by: Cheryl Hauer, International Vice President
Some might think that evangelical Christians and Israeli Jews make strange bedfellows. After all, Christian support for Israel seems to fly in the face of centuries of Christian belief that God has defaulted on His covenant promise to return the Jewish people to their ancient homeland and has instead replaced them with Christianity as the “true Israel.” In some Christian circles, Israel is vilified as an occupying oppressor with no historical or biblical right to the Land of its forefathers.
Yet in recent decades, as many as 85% of evangelicals have lauded the return of the Jewish people as the fulfillment of hundreds of biblical prophecies and have thrown their financial support, prayers and political clout behind the tiny nation. Former US President Donald Trump has stated that evangelical Christians strongly influenced his decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, as well as his efforts, through the Abraham Accords, to bring peace to Israel and stability to the Middle East. Concern is mounting however, that such biblically based love for Israel is not being handed down to the next generation.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Since the rebirth of the nation in 1948, energized by Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of 1967, evangelical support has been on the rise. with hundreds of millions of Bible-believing Christians worldwide praying and advocating for the Jewish state. Christians far outnumber Jews among the millions of pilgrims who visit the Holy Land every year, many of them overwhelmed by the experience of seeing prophecy fulfilled before their eyes. American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, visited Israel in 2007 and his response brings perspective. “As I tread on this holy place, I am almost as excited as when I took my first steps on the moon.”
Such support far predates Israel’s War for Independence, however, or even the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Throughout history, from Great Britain to Australia, from South Africa to Europe and America, deeply religious men who believe the Bible have spoken eloquently of Israel’s prophesied return to the Land God gave their forefathers. Even the less religious were sometimes caught up in the spiritual wonder of the Land. Winston Churchill, a man of principle but not religion, visited Israel in 1921. He would later say, “If I were to live a thousand years, never would I forget Jerusalem, which still seems to breathe with the grandeur of Jehovah.”
It is perhaps not surprising then that former Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer feels Israel isn’t putting enough eggs in the evangelical basket. In May, Dermer suggested that Israel should prioritize the “passionate and unequivocal” support of evangelical Christians over that of American Jews, whom he said are “disproportionately among our critics. People have to understand that the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States is the evangelical Christians.”
Others are warning, however, that Dermer’s optimism regarding ongoing evangelical support is misplaced. Recent polls show that younger evangelicals aren’t nearly as interested in or supportive of Israel as their parents and grandparents. A survey conducted in the United States earlier this year by the Barna Group revealed an ever-widening margin between those 19–29 years old and preceding generations. In 2018, a similar study showed that support for Israel among young evangelicals was somewhat less than a 2015 study, but still nearly as high as those 50 years old and above. However, the 2021 study put overall support at an alarming 34% while indicating that this age group is increasingly more likely to express support for the Palestinians.
Highlights of the 2021 Poll
Although it is impossible in this short article to examine every aspect of the 2021 study, the following highlights indicate the direction that many find alarming.
It is worth noting that all these numbers are significantly lower when compared Baby Boomers (57–75) or Gen-Xers (41–56) who answered the same questions. A similar study done in 1977 revealed that the 18–29 demographic was more supportive of Israel than any of the other age groups.
As disquieting as the study results were, there were definitely some bright spots.
Reasons for Declining Support
The study also gives glimpses into possible reasons for the declining support for Israel. Only 38% of respondents are regular churchgoers, and only 18% are regular Bible readers. Religious beliefs were a factor for only 38% of those polled, while 44% said religious beliefs have little to do with support for Israel. Finally, only 8% felt that they had extensive knowledge regarding Israel and its current situation, while 26% felt they had limited knowledge and 22% had no knowledge at all. The most disturbing answer of all, however, came when respondents were asked how often they hear any other evangelicals talking about the importance of supporting Israel. Forty percent said seldom; 25% said never.
Perhaps therein lies the answer. Making Israel a part of the Christian narrative, teaching about Israel in innovative ways that will capture the attention of young evangelicals and allowing them to learn about Israel in terms that are important to them are concepts that are worthy of further attention. And making support for Israel less about politics and more about our faith journey couldn’t hurt. But clearly, something must be done. It would seem that today’s over-50-year-old Israel supporters are 1977’s 18–29-year-olds. If we let the pattern hold true, the future is pretty bleak…not just for Israel, but for evangelical Christianity as well.
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