The Latest Threat to Evangelical Support for Israel (Part 2) [Excerpt]
The absence of vocal self-criticism among the Palestinian leadership and its policies is largely overlooked by those promoting a supposedly more “balanced” outlook on the conflict. Telos Group, for example, founded by a Palestinian-American and an Evangelical Christian, bills itself as supporting “genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace movements.” For the last several years, it has been targeting influential Evangelical bloggers and media sites with its message. An example of Telos Group’s influence can be seen in a recent edition of Relevant Magazine. Founded by second-generation Evangelical leader Cameron Strang, Relevant is a favorite among more moderate and progressive Evangelicals.
Telos Group invited Strang, along with several other young Evangelical favorites like Donald Miller, on a tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The subsequent messaging strategy followed a well-trodden path. Cameron said of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, “The conflict is one of the world’s oldest and most divisive, in which theology, politics, human rights, and history are all tangled into a hopeless-looking web. The sheer complexity of the situation in this relatively small plot of land has provoked many in the West to exhaustion, if not outright apathy”.
Over the course of his article, Strang introduces the reader to Palestinian and Jewish advocates for peace. In between are comments by Todd Deatherage, co-founder of Telos Group, which make the case against American Evangelicals who support Israel for theological reasons. Deatherage is quoted at length, saying, “The theology can be debated, you can have different views of the End Times and different readings of books of the Bible that may speak to that. But those seem overridden by Jesus’ teachings that we should love our enemies, that we should do justice, that we should walk in humility and love and we should care about Christian believers in different parts of the world.”
Strang and Deatherage, of course, passionately deny they are anti-Israel. “If you support the Palestinians and their right to live in their own state,” Deatherage says, “you have to support that for the Jews to live in Israel. You can’t be pro-Israel without being pro-Palestinian, and you can’t be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Israel, and all of that is pro-peace.” Such words tickle the ears of many Evangelicals. After all, who doesn’t want to be identified as pro-peace? Left unchallenged, however, the “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace” claim coupled with an anti-Zionist narrative tempts the average Evangelical to abandon fairly shallow support for Israel in favor of an even shallower slogan.
This is because the “pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace” slogan presumes that Israel and the Palestinians are more or less the same. This, in turn, asserts that the institutions that have allowed Israel to flourish—things like free speech, rule of law, a vibrant media, and religious liberty—would be available or even desired in a Palestinian state. But even now, the only real political opposition to the ruling Fatah party is the terrorist organization Hamas; and the two have just agreed to form a unity government. Thus, it looks increasingly like the debate will not be whether a Palestinian state is based on liberal democracy or Islamic law, but how strict the application of Islamic law is likely to be.
After a single Telos Group protest tour, Cameron Strang is probably unaware of how undemocratic a future Palestinian state is likely to be; but Todd Deatherage, Gary Burge, and Lynne Hybels have travelled extensively throughout the Palestinian territories and are certainly not so naïve. They are no doubt aware that the average Palestinian Christian and Israeli Jew have much to lose from the concessions now being advocated by Washington, London, and Brussels. But by challenging Evangelical support for Israel, they are actively undermining the only real source of democracy and freedom in the Middle East; something that does not bode well for the region’s beleaguered Christians and their right to practice their faith.
The generational divide between the older, more clear-spoken Evangelicals and younger Evangelicals who want a more nuanced approach to political advocacy, represents a challenge to those of us seeking to strengthen Evangelical support for Israel. But it is no longer possible to ignore the struggles that many Palestinian Christians endure, nor that Palestinian Christians are being exploited by Palestinian nationalists and Islamic radicals in order to soften Evangelical concerns about the nature of a future Palestinian state. Those Christian organizations and leaders who promote an anti-Zionist agenda must tell us precisely how a future Palestinian state would be a blessing to Palestinian Christians, Israel, and the surrounding nations. If they will not or cannot, American Evangelicals should think very hard about whether they want to give up the opportunity to be a blessing to the nation that blessed us with Jesus Christ.