Observers: Evangelical Support for Israel May Be Eroding

Protest in New York

A number of Christian pro-Israel lobbyists, are warning that Evangelical support for Israel, which once could be taken for granted in the U.S., is now eroding, according to Sophie Chamas, a Lebanese co-editor at Mashallah News, writing for Deseret News.

On the surface, Evangelical support for Israel appears overwhelming, and a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 82 percent of white Evangelicals believed God gave Israel to the Jews. In fact, as Chamas points out, 46 percent of white Evangelicals thought the U.S. wasn’t supportive enough of Israel, while only 31 percent of Jews felt this way.

But the pendulum may be swinging back on these perceptions.

Chamas cites a 2014 article by David Brog, executive director of the influential Christians United for Israel, pointing other, equally reliable surveys, showing 49 percent of American Evangelicals sympathize equally with Israelis and Palestinians, compared with 30 percent who only sympathize with Israel.

Brog, like other pro-Israel Evangelicals, blame the change on newcomers like Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the mega-church Willow Creek in South Barrington, Illinois, with 24, 000 weekly attendees. She is pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace, encouraging her followers to approach “the Holy Land as peacemakers.”

Hybels supports Israel’s right to exist as “a home for the Jewish people, ” but also supports the Palestinians’ “equally valid right to live in the land” and to enjoy “the same civil rights afforded to Israeli Jewish citizens, whether that’s in one state, two states, or however many states.”

True, this may sound like a reasonable position to the conflict, one acceptable to many Israelis, in fact, but in the heatedly politicized Evangelical community, comprising an estimated 25 percent of the actual voters in the U.S., this represents a serious shift to the left.

And then there’s Shane Claiborne, 39, founder of The Simple Way, an inner-city faith community in Philadelphia, whom Chamas dubs a leading figure within Evangelical Christianity’s New Monasticism movement, a network of Christian communities dedicated to a radical commitment to aiding the disenfranchised.

Claiborne participated in the 2012 Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem, with international and Palestinian Evangelical.

“For too long, ” Claiborne said in Bethlehem, “we’ve settled for a Christianity that’s promising people just life after death. Doesn’t the gospel have anything to speak into the world we live in right now, into the reality we see right here in Israel/Palestine? I think it’s got everything in the world to say.”

He added: “Walls aren’t good for anybody. That gate separated the rich man from God because we are made for compassion and love. That’s why I hope to see walls coming down.”

Claiborne says his goal in traveling to Iraq and Palestine was primarily to meet the victims of the conflicts, to hear their personal stories and bring them back home with him, to inspire a sense of responsibility in others.

“When we think about what it means to be a Christian today, ” he told his Bethlehem audience, “it means we have to humanize those who are suffering, to know their name.”

Chamas cites Gary Burge, a professor at Wheaton College, the Harvard of Evangelical scholars, who claims a growing number of Evangelicals “rethink God’s relationship to modern Israel.”

“What’s at stake is fidelity to what they believe. What does it mean to honor God?” Burge says.

And so, a growing number of rank and file Evangelicals have been inspired to shift gears from a “typical” unquestioning Evangelical devotion to Israel.

Chamas reports on the growing popularity of “alternative” tours of Israel/Palestine for church groups, to cities like Bethlehem in the Occupied Territories, to receive information which they wouldn’t be exposed to on a more “mainstream” Christian Zionist trip to Israel.

But lest you assume that this is basically harmless stuff, not such a major shift in the large scheme of things, Chamas cites Luke Moon, a former missionary who is currently a business manager at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington D.C., a “faith-based alliance of Christians who monitor, comment and report on issues affecting the church”, who is extremely worried that “moral equivalency, — as he calls the new evangelical approach — may mutate into anti-Semitism.”

“Christians don’t have a great history of being good to Jews, ” Moon said. “What starts as moral equivalency from one group might turn into aggression from another.”

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