A recent Barna poll found that support for Israel among younger Evangelical Christians is falling. Since 2018, backing for Israel dropped from 75% to 33% among evangelicals aged 18-29.
But while young evangelicals are less supportive of Israel than ever before, they’re also less informed. The same poll found that 65% of young evangelicals say they seldom or never hear about the importance of Israel. Only 12% say they hear about the importance of Israel every week.
These statistics fit into a broader picture of Gen Z Christians and their disengagement from the church. According to Barna’s Gen Z Report, only 4% of Gen Z holds a biblical worldview. And among GenZ Christians, only 9% say they are an “engaged Christian.”
Younger evangelicals aren’t simply losing their confidence in Israel as a force for good; rather, they aren’t connecting with Israel and with their faith through their church community in the same way as their parents and grandparents. What’s more, anti-semitism is on the rise on college campuses. Disconnected from their faith lives and exposed unknowingly to antisemitism on college campuses, it’s no wonder that young evangelicals don’t feel the same about their faith and about Israel as they used to.
What American evangelicals need is an opportunity to see for themselves the intimate connection between Biblical Christianity and the people and places of Israel. And there’s no better way to do this than by learning about Israel first-hand through an overseas trip.
Israel is the birthplace of the Bible. It’s in the lands of Israel that the Biblical stories of King David, Solomon, Jesus, and the disciples were lived and experienced. In many respects, when Christians study the Bible, they are studying the sacred record of God interacting with His people in Israel.
For Christians living in America, there is no amount of familiarity with the Bible that can bring the heart and mind closer to God’s story of salvation than seeing with your own eyes the places where the history of God’s people took place. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mount Tabor, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River aren’t just a part of Christianity’s past; they are living and breathing cities, towns, and locations that are still full of God’s presence up to this very day.
By traveling to Israel, Christians can experience their faith more deeply and more passionately. But they can also connect more closely with the Jewish people who share with them the Old Testament and the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One of the most unique things about being Jewish is that it is more than a religion; it is also an ethnicity and a heritage. In more ways than one, Christians can find a lot of their own Biblical faith reflected in the Jewish heritage that has been lived in the lands of Israel and is still being lived today.
With so much shared history and faith between Christians and Jews, it really should be no surprise that American Christians have long been some of the most ardent supporters of the state of Israel. Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people and the only safe place in the entire world for Jews to exercise their powers of self-determination as a people. Christians should not feel guilty for wanting their Jewish brothers and sisters to have a home in the birthplace of their shared history.
The youngest generation of Christians, however, haven’t experienced this shared history first-hand. On top of that, these Christians are being told that they have to pick one side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Disconnected from their shared history with the Jews and confronted with an unfair moral binary, it’s no wonder that many younger Christians are showing less support for Israel.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians shouldn’t be used to drive a wedge between Christians and Israel; instead, this conflict is an opportunity for Christians to engage both Jews and Palestinians with love, compassion, and empathy. Most importantly, no modern-day conflict can ever erase the centuries of sacred meaning in Israel for both Jews and Christians.
Learning about that sacred meaning first-hand should be an essential rite of passage for Christians today. Younger Christians owe it to themselves to see Israel for themselves and experience the presence of God in the lands described so richly in the Bible. There may be no better way for Christians to connect with their faith, their history, and their Jewish friends.
Scott Phillips is executive director of Passages, a nonprofit organization offering Christian college students a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land.