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The War for the Heart of a Generation

May 24, 2023

by: Cheryl Hauer, International Vice President

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Recent polls regarding evangelical support for Israel have some leaders worried. Although the numbers remain high among baby boomers, support among younger evangelicals seems to be declining. Such a trend, were it to continue, could have a profound effect on evangelicalism itself and perhaps more broadly, on Israel’s already tenuous relationship with the international community.

Historically, Israel has found some of her greatest friends among Bible-believing Christians. Today, millions of Christians visit Israel every year, returning home as friends and advocates for the Jewish state, willing to dedicate their time, money, prayers and political clout to those issues concerning Israel’s security and prosperity.

Until recently, many evangelical Christians and their Jewish counterparts found common ground in their love for the Bible and their shared spiritual heritage through the patriarch Abraham. Christians have seen Israel as the fulfillment of Bible prophecy as millions of Jews returned to their ancient homeland. They have thrilled at the opportunity to “walk where Jesus walked” while getting to know the modern-day residents of His ancient homeland. They have celebrated God’s eternal covenant with His people and the fact that the Land He promised was theirs once again. They have taken pride as they watched God’s blessing carry a fledgling state with few friends to a major player on the global scene whose flow of innovations make the world a better, safer, healthier and less hungry place. And they have been there in the stands, cheering Israel on as she has been forced to fight to maintain her position as a beacon of democracy in a very unfriendly neighborhood.

But the polls tell us the climate is shifting, and many in both communities fear that evangelical Christianity is an ally Israel simply can’t afford to lose. In America, for example, polls from a decade ago indicated that the majority of evangelicals sympathized with Israel and were committed to ensuring US policy favored her. They were clear that those political beliefs were the result of their interpretation of biblical prophecy and the conviction that, quite simply, God gave Israel to the Jewish people. To be clear, there are still vast numbers of evangelicals about whom all these things remain true, but as a group, they are aging rapidly. By 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 or older, with increasingly waning influence. As such, the concern is for the loss of support among those 18 to 29. Studies done in 2018 and then repeated in 2021 saw that support drop from 69% to 34% in just three years.

A Shift in Focus

Pastors and Christian leaders who would like nothing better than to see their commitment to Israel passed on to the next generation are baffled by what they see as an inexplicable theological shift. Topics such as eschatology and amillennialism are not as important for today’s young believers as they were for their parents. Many young pastors are much less likely to preach on the end times, and prophecy and covenant are deemed irrelevant by many of today’s students. Finally, the current focus on the “New Testament” fails to give younger believers a solid biblical foundation and an understanding of Israel’s role in God’s plan for the ages.

Statistically, however, the most important reason for the waning support for Israel among young believers is their perception that Israel is a colonialist entity that is not a legitimate part of the family of nations. Rather than seeing Israel through the prism of the Bible as their parents did, they view the Jewish state as an oppressor nation, a violator of human rights and the antithesis of social justice. And one of the significant forces behind that perception is the concerted effort on the part of Palestinian leadership to get their narrative inserted into the educational experience of young people.

Seeds of Hate in Fertile Ground

“Teach Palestine” is an organization dedicated to helping K-12 educators worldwide expand their curricula to include the Palestinian narrative. Beginning in California, they have extended their reach across the US and around the world. As increasingly more countries add “Ethnic Studies” to their curricula, Teach Palestine provides teachers with free resources based on information gleaned from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, all self-proclaimed haters of the Jewish state.

“Kumi Now,” which means Rise Up Now, purports to connect international activists with those on the ground in “Palestine” to bring a just and lasting peace. In actuality, it is an organization spawned by Sabeel, an Arab Christian virulently anti-Israel organization that attempts to delegitimatize Israel and who supported the 2001 effort to designate Israel as an apartheid state. Kumi Now is currently sponsoring a major event for young people in July 2023 and a yearlong young adult discipleship program that will inculcate the anti-Israel Palestinian narrative in impressionable minds.

Israeli Apartheid Week happens annually in March. College campuses around the world hold weeklong events where Israel is demonized and portrayed as a colonialist empire that murders children and oppresses the Palestinian people with impunity. Participants are encouraged to boycott Israeli products by entering stores and destroying any items made in Israel. These events have tremendous impact on college campuses, intimidating Jewish students and planting seeds of hatred in the minds of young people committed to social justice.

Where Will Our Help Come From

Prayer for today’s young people is more important than ever before as they face a barrage of anti-Israel propaganda for which many are ill prepared. But that’s not the only solution. Bridges for Peace’s Call to Zion tour and year-long Zealous Israel Project have given hundreds of young people a biblical foundation on which to build their support for the nation of Israel. And we are not alone. Dozens of organizations, both Jewish and Christian, are investing in today’s youth, combatting that anti-Zionist narrative with the truth through educational programming and hands-on experiences. Though the battle rages, working together, there is hope that Israel will be able to count on her evangelical allies for generations to come.

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