Thursday, December 05, 2002

Why are American Christians pro-Israel?

As long time readers (both of you, counting me and my son Samuel) know, one of my favorite topics is why Christians support Israel, or more accurately, I have taken exception to the widespread belief that we support Israel merely because of dispensational eschatology.

The current issue of World magazine has an article by Joel Belz entitled Why pro-Israel? that provides some data that are relevant to this discussion.

First of all, the data show that about 2/3 of evangelical Christians say their sympathies, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lie with Israel. (What is the other 1/3 thinking? I’ll leave that to the uber-pundits like Fuhrmann and Claybourn and Byron).

What is more interesting to me, is the reason behind the support for Israel. According to World, and citing data from Stand for Israel, by more than a 2 to 1 margin those Christians expressing support for Israel "tended to cite issues like military solidarity and democratic values rather than eschatological issues or Old Testament promises about Israel."

In his article, Belz also writes:
Indeed, American Christians' love affair with Israel is often much more intuitive than principled. Journalist David Aikman, formerly of Time and now at Trinity Forum, insisted that even dispensational theology has little to do with it. Noting how charismatic Christians worldwide-including perhaps millions in the house churches of China-tend to be highly pro-Israel, Mr. Aikman stressed that such people are almost always just following intuition.

Interesting point, especially about China, although I could nit-pick with Belz’s presumed distinction between intuitive and principled. Christian intuition is highly principled.

The article on cited from the Stand for Israel site is fascinating. Among the intriguing factoids:

  • 62% of conservative Christians who attend church regularly indicate that they support Israel, this figure jumps to 77% among conservative Christian men.

  • Evangelicals are most likely to indicate that they support Israel because of the strong relationship that Israel has developed with the United States – 56% point to the fact that Israel shares democratic values, is an important ally against terrorism, and is a safe haven for Jews from persecution.

  • 80% of Americans say that the enemies of the U.S., such as Saddam Hussein and Al Queda, are also enemies of Israel.

  • Jews are increasingly more likely to have a favorable view of George W. Bush, and 81% of Jews see Bush as a strong supporter of Israel.

  • 46% of Jews would be more likely to vote for George W. Bush based on the way he has been handling the war on terrorism.

  • The poll found that 46% of Democrats and only 45% of liberals– the political party most Jews identify with – support Israel. However, the number of supporters was significantly higher among evangelicals (62%) and Republicans (67%). Among those who oppose Israel’s policies, 38% of registered Democrats, 25% of evangelicals and 17% of registered Republicans stand in opposition.

This reminds me of one point that I always want to make with Jews and one question I always have.

The point: Do you understand that anti-Semitism in the U.S. is rare (compared say, with Europe) because of our strong Christian heritage and not in spite of it?

The question: Why do you [American Jews ] continue to support the Democrats?

Is some skepticism about the data in order? Perhaps—it may be politically advantageous to trumpet the notion that Christians support Israel for noble geopolitical reasons, not just for eschatological fodder. However, I suspect the data are accurate, and they much more accurately reflect my experience, in contrast to the simple explanations based on dispensationialism.

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