Trump Takes Wheel at 2020 Christian Media Summit

As US moves closer to November 3 election, Evangelicals tend to back the incumbent – though their support is not monolithic.

US President Donald Trump gestures while boarding Air Force One as he departs Washington for campaign travel to Iowa at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, US, October 14, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
US President Donald Trump gestures while boarding Air Force One as he departs Washington for campaign travel to Iowa at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, US, October 14, 2020.
At the fourth annual Christian Media Summit, held on Sunday virtually but based in Jerusalem, the potential audience in the US, home to the largest Christian population in the world, was of particular interest to the panelists.
The US presidential election is a little over two weeks away, and Israel has become a pivotal issue among certain Christians. Many made clear that they support the status quo in American leadership, a view held by the vast majority of Evangelicals.
In addition to highlighting US support for key Israeli achievements such as the Abraham Accords, through which the Jewish state established diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, media bias was a key focus of the evening.
“There is so much media bias.... Some of it is soft bias; reporters or editors who don’t care or understand the [position of] 600 million Evangelicals worldwide… on Israel,” Joel C. Rosenberg, author and founder/editor-in-chief of All Israel News, told the conference. “Then there is hard bias, where they’re actually working against you. And there is Al Jazeera, Turkish and Iranian media….”
Chris Mitchell, Middle East bureau chief for Christian Broadcast Network News, called the virtual gathering an opportunity to help fight against anti-Israel bias.
“[The summit] has been an effort... to reach out to Christian journalists around the world to help inform them about what’s happening in Israel,” he told The Media Line.
“It is a great outreach for the government of Israel,” he continued. “They are not telling journalists what to say, but they are showing them perhaps a side of Israel that is not presented in some of the world’s media.”
David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), agrees.
“There are so many ways people get their information now. In the US election, there is a lot of media bias, for example, and a lot of the pro-Israel supporters, including Christians, have complained about it for years,” he told The Media Line.
“The more those values are under attack, the more Bible-believing Christians are going to stand with Israel. They see Israel as a tip of a sword against those who fight civilization. Today, the clash is between those who hate the God of Israel and the Bible, and those who love it,” he explained.
He added that “Israeli government officials [participating in] this online conference help put things in better perspective,” highlighting the upcoming US presidential election.
One might have called it the elephant in the room, as throughout the event, support for the GOP candidate, President Donald Trump, was pervasive.
“The previous administration, led in part by [then-vice president] Joe Biden, moved toward Iran and made an insane nuclear deal with Iran that threatened not only Israel, but our Arab allies as well,” Rosenberg told attendees.
But Trump, according to retired IDF general Amir Avivi, founder and CEO of Habitchonistim, a group of former top Israeli security figures who support their country’s sovereignty in portions of the West Bank, is “the greatest friend Israel has had” in the White House.
“We are looking at the elections and we really want President Trump to win again,” Avivi told The Media Line. “I hope many people go out and vote.”
These voices reflect recent statistics on how both Israelis and Evangelicals view the presidential contest.
According to a poll published last week by i24News and conducted by the Direct Falls Research Institute, approximately 63% of Israelis favor the continuation of Trump’s leadership, compared to almost 19% who support Democratic candidate Biden.
Some polls in the US suggest that as many as 75% to 80% percent of Evangelicals support Trump.
Mitchell, the bureau chief, said this reflects the views of many Evangelical Christians living in Israel. It is believed that there are at least several thousand from abroad, including the US.
“Christians support Israel because it is the land of the Bible and they look to the promise in Genesis, Chapter 12, that was made to Abraham, that he who blesses Israel will be blessed, and he who curses Israel will be cursed,” Mitchell said. “They see Israel as the place where Jesus was and look forward to his return.”
In addition, a poll published last week by the Brooklyn-based, Orthodox Ami Magazine found that that 83% of US Orthodox Jews support the current president.
“I don’t think there has ever been this type of excitement for a president from the Orthodox Jewish community,” Josh Reinstein, director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and author of Titus, Trump and the Triumph of Israel: The Power of Faith Based Diplomacy, told The Media Line.
“Eighty-three percent is more than even Ronald Reagan got, who actually had the Lubavitch rebbe come out and ask his followers to vote for him,” he stated.
“It’s quite shocking to see that the closer you are to believing in the Bible, whether you’re Jewish or Christian, the more likely you are going to vote for Donald Trump,” he added.
According to Reinstein, Israel has become a wedge issue in US politics over the past 20 years.
“If you are a politician for the Republican Party… you cannot get elected if you are not pro-Israel,” he explained. “That has become a very powerful political force in America, and that’s what leading to a lot of changes in American policy vis-à-vis Israel.”
Examples of these changes include recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there, recognizing Israel’s right to the West Bank and exiting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Reinstein adds that the bond between Israel and the US is based on shared moral virtues.
“We are the only two nations founded on Judeo-Christian values in the world; that’s what really brings us together. The more these values are under attack, the more Bible-believing Christians are going to stand with Israel,” he noted.
Some 70% of the overall American Jewish community breaks for Biden, according to a September Pew Research Center poll.
Given the “stakes” of the upcoming election, Mitchell expects Evangelical support to be particularly high for Trump this time around.
“I think the Evangelical Christians in particular see it as a pivotal election for the future of the country, America, and the future of the Church,” he said.
“They support him in spite of perhaps his moral failings, which they tend to overlook… but given the totality of what President Trump has done as [the most pro-life president in American history] as well as for religious freedoms… all of those issues are a huge difference between [Trump and] presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020,” Mitchell stated.
But not all Evangelicals are able to overlook Trump’s political and moral shortcomings.
Doug Pagitt, a pastor from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and founder and executive director of the left-leaning NGO Vote Common Good, is one of those.
“It’s really hard for me to have to say it: This is a group of people who have no moral standing short of ‘I am a Republican and I will vote for a Republican no matter who the Republican is,’” he told The Media Line.
“A lot of us really thought that a sense of faith, morality and decency would cause them to move [politically]. And it didn’t and it doesn’t. Trying to pin that to a topic or to a policy, that really gives these people more credit than they deserve,” he said.
Pagitt and his group are conducting a “Faith, Hope & Love for a Change on Election Day National Bus Tour,” in which they are asking Evangelicals to “pause for a moment and let their faith speak to them, and not political identity,” he said.
“These are people who are saying regularly, ‘Because of my faith, I will support Donald Trump.’ Given your faith though, you can’t,” he stated.
“You have to have your faith be more than your political identity because otherwise you have to reconcile two things that are contrary to each other,” he continued. “We recognize that right now, what we have to [do is be sure that] faith voters vote in a way that is consistent with faith, hope and love that actually stops Donald Trump on Election Day.”
Pagitt’s goal is to convince at least 5% of the Evangelical demographic.
“One of the things people on the Democratic side have to understand is that moving these voters away from Donald Trump is about changing their political identity,” he said. “It’s not about talking to them about an issue.”
The pastor emphasizes that religious belief plays a role on both sides of the political aisle, noting that 90% of African-American churchgoers in the US vote Democrat.
“This tells me it’s not the Christian faith that’s articulating something that causes people to [support Trump]. And many black church members are opposed to abortion, so it’s not even abortion,” Pagitt said. “It’s a white religious identity that keeps them tied to Republicans.”
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