Evaporating Support Among Young American Christians Panics Israel Supporters

Yesterday I posted an article about a conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” which opened Monday in Bethlehem and will run through Friday. The conference was designed with the aim of exploring the teachings of Jesus and how they might “contribute towards achieving peace and justice in Palestine/Israel.” Though it has been scathingly denounced by the Israeli government, the event is being attended by a number of evangelical Christians, including some from America.

Now today we have an article published in The Jewish Daily Forward, headlined Israel’s Grip on Evangelical Christians Loosens, that digs into the whole issue of evaporating support for Israel,  particularly among younger Christians, and would seem to indicate a high level of concern, perhaps almost near-panic, setting in among Israel supporters who have taken note of it.

Before we get to that, however, watch the video below, which features Glenn Beck interviewing David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, who does indeed seem to be in a state of angst. Brog is one of the people quoted in The Forward article. In this interview Brog (who is Jewish, not Christian) describes the younger generation of evangelical Christians as “the soft underbelly of the evangelical community,” and seems to imply that their changing views on the Middle East are the result of a nefarious plot by George Soros rather than any genuine concerns over justice or human rights abuses.

The Forward article indeed notes that “members of the millennial generation do not share their parents’ passion for the Jewish state,” and that this is indeed setting off “alarm bells” among Israel supporters, particularly among the CUFI leadership, which, it seems, is now plotting a strategy to combat it. This strategy includes launching speaking tours of college campuses, investing in videos and social media, and organizing more evangelical tours to Israel.

How successful these efforts will be is open to question given the fact that the younger generation, unlike their elders, relies increasingly upon the Internet for news and information. There is also the fact that Christians by and large are guided, at least nominally, by the teachings of a fellow named Jesus, and that in this context, and with open access to the Internet, the suffering of the Palestinians is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore.

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.”

The article also cites a 2011 Pew Research poll which found a lower-than-expected level of support for Israel, with a majority of evangelical leaders in America (49 percent) defining themselves as neutral when asked who they sympathized more with, Israelis or Palestinians. Thirty percent expressed support for Israel, while 13 percent expressed support for Palestinians.

With enough conferences like “Christ at the Checkpoint” being held, and with the Internet available to help promulgate them, the numbers could begin to change even more radically.