A screed is a lengthy bit of writing that most readers generally find tedious. And tendentious. But today this has become a common genre among evangelicals of a certain tribe who are keen to shore up Christian support for the state of Israel at all costs. John Hagee is joining voices with Glenn Beck, and a host of evangelical bloggers who might benefit from a graduate-level course in theology or a refresher on the current political scene has joined in.
But today they are raising a new alarm: Evangelicalism’s historic support for Israel is slipping. This is such a concern that they’ve seen fit to name names and condemn institutions that apparently are contributing to this slippage. The well-known Willow Creek Community Church is on their list. But so are World Vision, Youth With a Mission (YWAM), the Mennonite Central Committee, the Telos Group in Washington, DC, Sojourners and Relevant magazines, Eastern University (Philadelphia), and my own Wheaton College (Chicago). And that’s just the beginning. Popular conferences such as Catalyst and Q are also indicted, not to mention Christian groups like Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.
Anyone who simply raises troubling questions about Israel’s 47-year military occupation of millions of Palestinians (including many Palestinian Christians) is suddenly labeled “anti-Israel” or in some cases “anti-Semitic.” And their institutions are condemned in a convenient gesture of collective incrimination. Consider the case of Tom Getman of Washington, DC, an evangelical who was a legislative aide to the late Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR). Getman has worked tirelessly for the cause of justice for Israel/Palestine for decades. But you can’t be the country director of World Vision in Israel/Palestine, see what the Israeli occupation is really doing, and not ask tough questions.
So what do we know?
First, it is clear that a robust community of evangelicals is firmly and inflexibly in support of the state of Israel. This is easy to demonstrate simply through polling in the last 12 years. In 2006 the Pew Forum found that 70 percent of white evangelicals agreed with the statement, “Israel was given by God to the Jews.” In 2013 that same question yielded 82 percent agreement. In 2005 the forum asked, “Has Israel fulfilled Biblical Prophecy?” Sixty-three percent said yes. In July thousands of evangelicals gathered in Washington, DC for the annual summit of Christians United For Israel (CUFI). Speakers include pastors, senators, and yes, Binyamin Netanyahu. In the words of one of my students now home for the summer: “I struggle to discuss theology with my family members who grew up and still reside in a very conservative town. I have tried to discuss Israel-Palestine with them but it’s like talking to a brick wall.”
I hear dozens of variations of those sentences from people all over the U.S.