Israel and all that jazz

Deconstructing support for Israel in the American church.

Israel Jazz 521 (photo credit: JIM FLETCHER)
Israel Jazz 521
(photo credit: JIM FLETCHER)
For 20 years, from the euphoria of the Six Day War to the first intifada, Christian Zionists enjoyed an unparalleled period of popularity. Bible prophecy conferences, breakthroughs in Christian-Jewish relations, and conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan made it cool to love Israel.
That was then.
Now, a whole new breed of evangelical leader is being raised up in America, and for them, supporting Israel is considered divisive, insular, even “sin” – according to David Gushee and Glen Stassen. The two circulated a letter sharply criticizing Christian support for Israel in 2011.
The new object of affection for these New Evangelicals is the Palestinians. Once stalwart defenders of Israel like Jerry Falwell began passing from the scene, there were few to take their places, and, in fact, a curious phenomenon within the American Christian community is that many children of conservatives themselves turn to the left.
In his landmark book New Evangelicalism, Paul Smith writes: “It is a weakened view of Scripture that opened the door to the present humanistic Emergent Movement that has weakened the faith of many today.”
Smith traces the erosion of biblical thought (and one of its logical outcomes – support for Israel) by examining the infiltration of classic liberal theology into once Bible-believing and - teaching denominations.
For example, Smith reveals a key piece of evidence by noting a watershed moment at Fuller Theological Seminary: “Charles Fuller’s own son, Daniel, studied under Karl Barth and brought back to his dad’s seminary the neoorthodox belief that the Bible only contains the Word of God and that some portions of Scripture are revelatory and some portions are not!” This departure from orthodoxy (what Spurgeon called the Downgrade) opened up subsequent generations of leaders to leftist views of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Rick Warren, perhaps the most influential pastor in America today, is now emerging from the shadows as something far less than a friend to Israel. His bizarre and fawning 2006 visit with Syria’s Bashar Assad has led to charges that he is advancing a dangerous attempt at rapprochement with Islam. Warren’s singular networking skills are drawing the so-called millennial generation into this orbit.
When Cameron Strang, publisher of RELEVANT magazine, visited what he called Israel/“Palestine” in late 2011, Warren sent him a message via Twitter: “RickWarren: @cameronstrang Are you back from Israel? Need to talk to you!” Another friend of Warren, millionaire businessman Mart Green (founder of Mardel, a chain of Christian bookstores), financed EGM Films’ documentary Little Town of Bethlehem, purportedly a look at nonviolent approaches to Israel and the Palestinians.
Instead, some viewers recognize the hostile depiction of Israel, masquerading as peacemaking. After viewing the propaganda piece, Louis Lapides of “Thinking Outside the Blog” wrote: “[Sami] Awad claims to be firmly against demonizing Israelis. Yet throughout The Little Town of Bethlehem the demonization of Israeli soldiers was a continuing theme. In addition, this Palestinian biased film gave a pass to the radical terrorism perpetrated by the Palestinian people and their Arab neighbors since the War of Independence of 1948. Palestinian terrorism was not even alluded to in the film. I felt I was watching a propaganda film produced by Nazi propaganda expert Joseph Goebbels.”
Awad, head of Holy Land Trust, has befriended Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill Hybels.
The couple founded the now-hugely influential Willow Creek Community Church in the 1970s. For several years, Lynne Hybels has been traveling to Israel and returning to present the Palestinian narrative to unsuspecting American church audiences.
This relatively new development has caught many pro-Israel activists off-guard and unsure of how to rebut a litany of alleged Israeli abuses of the Palestinians.
One who hasn’t been surprised is Chris Quintana, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Cypress (CA): “It should come as no surprise that modern ‘evangelicals’ would adopt a pro- Palestinian view. If you begin with the premise that God has no future plans for Israel, since you don’t believe the Bible to be a book heavily focused on prophetic matters, then all that is left is to take the worldly view regarding Israel.”
That worldly view is being fully embraced by the leading lights of the New Evangelicals. After Hybels presented her view of Israel to an audience at the Catalyst East Conference in Atlanta in October, she teamed with Strang and another influential Evangelical, author Donald Miller, to visit Israel and bring back stories that reinforce the Palestinian narrative.
Miller, whose 2003 blockbuster book Blue Like Jazz has been a catalyst of sorts for the leftward drift of young American Evangelicals, had sharp words for pro-Israel Christians in a 2011 blog: “An evangelical position on Israel must evolve from a simple, ignorant ‘Israel is a Biblical good luck charm’ to an understanding of a sacred and sovereign state that is capable of mistakes, and in need of mediation from an outside perspective in exchange for billions (Israel gets nearly $4 billion from America each year) in aid and support. This, it seems to me, is God’s position on Ancient Israel in scripture, that they were His chosen people, and like any people group, were imperfect and in need of occasional rebuke and correction. Why the evangelical church sees the state as perfect, now, is beyond me. Much of the anger pointed at Israel in the Middle East, though hideous, wrong and indefensible, is not without provocation.”
Notice that Miller says Israel was – past tense – God’s chosen people. This classic Replacement theology position is now coming into the American Church like a flood.
Miller, Hybels, Strang and friends are set on deconstructing support for Israel in the American Church.
They have wind in their sails.