(Palestinian activist Sami Awad)
By James Fletcher
The rise of young leaders in the church who identify (more or less) as evangelicals, and who seem to have a bone to pick with Israel…continues apace.
This community, which loves to use buzzwords like, well, “community,” is heavily networked and social media-savvy. They are attractive, possess uncommon communication skills, and understand the culture intimately.
It seems to me that most pro Israel supporters in the church are largely unaware of a titanic challenge that has been incubating for decades.
As just one example, Margaret Feinberg is an engaging and emerging writer/speaker, based in Colorado. She speaks at events like “Catalyst” and her bio is emblematic of the fresh-faced, “world-changer” persona so prevalent among young evangelicals. Her bio reads, in part:
“Always up for an adventure, Margaret is known to drive 50 miles to chase down a food truck and snag Groupons for skydiving on a whim. She prefers watching comedies and laughing until her tummy aches over doing sit ups.”
I note the bio because it is important to understand that this generation will do everything in its power to separate itself from the fundie-meanies of the previous generation. This move away from traditional church began in earnest with writers like Philip Yancey, who lamented their experiences growing up in fundamentalist churches in the South.
Fair game; legalism was and is a problem in some circles. Yet, have the “New Evangelicals” gone too far? They are much more open to embracing the culture, to show that they are in fact cool people unencumbered by hateful dogma and conservative rhetoric.
Back to the Israel-bashing.
Feinberg (whose books appear in LifeWay Stores, along with Iranian-apologist Hank Hanegraaff’s) wrote a piece for the Catalyst website (www.catalystspace.com) in which she cleverly used what I’d call “Jesus language” to convey two ideas: Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and, Israel abuses the Palestinians.
This last point has become a rallying cause for the New Evangelicals. For decades, the Palestinian leadership—aware that head-to-head battles with the Israelis don’t end well for them—have cultivated relationships with American religious leaders. This is not unlike the Soviet efforts to enlist Western dupes during the Cold War. Often, mainline church officials were targeted, and they in turn became the mentors for new generations after them, including the New Evangelicals.
In fact, the transfer of mainline theology and ideology to the New Evangelicals is surely one of the most interesting religion stories of the new century.
In Feinberg’s Catalyst narrative, biblical “shepherd” imagery is used, as she relates the story of a Palestinian widow who ran afoul of Israeli troops one day. The Israeli soldiers rounded up a town’s collection of sheep and goats, ostensibly as punitive punishment for unpaid taxes.
(An aside: as with most of the New Evangelical charges against Israel, there is seemingly no documentation for the Feinberg story. It is akin to the stories of Palestinians who watch in horror as Jews inhabit their ancestral homes; inevitably, the title deed and actual key to the property is “somewhere in Turkey,” and so these unsubstantiated stories serve to portray the Jews in a most negative light.)
The woman asks an officer if she can pick out her sheep, since they are her sole source of income. He agrees, and his doubt at her ability to do so leaves him bemused. She calls her young son to bring his flute. The boy plays and predictably, the sheep belonging to the woman trot-out dutifully.
End of poignant, gripping story.
I mean, propaganda.
Feinberg relies on the details of this story from a Wheaton professor, Gary Burge, who has opposed Israel on political and theological grounds for a long time. It isn’t clear whether Burge witnessed this alleged event, or picked up the story from a Palestinian friend.
Burge, who chums with such Christian leaders as Hanegraaff (who spoke at a Tehran conference a year ago and afterward declared on Twitter that much of what we hear in the negative about Iran is simply not true, a whopper that perhaps would have made “New York Times” 1930s era Joseph Stalin apologist Walter Duranty blush) and recently wrote about a key priority for “Christian Palestinianists” (a term coined by British author Paul Wilkinson):
“They [Millennials] represent the great groundswell in their generation. The Zionist movement in our country is loud and scrappy. But I’m describing the young people who will be leading our churches when many of us are retired. And the prospects look good.”
When one examines the associations and networks within the New Evangelicals’ community, it is easy to see that, while many of the leaders do not have Israel on their radar, many others do. And they all cross-promote in breath-taking fashion.
For example, among the other organizations bringing in Feinberg to speak is Focus One, a mentoring project based in Rockford, Illinois. Other guest speakers include Shauna Norquist, daughter of WillowCreek co-founders Bill and Lynne Hybels. While Shauna Norquist doesn’t blog much about what the New Evangelicals call “Israel/Palestine,” her husband, Aaron, does. And of course, Lynne Hybels is a leading light in advancing the Palestinian cause and mainstreaming the Palestinian Authority in American churches.
I attended “Catalyst East” in Atlanta, in October, 2012, and was shocked by Hybels’ one-sided presentation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One can assume that the Catalyst leadership, which has also hosted radical professor Cornel West, agrees with Hybels’ depiction of Israel.
Further, Gabe Lyons (founder of “Q” and also a frequent contributor to Catalyst) has endorsed Focus One. Lyons recently interviewed Palestinian Christian Sami Awad for Q; Awad is perhaps the point man for spreading the Palestinian narrative—with its smoothly slanted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict—throughout American churches.
The effect of this advocacy for the Palestinians is a shocking advance that cuts across denominational lines, linking arms among high-profile ministries. In short, the New Evangelicals seem comfortable with a secular left-wing agenda, and the Palestinian issue is front-and-center within that framework.
At a time when the pro Israel movement among evangelicals is aging, this new breed of cultural spokesman is ascendant. The leaders and followers alike sprinkle conversations with new social media lingo like “HootSuite,” “Tweet,” and “blog,” while the pro Israel crowd tinkers with slide projectors and typewriter ribbons.
If pro Israel advocates care about the generation that comes after them, they’d better get in the game and meet the challenges presented by the heirs to Yasser Arafat’s slick propaganda.
(Jim Fletcher is a member of the executive committee for the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel—NCLCI—and blogs extensively. He can be reached at email@example.com)