Evangelical Christians from around the world wave their national flags along with Israeli flags as they march in a parade in Jerusalem to mark the Feast of Tabernacles .
(photo credit: JNS.ORG)
In recent years, a certain mantra has gained traction among many pro-Israel activists according to which long-term US support for the Jewish state is guaranteed, thanks to the country’s growing number of Evangelical Christians.
Hence, the thinking goes, even if American Jewry’s size and influence is in decline, we can all rest easy in the knowledge that Evangelical support for Israel will continue to bolster ties between Washington and Jerusalem for decades to come.
As comforting as it might be to latch onto this view, the sad fact is that there are already some very troubling signs that the younger generation of US Evangelicals may not share the same level of enthusiasm for Israel, as do many of their elders.
Indeed, the findings of a study released six months ago by the Nashville-based LifeWay Research bear this out. The survey, which was conducted among 2,002 respondents, found that while 76% of Evangelicals over 65 have a positive view of Israel, that number drops to 58% among those ages 18 to 34.
In addition, a whopping 41% of younger Evangelicals said they do not have strong views regarding Israel.
As David Nekrutman, the executive director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, recently told me, “It is easy, but dangerously inaccurate, to assume that the children of Christian Zionists are building on the foundation of what their parents have learned.”
“The fact is,” he notes, “that many Christian universities and colleges have not corrected Martin Luther’s antisemitism in their Bible, theology or missions departments.”
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As a result, the curricula of many Christian schools continue to instill their students with ideas that end up weakening the foundation of their support for the Jewish state.
Moreover, Nekrutman states, millennial Evangelicals are “less literate of the Bible,” creating the possibility that “Christian support for Israel could dramatically dwindle.”
Unfortunately, certain pro-Palestinian groups have sought to take advantage of this by launching an insidious and determined effort to undermine Evangelical support for Zionism.
Take, for example, the anti-Israel group “Christ at the Checkpoint,” which along with the Bethlehem Bible College, attempt to “address the injustices” in the Middle East, particularly in what they refer to as “the Palestinian lands under occupation.”
Twisting the text of the Bible to the point that it becomes unrecognizable, such organizations spuriously assert that Scripture does not grant the people of Israel an exclusive claim to the Land of Israel, despite the fact that throughout the Torah and the Prophets that is exactly what the Creator promised.
They also hide under the cloak of protesting supposed discrimination by rejecting “theologies that lead to discrimination or privileges based on ethnicity,” which is a convoluted way of denouncing the Jewish people’s right to establish a Jewish state. In what is perhaps a sign of the group’s growing confidence, they are planning to hold their first national US conference in Oklahoma City in October.
While this may seem like an entirely intra-Christian matter, Israel cannot and must not ignore its possible political and diplomatic ramifications. Left unaddressed, it could have far-reaching and damaging consequences from the halls of Congress all the way to the White House.
According to the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, 25.4% of Americans identify themselves as Evangelical Protestant Christians, making them the largest religious group in the United States.
As their clout at the ballot box grows, it becomes all the more essential to take steps to cultivate the younger generation of Evangelical leaders, whether by facilitating visits to the Jewish state or launching public diplomacy campaigns targeting this segment of the Evangelical world.
There is no reason to be alarmed just yet, as overall Evangelical support for Israel is positive, passionate and pro-active. But the writing is on the wall, and if Israel wants to ensure a solid base of US Evangelical support for the rest of this century, it would do well to work with pro-Israel Christian groups to ensure that the younger generation of Evangelicals will continue to carry the torch.
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