CUFI Fears it’s losing its Grip on Evangelical Christians

Interesting article in today’s Haaretzand if it’s true, this is one Christian who won’t be shedding any tears…

Support for Israel is weakening among evangelical Christians, prompting a new struggle for the hearts and minds of younger members of America’s largest pro-Israel demographic group.

While hard numbers are not available, evangelical leaders on both sides of the divide on Israel agree that members of the millennial generation do not share their parents’ passion for the Jewish state; many are seeking some form of evenhandedness when approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“What is happening is that the hard line of Christian Zionists was not successfully passed forward to the next generation, because it was based on theological themes that are now being questioned by younger evangelicals,” said David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta.

The grip of Christian Zionists over young evangelicals has been loosening for several years, according to observers within the community. But in recent weeks, the leading evangelical pro-Israel organization, Christians United for Israel, has set off alarm bells in articles and interviews decrying the inroads made by pro-Palestinian activists into the evangelical community. CUFI’s leaders are calling for a new strategy to block them.

“The only way of solving a problem is when people know about it,” said, CUFI’s executive director, David Brog, who has been leading the effort to win back millennial evangelicals. “This is the best way to rally our troops.”

Brog penned a lengthy article, published in the spring edition of Middle East Quarterly, in which he detailed what he views as a growing phenomenon and the reasons behind it. Titled “The End of Evangelical Support for Israel?” the article laments that “questioning unqualified Christian support for the Jewish state is fast becoming a key way for millennials to demonstrate Christian compassion and bona fides.”

This conclusion is based primarily on gut feelings and anecdotal data. In June 2011, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey among evangelical leaders convened in Cape Town, South Africa, for the third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. The findings indicated lower support for Israel than previously believed. A majority of American evangelical leaders (49%) expressed neutrality when asked if they sympathize more with Israelis or with Palestinians. Thirty percent expressed support for Israelis, 13% for the Palestinians.

The survey polled only leaders who participated in this international conference and did not offer insight into the views of rank-and-file evangelicals. But it highlighted the fact that only a minority within the evangelical leadership today hold strong pro-Israel views when it comes to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and attendant conflict with the Palestinians.

Still, Christian Zionism is by far the largest organized voice on Middle East issues among evangelicals. CUFI, led by the Rev. John Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, has 1.6 million registered supporters and a staff of 25 full-time employees. With an operating budget of more than $7 million, CUFI organizes dozens of pro-Israel events throughout the country and an annual Washington conference that brings together evangelical activists and politicians.

CUFI’s leaders are now trying to mobilize funders and supporters to confront the shift.

American evangelicals sympathetic to the Palestinians are also bringing co-religionists to Israel and the West Bank for tours and conferences. This week, Bethlehem Bible College and the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust are hosting their third “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference. Speakers at the gathering, which presents a Palestinian perspective on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for Christians, include Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gaza physician who worked closely with both Arabs and Israeli Jews until his three daughters were killed in their home by Israeli tank fire during the 2008 Gaza military campaign; William Wilson, the president of Oral Roberts University.; and Gary Burge, a theology professor at Wheaton College and author of the book, “Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians.”

CUFI’s concern, as voiced by Brog in his article, is about the younger generation of evangelical leaders; unlike such figures as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, they are not vocal about the issue of Israel. He describes the new generation of evangelical opinion makers as a “largely well-coiffed and fashionably dressed bunch dedicated to marketing Christianity to a skeptical generation by making it cool, compassionate, and less overtly political.”

One of the organizations gaining the most attention on this issue is the Telos Group, a Washington-based not-for-profit set up five years ago that describes itself as “pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace.” In an interview on Glenn Beck’s “TheBlaze TV,” Brog singled out Telos, saying: “This is not your parents’ anti-Israel group. These guys are savvy, these guys are smart.”

Telos, which focuses a significant part of its work on faith communities, has to date taken 43 groups on tours of Israel and the Palestinian territories. President and co-founder Gregory Khalil said the group intentionally engages with a variety of Israelis and Palestinians on their trips. “I actually think David Brog could learn a lot about Israel if he would join one of our trips,” Khalil said, arguing that Brog mischaracterized the work of Telos.

But while the budding debate in the evangelical world over Israel is real, its proportions may be overstated. “We’re a tiny organization,” Khalil said of his group, which has only two staff members. Other publications and groups cited by CUFI as pro-Palestinian are also much smaller than CUFI’s own pro-Israel operation.

CUFI is not waiting for them to grow larger. In January, at a Jewish fundraising event,, the group presented its plan to take two groups a year of young evangelical opinion leaders to Israel. “We need to use the same tool to fight back,” CUFI declared in its pitch for Jewish donor support.

The group is also launching speaking tours on campuses, and intends to invest in videos and social media activity that will monitor Christian influencers and “confront them when they cross the line.”

The glaring precedent that pro-Israel evangelicals cite to justify their approach is the path taken by the mainline Protestant churches. In the past, many were sympathetic to Israel, or at worst neutral.

But some have since become a stronghold of pro-Palestinian views in the American Christian world. A few groups, such as the Presbyterians, have been leading the way in calls for divestment and boycott against Israel.

But Gushee argued that evangelicals are unlikely to take this path. The mainline Protestant churches today may be aggressively anti-Israel, he said, but the shift among evangelicals “is not from pro-Israel to anti-Israel, but from pro-Israel to a more balanced approach.”

That statement at the end by Gushee is the problem, as CUFI and other CZ organizations see it: For they are not seeking nor want “a balanced” unbiased approach in which the Church is concerned with all involved.   

There were a few portions left out, so if interested you can read it all here


8 comments on “CUFI Fears it’s losing its Grip on Evangelical Christians

  1. This makes me crazy! How is choosing Israel and only Israel in any way related to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!? Where is there love in any of this rubbish?

    • Micey, the love (and the gospel) is missing because it’s political. The largest of the Christian Zionist organizations, John Hagee’s CUFI, doesn’t even bother denying that they are a pro-Israel political activist/lobbying group anymore. When it first began he tried stressing the “Christian” in the name (to Christians) but all one had to do was check it out to see it was more political then Christian. Most Christian Zionist groups do not believe that Jews in Israel and elsewhere need to be presented with the gospel. CUFI for instance, as one such organization, holds meetings, conferences, etc, and pointedly tells those Christians who attend to NOT speak of Jesus or the gospel to Jews who also attend these conferences, for fear of offending them.

      The goal of Christian zionism is only to protect, love, defend, and ‘bless’ Israel and the Jews; Thats all.

      It’s unbiblical and based upon a dangerous theology which serves “another god” – an idol.

    • What I see is another form of racism in this. Just unreal how many people buy into his “theology”

    • Yes i agree Micey. Someone posted a saying over at facebook recently which fits this: “if your theology doesn’t encourage you to love all people, then you need to recheck your theology”

      That may not be a direct quote, but its close enough. aha…

    • Not so sure about racism, but it is certainly a form of bullying. Either you agree with them 100%, or you are “antisemitic” and all sorts of other bad things. For sure there is plenty of antisemitism in the world today, unfortunately, but putting Christian conviction ahead of political correctness is NOT antisemitism no matter how much Israel and their CUFI friends might want to insinuate the idea. It is on a parallel of the abuse of the term “homophobic”. Certainly all too many people are, indeed, homophobic and act out that paranoia in insidious ways, but simply believing that homosexual acts are a sin does not make one “homophobic”. But now more and more people are beginning to realize that they are being had by this crass manipulation and it is starting to lose its scare potential. Its about time.

    • But now more and more people are beginning to realize that they are being had by this crass manipulation and it is starting to lose its scare potential. Its about time.

      Amen George. It is heartening to see many are realizing they have been manipulated. I praise God for it!

      Either you agree with them 100%, or you are “antisemitic” and all sorts of other bad things.

      You’re right, and as you also pointed out, what makes this so tragic is there still exists ‘real’ antisemitism in the world, and by throwing that word or term around when it’s not warranted, it looses any meaning.

      Like when,

      – someone dares to vocally question, disagree with, or point out any action or policy concerning the Israeli government
      – concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, you love, care about the welfare of, and are concerned about ALL involved, not just Israel, and dare to say so..
      – you openly disagree with the teachings of dispensational theology
      – your theology isn’t Israelocentric

      And that is only a few examples of things which will get you called out as being antisemitic today.

      Maybe its because i read a-lot around the web, but i see that term used over and over today at the ‘drop of a hat’…rather, i see it misused. Most all times, for one or more of the reasons i pointed out above.

      I pointed out to one person at a news website recently (who had called another commenter antisemitic, only because he/she had openly disagreed with a recent Israeli policy decision), how its quickly becoming the parable in The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf: remember? the little boy cried ‘Wolf!’ (when there was no wolf) so many times that when the wolf really showed up, no one went out to even check it out!

      Because this misuse is occurring with the term, the word is basically “on the track” to loosing any power it ever had; the day may come, because of the misuse of it today, when it will not get anyone’s attention. This would be tragic George.

  2. I think it may even be worse – this article I came across recently suggests that young people are leaving the GOP because they realise the corrupting influence that political involvement can bring into the church.

    “But there’s also a growing sense among young Christians that political involvement, no matter how pure the original motives, is a corrupting force. Christians who attempt to be in this political world, but not of this political world, are constantly faced with ethical conundrums…

    For Christians, political involvement has a way of breaking bad. The real danger is that over time, it has a coarsening effect, and that our political ranks and church pews alike will be filled full of Walter Whites who will do anything to achieve their goals. They are wise as serpents, but no longer innocent as doves. For what shall it profit a man if he should win the election, but lose his soul?

    • Amen. I agree, the marriage of politics and the Christian faith has over time, proven to be a rotten ‘union’.

      For what shall it profit a man if he should win the election, but lose his soul?

      Well put andronicus!

      I’m happy to read young Christians are not being drawn into political activism, like those of my generation were.

      Welcome to the blog…hope you stop by often!

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