A growing divide between evangelical Christians, regarding the state of Israel and the Palestinian problem, has arisen in recent years. This debate, and the subsequent divide that grows out of it, is prompted by very passionate voices on both sides. Many conservative churches and leaders support Israel without equivocation. As I understand what has happened this support often comes without serious questions about whether or not injustice has taken place on the part of Israel. Others, often with a more progressive political agenda, support the Palestinian cause, sometimes in ways that reject the whole notion of Israel’s existence and future.
An example of this growing divide recently came to my attention via a Christian political publication called Faith & Freedom (Fall 2014). Author Luke W. Moon, the co-director of the Philos Project on Christian engagement with Israel, contributed an article to this issue titled: “The Latest Threat to Evangelical Support for Israel.” By the title you can readily see the author’s intent. He argues, and it seems rightly, that only a small percentage of evangelical leaders actually challenge “support for Israel.” He then reasons that this small percentage of evangelicals “wields outsized influence” within the current debate.
Luke Moon specifically challenges the witness of Lynne Hybels on this issue. Lynne is the wife of Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and an author and speaker herself. Putting Lynne Hybels in the center of this article reveals a great deal about Moon, and his own agenda. Let me explain.
Luke Moon lists several evangelicals who have spoken out on the “Israel-Palestinian” issue who also have spiritual roots at Willow Creek Community Church. Two of the persons he names work directly with World Vision, which of course draws more fire. Here is Moon’s conclusion: “World Vision makes no secret of its distaste for Zionism, both Jewish and Christian.” In 2011 World Vision started the Palestinian Christian Engagement Initiative (PCEI). The purpose of this initiative, at least according to Luke Moon, was to bring together “Palestinian churches in order to address the problem of Palestinian Christian emigration.” Moon argues that the primary reason Christians are leaving the Middle East in large numbers is the fault of Islam, not Israel. Moon adds that “since 1967 the number of Christians in Israel has increased while the number of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza has plummeted.”
Moon also goes after my friend Professor Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He says that Burge has dedicated “much of his work to formulating a biblical argument against supporting Israel.” Moon attacks Burge for his view that the “kingdom” of God in the teaching of Jesus is not about support for the ethnic descendants of Abraham in the modern land of Israel. What follows is a selective, but generally accurate, series of claims about evangelicals and Palestinians. Moon’s words should, in my view, make everyone pause: “Such words (i.e., like those of Gary Burge and others) tickle the ears of many evangelicals.” What a sad place to take an honest debate. Moon reasons that no one is against peace but the real problem is that this pro-peace stance is linked to “an anti-Zionist narrative” which tempts evangelicals to not support Israel. Now he has touched the real issue I think. Moon makes an extremely accurate point here when he says that the divide on this particular issue is sharply felt among older and younger evangelicals.
But here is what Moon, and those who argue for similar Zionist views, so often fail to tell you:
- The divide between evangelicals along age lines is the result not only of different political views. Moon is reasoning that older Christians are faithful and conservative while younger Christians are more liberal and progressive. But the real difference is that the generations have a very different understanding of Israel’s role within the Bible itself. Support for Zionism is often, though not entirely, the result of nearly a hundred years of dispensational influence within the church and the wider culture of conservatism.
- To not support Zionism is seen, by writers such as Luke Moon and similarly convinced Christians, as an attack upon the integrity of the covenant and God’s special love for the Jews.
- The secular state of Israel is generally believed to be the modern fulfillment of ancient prophetic Scriptures. This confusion underlies the entire debate if the truth is admitted on every side.