American evangelicals were quick to stand united in support of Israel after Hamas militants savagely attacked the country Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages.
But evangelicals differ over whether to show concern for innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza who find themselves caught up in the conflict that has cut off access to water and medical care and seen deaths top 13,000, including 5,000 children.
The United Nations calls Gaza a humanitarian catastrophe. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, called Gaza “a graveyard for thousands of children,” in an Oct. 31 plea for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”
The Church of England has called for humanitarian “pauses” in the fighting, but hardly any evangelical groups have gone that far, except the World Evangelical Alliance regional associations, Christian Aid and Mennonite Central Committee have requested ceasefires or pauses.
The National Association of Evangelicals condemned the horrific violence against Israel in an Oct. 9 statement that mourned the tragic loss of life “in Israel and Palestine.” The statement also expressed concern for “refugees, Jew and Arab” and called on Christians to pray “for the healing and restoration of all who have been injured and traumatized by the violence.”
While supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, NAE warned about doing so too zealously, but stopped short of calling for any pause in Israel’s military campaign.
“Actions by Israel that go beyond self-defense by taking revenge on those living in Gaza risk inflicting further suffering on innocent civilians while undermining the long-term security of the Israeli people,” NAE said.
The Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission released its “Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel” Oct. 11. The statement condemned the Hamas attacks, urged leaders to protect the innocent, and urged Christians to pray for Israelis and Palestinians.
“There should be no question that the Israeli government has the right to defend its citizens and sovereignty that have been so grossly violated,” said ERLC president Brent Leatherwood.
The ERLC statement says both the Bible and “Christian Just War tradition” grant Israel the right to go after Hamas and kill “those who commit such evil acts against innocent life.”
The statement does not say anything about protecting innocent Palestinian lives, but it does call believers to pray for their safety and salvation, and also requests prayer for “Jewish and Palestinian believers who labor for the gospel.”
A Nov. 8 update in Baptist Press, the SBC’s in-house news service, declared, “Evangelical support for Israel steady one month after invasion,” even as 10 times the number of Palestinians had been killed by Israel than the number of Israelis killed.
Only at the end of the article are the Palestinian deaths mentioned, and there Leatherwood is quoted as saying, “Christians should care about victims on both sides. … We care about the innocent lives that are caught in the midst of this conflict, whether it is in Israel or in Gaza, whether they are Jewish or Muslim or Christian individuals. These are people made in God’s image, and this war is not of their choosing. But we must remain clear-eyed about who is at fault in this conflict. This war was initiated by a terrorist organization. Hamas is the enemy in this, not just to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, and to everyone who desperately seeks peace in the Middle East.”
Only a thousand or fewer Christians are estimated to be living in today’s Gaza, where they are a distinct minority.
America’s Catholic bishops issued a statement of concern during their November meeting: “Our thoughts turn readily to the Holy Land, sacred to all three monotheistic religions. We recognize and defend the right of Israel to exist and to enjoy a place among the nations. At the same time, we know that the Palestinians, who represent the majority of Christians in the Holy Land — while still being a minority — have a right to a land that is their own. The Holy See has long advocated for that right and we also plead for them.”
But others seem fine standing with Israel while standing against the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has equated the people of Gaza with the ancient Amalekites, who relentlessly harassed Israel, inspiring Samuel to command their complete destruction: “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:3).
“You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible,” Netanyahu said in an Oct. 28 speech.
“Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself,” said GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham, who is endorsed by most major pro-family and pro-life groups and is a Southern Baptist. “Level the place!”
Evangelicals in America differ from evangelicals abroad in their devotion to Israel, with some equating ancient biblical Israel with the modern nation.
Others — including evangelist Greg Laurie, pro-Trump pastor Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel — seeing the current conflict as a prelude to biblically prophesied “end times.”
Christianity Today’s detailed reports on the response of evangelical groups outside the U.S. give Americans a chance to see Gaza through non-American eyes. The reports reveal the uniqueness of American evangelicals’ ideology.
For example, Palestinian believers have called on American believers to “repent” for the lack of concern over the killing of innocents.
CT cited a blunt statement from the Middle East Council of Churches that claimed: “What the Palestinian people are exposed to in Gaza is not a military reaction to a military action, but rather a genocide and ethnic cleansing, targeting the detainees of the largest prison in human history — and with premeditation.”
The Middle East Council of Churches called Israel’s war in Gaza a “war of extermination” and called for “all honorable people” to intervene.
Politically conservative evangelical groups including the James Dobson Family Institute and the Dobson-founded Family Research Council have used the war in Israel to:
- Promote Republican talking points that blame the conflict on President Joe Biden. FRC President Tony Perkins said Biden’s “weakness” is “making war and suffering more and more likely in the Middle East,” while Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem showed “strength” and “made war less likely.”
- Attack “so-called elite academians” at state colleges and universities.
- Condemn the “mainstream media” for not giving “a moment of airtime” to reports of antisemitic and/or anti-Israel groups and rallies.
- Raise funds. “Stop woke indoctrination with biblical truth,” said a solicitation from FRC’s Perkins that condemned public schools and pro-Palestinian protests while promoting “materials and programs to expose this darkness, advance righteousness in public politic, and empower believers.” Donate now, it warned, because “current events show us there’s not a moment to lose!”
Perkins equates pro-Palestinian rallies with “Marxism and the Left” and featured a historian who blamed today’s Palestinian refugee crisis on “Arab nations,” not Israel.
The James Dobson Family Institute’s Gary Bauer condemned Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier for describing the context of Israel’s war as “deeply layered and nuanced complexity.”
“That statement is disgusting,” wrote Bauer. “There is nothing nuanced or complex about the intentional massacre of women and children. … JDFI urges alumni from these universities to contact the schools’ administrators and hold them accountable for their blatant disregard of identifying evil for what it is. Do not send your children to these educators to be indoctrinated with poisonous ideas.”
JDFI also defended the Israeli military campaign, falsely claiming, “Unlike what happened to Israel, Israelis have no intention of killing innocent people.”
Neither did JDFI acknowledge or express remorse about the deaths of innocent Palestinians but instead applied a different standard concerning Jewish deaths.
Christian Broadcasting Network reported on how “God is working in the midst of war!” as 200 Palestinians saw Jesus in their dreams.
The report did not address the thousands of deaths in Gaza but featured a prediction from bestselling Christian author Joel Rosenberg that Hamas militants “and other violent, genocidal, Islamist extremists are going to slaughter … Christians” as they follow Israel’s orders and migrate further south out of war’s way.
A Christian response to the war in Israel/Palestine | Opinion by Brandan Robertson
In this war, there are no ‘good guys’ | Analysis by Mark Wingfield
If you’re uncertain how to approach Israel and Gaza, start with grief | Opinion by Cody Sanders