in this international conference and did not offer insight into the views of rank-and-file evangelicals. But it highlighted the fact that only a minority within the evangelical leadership today hold strong pro-Israel views when it comes to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and attendant conflict with the Palestinians.
Activists in Illinois’s Wheaton College, a leading Christian school, protested a planned CUFI event on campus in 2009; in Tulsa, Okla., Oral Roberts University has appointed a harsh critic of Israel to its board of trustees, and at Bethel University, in Minnesota, President Jay Barnes visited Israel and the Palestinian territories on a trip that changed participants’ views on the conflict. Barnes’s wife, Barbara Barnes, published a poem after the trip, in which she wrote: “Apartheid has become a way of life. I believe God mourns.”
Speakers at the gathering, which presents a Palestinian perspective on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for Christians, include … William Wilson, the president of Oral Roberts University; and Gary Burge, a theology professor at Wheaton College and author of the book, “Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians.”
The conference’s 12-point “manifesto” strongly condemns “all forms of violence” and warns against the “stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.” It also rejects “any exclusive claim to the land of the Bible in the name of God” and states that “racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.”
And the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) – the largest Presbyterian denomination in America – voted to divest from companies whose products Israel uses in Palestinian territories.
But the old-fashioned mega-church extremists – like Rev. John Hagee – are fighting back with large sums of money and organizational structure. So the outcome is still in play.