Op-Ed: The Pro-Palestinian Campaign to Woo US Evangelicals
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards...
“A massive effort is going on in the heart of the American Evangelical Church to lure its members to the Palestinian side. There are approximately 100 million self-identifying Evangelicals in the U.S, of which a much smaller number is actively connected with their faith. There are probably about 15 million engaged Evangelical Millennials.
“It is severely mistaken to think that all Evangelicals are pro-Israel. Millennials are constantly being targeted with the Palestinian narrative through media, conferences, mentoring relationships, book publishing and social networks. Frequently shown films are: ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ and ‘With God on Our Side.’”
Jim Fletcher is a life-long American Evangelical Christian. He spent 20 years in the Christian book publishing industry. In 2007, Fletcher became a full-time writer and researcher, specializing almost exclusively in advocacy for Israel.
“The top power centers within American Evangelicalism are already committed to spreading the Palestinian version of the conflict. These pro-Palestinian leaders currently control the narrative within the Church.
“The leading organization for American Evangelical leadership/mentoring is Catalyst Conference. Its director cultivates relationships with anti-Israel Christians. Catalyst Conference enables pro-Palestinian presentations to be made available across the U.S and is the ‘mother ship’ of these efforts at the organizational level.
“Relevant is the leading periodical for Evangelical Millennials. Cameron Strang, its publisher, openly advocates for the Palestinians. His wide and influential circle of friends runs the Evangelical gamut.
“To further understand what is going on, one can best detail the background of the principal people involved in the pro-Palestinian propaganda. There are three major drivers: Todd Deatherage, co-founder – along with Greg Khalil - a Palestinian – of Telos Group, a non-profit officially dedicated to conflict resolution. Deatherage is a former State Department official from the second Bush administration and has a conservative, “Bible-Belt” Evangelical background.
“Lynne Hybels is a close friend of Deatherage and co-founder and Pastor of the Willow Creek Association, a ‘mega-church’ movement in Chicago with 9,000 churches. It appeals to center-left Evangelicals interested in social justice. Hybels has the funding and time to travel to what she calls ‘Israel/Palestine’ and promote the Palestinian/PLO view of the conflict.
“A third major player is Sami Awad, Director of the Holy Land Trust. This is a Bethlehem Palestinian Christian organization with close ties to the Palestinian Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem and other Israel-hate groups. Awad has perfected the model of bringing the Palestinian narrative into American churches.
“Other important individuals are: Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo of Eastern University, Jonathan Merritt, Mae Cannon of World Vision, Dr. Gary Burge of Wheaton College, Dr. Paul Alexander of Eastern University, and Dale Hanson Bourke. They represent a broad spectrum of the many Evangelical denominations. They are also supported ideologically by top leadership which includes Rick Warren of Southern California’s Saddleback Community Church. He and Bill Hybels – the husband of Lynn – are the kingpins of modern American Evangelicalism.
“Until a few years ago, several Palestinian Christians like Naim Ateek, head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center headquartered in Jerusalem, figured prominently in the promotion of the Palestinian narrative. His tone however was too strident for the target population. Awad arose as the new face of this narrative. Palestinian Christians figure very prominently in the campaign to demonize Israel and its Christian supporters. They are aided immeasurably by Dr. Burge.
“In the Palestinian narrative, emotion is predominant. The emphasis is on ‘land confiscations, checkpoints, detentions, beatings.’ What they call the ‘apartheid wall’ is also mentioned frequently. One should however not underestimate the fact that Replacement Theology is sweeping the American Evangelical Church.
“Mainstream Christian negative attitudes about Israel and Jews are being wholly transplanted into the heart of Evangelicalism. ‘Bridge’ individuals, such as Campolo are more closely linked to the mainline ‘liberal theology’ worldview than regular Evangelicals. This virulent critic of Israel has mentored younger leaders of Southern Baptist and Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) groups.
“Anti-Semitism also seems to be an important factor. It is usually hidden and subtle. Yet there is much anecdotal evidence of it. A long-time friend in the Christian book publishing industry told me many years ago: ‘American Christians like Israel, but they don’t like Jews.’ This statement is largely on-target.
“To my knowledge, there are no broad-based Evangelical leaders in the U.S. who will speak out about this problem, which is developing into an epidemic. Victor Styrsky, Eastern Regional Coordinator for Christians United for Israel (CUFI) said to me in 2012: ‘If something isn’t done soon, in 10 years, pro-Israel support among American Evangelicals will all be over.’ The way things are going, support will completely flip from Israel to the Palestinians in the next generation. The so-called ‘Christian Palestinianists’ are currently way ahead of Christian Zionists in the propaganda wars.”