Israel's Grip on Evangelical Christians Loosens

Younger Generation Open to Palestinian Side of Conflict

Israel’s Friends: Evangelical Christians from the U.S. participate in Sukkot festivities in Jerusalem.
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Israel’s Friends: Evangelical Christians from the U.S. participate in Sukkot festivities in Jerusalem.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 11, 2014.
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The survey polled only leaders who participated in this international conference and did not offer insight into the views of rank-and-file evangelicals. But it highlighted the fact that only a minority within the evangelical leadership today hold strong pro-Israel views when it comes to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and attendant conflict with the Palestinians.

Still, Christian Zionism is by far the largest organized voice on Middle East issues among evangelicals. CUFI, led by the Rev. John Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, has 1.6 million registered supporters and a staff of 25 full-time employees. With an operating budget of more than $7 million, CUFI organizes dozens of pro-Israel events throughout the country and an annual Washington conference that brings together evangelical activists and politicians.

CUFI’s leaders are now trying to mobilize funders and supporters to confront the shift among younger members of their community. The challenge they face is made up of individuals, campus activists and professors, small organizations and even documentary films that depict Israel as encroaching on Christian freedom of faith in the Holy Land.

On university campuses, pro-Palestinian Christians have seen some success in the face of CUFI’s more established 120-chapter campus operation. Activists in Illinois’s Wheaton College, a leading Christian school, protested a planned CUFI event on campus in 2009; in Tulsa, Okla., Oral Roberts University has appointed a harsh critic of Israel to its board of trustees, and at Bethel University, in Minnesota, President Jay Barnes visited Israel and the Palestinian territories on a trip that changed participants’ views on the conflict. Barnes’s wife, Barbara Barnes, published a poem after the trip, in which she wrote: “Apartheid has become a way of life. I believe God mourns.”

American evangelicals sympathetic to the Palestinians are also bringing co-religionists to Israel and the West Bank for tours and conferences. This week, Bethlehem Bible College and the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust are hosting their third “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference. Speakers at the gathering, which presents a Palestinian perspective on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for Christians, include Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gaza physician who worked closely with both Arabs and Israeli Jews until his three daughters were killed in their home by Israeli tank fire during the 2008 Gaza military campaign; William Wilson, the president of Oral Roberts University.; and Gary Burge, a theology professor at Wheaton College and author of the book, “Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians.”


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