Few things in American Christianity generate as much passionate discussion as the role of Israel in today’s world and in the future. Many consider modern Israel the object of biblical prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Others consider all the promises to ancient Israel to have been fulfilled in Christ (since “all the promises of God in Him are ‘yes'”). Some view the church today as Israel. Some are as confused now as ever.
In the March Christianity Today article, Israeli Christians Think and Do Almost the Opposite of American Evangelicals, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra sifts Pew Research data for some interesting facts. Pew’s survey
included enough self-identified Christians (468) to statistically break out their views. The numbers were weighted and adjusted, because Pew found that only 2 percent of Israel’s population in 2015 was Christian, down from 3 percent in 1949. (Pew’s survey includes Arab residents of East Jerusalem, but not those of Gaza or of the West Bank outside of East Jerusalem.)
Those Christians are largely split 50/50 between Catholic and Orthodox believers. Protestants and Messianic Jews both made up fewer than 0.5 percent of Israel’s population, and thus were too negligible to be broken out separately in the survey results (though they are included in the totals pertaining to all Christians).
Though all those surveyed are both Christian (self-identified) and Israeli (born in Israel or East Jerusalem), 96% are Arab in heritage. This may or may not affect opinions about the nature of a fully religiously-Jewish nation. The number of Israeli Christians who do not believe Israel can co-exist as a democracy and Jewish state (72%) exceeds even the number of Muslims holding the same position (63%).
The political policy differences between many American Christians and Israeli Christians are also enlightening.
Regarding U.S. support for Israel Zylstra writes:
The vast majority of Israeli Christians (86%) believe the United States is too supportive of Israel. Just 6 percent said the American government wasn’t supportive enough, while 7 percent said the level of US support was just right.
The numbers stand in stark contrast to the views of American Christians. A 2013 Pew study found that just 18 percent of them said the US is too supportive of Israel. Even fewer white evangelicals (12%) and black Protestants (16%)—two-thirds of whom identify as evangelical—said that America is too supportive of Israel.
White evangelical Protestants are deeply sympathetic toward Israel. About eight-in-ten (81%) say they sympathize with Israel, including 59% who say they have a lot of sympathy. Their views of the Palestinians are much cooler: 36% have at least some sympathy with them, while 61% have not much or none at all.
And, while Israeli Christians are overwhelmingly opposed to settlement building (79%), American Christians have contributed financially to controversial policy. (Evangelicals are a sub-set of Christians.)
About two-thirds of Israeli Christians believe that Jesus is God (64%) and that the Bible is the literal word of God (65%), though another 18 percent believe the Bible is the word of God but shouldn’t be taken literally.
In the US, about a third of Christians (39%) think the Bible is the literal word of God, while another third (33%) believe it is the word of God but shouldn’t be taken literally. Among evangelicals, 55 percent believe the Bible is the literal word of God, while 29 percent believe it shouldn’t be taken literally.
Not enough information was provided to determine whether Israeli Christians would fit within a new definition of “evangelical.”
Another distinction regards the return of Christ, an issue which, arguably, has more to do with how American Christians view Israel than any other.
Israeli Christians are evenly divided on their expectations of Jesus’ return: roughly a third each said that he’ll return during their lifetime (32%), that he won’t (37%), or that they don’t know (31%). In the US, 47 percent of Christians expect Jesus will definitely or probably return in the next 40 years, while 38 percent said he definitely or probably won’t.
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