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 conference’s 12-point “manifesto” strongly condemns “all forms of violence” and warns against the “stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.” It also rejects “any exclusive claim to the land of the Bible in the name of God” and states that “racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.”

For some on Christian college campuses, the appeal of pro-Palestinian views may be part of a general trend among young evangelicals to question the conservative ways of their parents’ generation. Some students are pursuing a theological understanding of their religion that is more progressive on social issues. Polls conducted in recent years indicate that young white evangelicals are less conservative on issues of same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. They are also less aligned with the Republican Party. This same trend of political diversification may be taking place on international issues.

CUFI’s concern, as voiced by Brog in his article, is about the younger generation of evangelical leaders; unlike such figures as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, they are not vocal about the issue of Israel. He describes the new generation of evangelical opinion makers as a “largely well-coiffed and fashionably dressed bunch dedicated to marketing Christianity to a skeptical generation by making it cool, compassionate, and less overtly political.”

One of the organizations gaining the most attention on this issue is the Telos Group, a Washington-based not-for-profit set up five years ago that describes itself as “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace.” In an interview on Glenn Beck’s “TheBlaze TV,” Brog singled out Telos, saying: “This is not your parents’ anti-Israel group. These guys are savvy, these guys are smart.”

Telos, which focuses a significant part of its work on faith communities, has to date taken 43 groups on tours of Israel and the Palestinian territories. President and co-founder Gregory Khalil said the group intentionally engages with a variety of Israelis and Palestinians on their trips. “I actually think David Brog could learn a lot about Israel if he would join one of our trips,” Khalil said, arguing that Brog mischaracterized the work of Telos.

But while the budding debate in the evangelical world over Israel is real, its proportions may be overstated. “We’re a tiny organization,” Khalil said of his group, which has only two staff members. Other publications and groups cited by CUFI as pro-Palestinian are also much smaller than CUFI’s own pro-Israel operation.

CUFI is not waiting for them to grow larger. In January, at a Jewish fundraising event,, the group presented its plan to take two groups a year of young evangelical opinion leaders to Israel. “We need to use the same tool to fight back,” CUFI declared in its pitch for Jewish donor support. The group is also launching speaking tours on campuses, and intends to invest in videos and social media activity that will monitor Christian influencers and “confront them when they cross the line.”

The glaring precedent that pro-Israel evangelicals cite to justify their approach is the path taken by the mainline Protestant churches. In the past, many were sympathetic to Israel, or at worst neutral. But some have since become a stronghold of pro-Palestinian views in the American Christian world. A few groups, such as the Presbyterians, have been leading the way in calls for divestment and boycott against Israel.

But Gushee argued that evangelicals are unlikely to take this path. The mainline Protestant churches today may be aggressively anti-Israel, he said, but the shift among evangelicals “is not from pro-Israel to anti-Israel, but from pro-Israel to a more balanced approach.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter @nathanguttman

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story wrongly inserted a word in a quotation from an article by David Brog this is cited in this article. Brog did not describe Christian support for Israel as “unqualified.”


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