Update It appears some think I believe unquestioning support of Israel is a good thing, or that I agree with evangelical interpretations of prophecy. If so, I wrote badly. This is false.
The title is a slight modification to the Ian Lovett-WSJ story with subtitle “Generational split reflects concern over Palestinians, spurring outreach by some churches and groups.”
Lovett’s piece opens with a quote from a young evangelical who says he was taught from birth that “Christians are supposed to back Israel on everything.”
Alas, this young man found both that he could no longer do so given Israel’s latest treatment of Palestinians, and that he was not alone in his disappointment with the Mideast’s great limited democracy.
Lovett says “A generational divide is opening up among evangelical Christians in the U.S. over an issue that had long been an article of faith: unwavering support for the state of Israel.” But he also rightly points out that this “shift is part of a wider split within the evangelical movement, as younger evangelicals are also more likely to support same-sex marriage, tougher environmental laws and other positions their parents spent a lifetime opposing.”
That the young are drifting left everywhere is doubtless a reason for the slide away from blind support for Israel (whose cherishment was always labeled a “right-wing” cause), and the concern over its brutalities is another. But these are not the only reason for the discrepancy between old and young.
Here Lovett missed one of the most obvious of reasons, even though he had the evidence of it right in front of him.
Gary Burge, a professor at Calvin Theological Seminary and former professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, said the younger generation is less likely to quote Bible passages about Jerusalem, and more concerned with ethics and treatment of the downtrodden.
Now-codgers-then-whippersnappers quoted Bible passages because they believed, usually tacitly but often enough explicitly, that their support of Israel would hurry prophecy along. The sooner Israel was “fully restored”, including the (re-)building of the Third Temple, the sooner Our Lord would return. The greater the efforts—including the dispensing of gobs and gobs of money and Congressional votes—expended on Israel’s behalf, the quicker we could get this all over with amen.
Perhaps it’s difficult to recall how influential Hal Lindsey and his brother preachers were in the 1970s, most especially among evangelicals. Lindsey’s (and ghost-writer CC Carlson’s) Late, Great Planet Earth was a monumental success and genuine cultural phenomenon, read and discussed by everybody, but you would have had better luck finding a reactionary on a college campus than an evangelical who didn’t give Linsey at least some credence. A movie of the book was made in 1976, narrated by no less than Orson Welles, prodded just long enough from his alcoholic stupor. (Watch on YouTube.) However drunk he may have been, his voice was compelling. My God, he believes this! It could be true!
The earth was going to end, and end soon, because, Lindsey promised, the Bible foretold that it would within “a generation” of Israel’s restoration. Israel, of course, became a state in 1948, seventy years ago.
Now seventy years is a tad long for a generation, especially given Lindsey’s guess in Late Great that this length of time most likely meant we would never see the 1980s. Yet the achievement of the book and film, and the lack of progress toward the real End Time, gave rise to host of imitators who in earnest tweaked the prophecies. The generation didn’t start in 1948, but at some later date; or it would start only with the Third Temple; or generation was imprecise, but here’s how this event that happened the other week meant that the countdown has finally begun; the rapture was imminent. And so on ad infinitum.
Those who were adults or coming of age in the 1970s and who identified with these prophecies found, and still find, it difficult to give up on them. It would be like giving up hope, a position with which it is easy to find great sympathy. Ceasing adoration of Israel would be admitting the failure of the would-be prophecies.
The last surge of supporting Israel-for-the-sake-of-prophecy was in the 1990s with Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkin’s Left Behind series; the lead book also being made into a movie with our age’s master emoter Nicholas Cage. The movie was left behind, but the books sold well among evangelicals, but not all that good to a general audience, who took little notice. Catholics and protesting Christians of the 1970s knew of Late Great Planet Earth, but that can’t be said of Left Behind dozen (or where there more?).
Fervor waned. The upcoming generation naturally looked with less interest to Israel as being any kind of hope for Christians. Not needing to be reflexive apologists, the young are becoming freer to consider politics in the (now) usual way. They’re also learning the love had by evangelicals for Israel is not reciprocated. This naturally leads to indifference.