Younger evangelical Christians indifferent about Israel, poll finds

Evangelicals are the backbone of Christian Zionist groups including Christians United for Israel, but support for Israel is eroding among the young. (via Facebook)

Younger evangelical Christians in the United States are much less likely to support Israel than their elders, a new survey has found.

“Older American evangelicals love Israel – but many younger evangelicals simply don’t care,” according to LifeWay Research, the church-focused firm that conducted the survey.

Evangelicals are the backbone of major Christian Zionist organizations, such as Christians United for Israel, and are an influential constituency on the right of American politics.

President Donald Trump’s reported decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy to the city is the fulfillment of a long-standing demand of such groups.

The national survey of 2,002 adults with evangelical beliefs was conducted on behalf of Chosen People Ministries, a religious group that proselytizes that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews – effectively missionaries who aim to convert Jews to fundamentalist Christianity.

“For the most part, younger evangelicals are indifferent about Israel,” according to Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.

Four in ten evangelicals aged 18-34 say they have “no strong views” about Israel.

“I am concerned for the obvious decline in support for Israel among millennial followers of Jesus, who either do not know what they believe or do not seem to care,” said Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries.

Overall, two-thirds of evangelicals have positive views of Israel. Nine percent have a negative view and 24 percent are not sure.

About a quarter say they would support Israel no matter what it does. However two in five say that they support Israel but not all its actions. A third have no strong views.

Black evangelicals are the least likely to express a positive view of Israel (50 percent).

There is a marked generation gap: just nine percent of older evangelicals see the “rebirth” of Israel in 1948 as an injustice to Palestinians, 62 percent disagree and 28 percent are not sure.

Those figures almost double among the younger age group: 19 percent say Israel’s creation was an injustice, just 34 percent disagree and nearly half are not sure.

Overall, six in 10 respondents believe “Christians should do more to love and care for Palestinians,” a number that also rises among evangelicals who are younger or Black.

Global trend

In recent years there has been a general generational shift away from support for Israel in several countries.

In the United States, where support for Israel remains strong overall, a 2016 Pew Research Center survey found a surge of sympathy for Palestinians among liberals, and a growing generation gap.

It found that greater sympathy with Palestinians had tripled among millennials from nine percent in 2006 to 27 percent a decade later.

Jewish communities reflect these changes too as younger Jews increasingly feel indifferent to or alienated from Israel – a shift that prompted liberal Zionist commentator Peter Beinart to sound the alarm about what he dubbed the “Crisis of Zionism.”

Many younger Jews are visible and active in the Palestine solidarity movement and support boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), amid the emergence of organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow that challenge the claims of pro-Israel establishment Jewish organizations to speak for them.

Surveys in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have also revealed greater sympathy towards Palestinians in younger age groups.

Opportunities

The changing attitudes of younger evangelicals are not surprising when seen in light of broader social trends.

For instance, younger evangelicals are also much more likely than older age groups to hold more liberal views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, immigration and government support for social services.

In June, the Pew Research Center found that almost half of younger white evangelicals now support same-sex marriage, opening up a dramatic generation gap with their elders that didn’t exist just a year earlier.

This shows that what are assumed to be bedrock beliefs rooted in religion can change quite rapidly as broader society shifts. It suggests that advocates for Palestinian rights should not limit their outreach only to those they assume will be receptive.

Joel C. Rosenberg, the author of the LifeWay Research survey, warned that without more theologically driven pro-Israel indoctrination aimed at young Christians, “overall evangelical support for the Jewish state could very well plummet over the next decade as millennials represent an ever-larger percentage of the overall church body.”

Given the changes in attitudes in recent years and the opportunities they represent, it is no wonder Israel and its lobby are in a panic about their failure – despite enormous expenditures – to stem the growing support for Palestinian rights.

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