NEW YORK — High above Times Square the images flash: a bloodied pacifier, rope-bound hands, an empty wheelchair, pictures of the 240 Israeli people taken hostage by Hamas.
The images are part of Don’t Look Away, a campaign launched by Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Over a month into the Israel-Hamas war, American Evangelicals are providing moral and material support to Israel, hosting fundraisers and poster campaigns, and sending volunteers and supplies. With more than 100 million Evangelicals in the United States, it is a deep well from which to draw.
“While things are bleak on the college campuses and in some places in the country, it’s not representative of mainstream America. We have 10 million members. So many people want to help in a physical way to give Israel and Jewish people some sense that you are not alone,” CUFI’s co-executive director Shari Dollinger told The Times of Israel.
War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing 200-250 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.
CUFI, founded in 2006, has so far raised $2.65 million for Israeli charities, primarily first responders. On October 15, member churches shared the same talking points in sermons. The organization is selling yard signs and unity pins showing an American flag together with the Israeli flag for $2. All proceeds go to Israeli charities, Dollinger said.
“We have a deep love and affection for Jewish people. It’s deep-rooted and real,” said Dollinger, who did her senior thesis at Brandeis University on Christian Zionists’ impact on US Foreign Policy.
That intensity was reflected on October 11, when the Ethics and Religion Liberty Commission (ERLC), which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued an “Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel.”
About 2,000 pastors, theologians, and academic leaders across denominational lines signed the statement. While acknowledging the differing theological perspectives on Israel and the Church, it condemned the “violence against the vulnerable,” and said it fully supported “Israel’s right and duty to defend itself against further attack, and urgently call all Christians to pray for the salvation and peace of the people of Israel and Palestine.”
“In keeping with Christian Just War tradition, we also affirm the legitimacy of Israel’s right to respond against those who have initiated these attacks as Romans 13 grants governments the power to bear the sword against those who commit such evil acts against innocent life,” says the statement.
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Because of that belief, “calls for a ceasefire are tantamount to forcing Israel to live with these heinous violations,” said ERLC president Brent Leatherwood.
Roots of Evangelical support
Evangelical support for Israel is deeply rooted in the Christian Bible. However, it’s important to note that Evangelicalism is far more varied than the media often portrays, said Sara A. Williams, assistant professor of religious studies at Fairfield University.
There is dispensationalist theology, which teaches that the end times can only start if Jewish people reconstitute and repopulate “Greater Israel,” and accept Christ as their Messiah.
Some Evangelicals believe the Israel-Hamas war is the beginning of the End Times, meaning the world is entering a phase where God will eliminate sinners, opening the way for Christ’s return.
“This belief has gotten ‘into the water,’ so to speak, of American Evangelicalism, and even American foreign policy,” Williams said.
White Evangelicals form a sizable percentage of the Republican party. That helps explain the close alignment between Republican Jewish supporters, members of Israel’s Likud party and Evangelical politicians.
Still, there are other strands of Evangelicalism that are less political. These fall under the umbrella of what Williams explained as “post-Holocaust theologies.”
“Essentially, in the wake of the Holocaust a number of Christian denominations in the US — mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic — began to contend with their role in the brutal history of anti-Jewish violence,” she said.
This hews more closely to “blessings theology.” This is the idea that God will “bless those who bless you” and “curse those who curse you.”
Mobilizing to help
In keeping with the ideals of blessings theology, denominations across the country are doing more than planting lawn signs in support of Israel, they are sending teams of people to the region to help.
“We grieve the innocent lives that have been lost since October 7 in Israel and in Gaza. Whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, we know that for so many people caught in the midst of this battle, it is not a war of their choosing. Our concern for the loss of innocent life has no borders. Each and every casualty is a person made in God’s image,” Leatherwood said.
Send Relief, part of the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, is distributing humanitarian aid on the ground in Israel. They are working with Baptist Village, a non-profit organization based in Tel Aviv.
Since October 7 it has funded more than $700,000 in aid for people in the affected areas, said Jason Cox, the vice president for international ministry at Send Relief. The money has helped provide housing for up to 400 individuals, tents with cooling and heating units and generators, cots and bedding, toilet and shower containers and trauma counseling from licensed professionals.
Some ministries are sending help to Palestinians in need, as well. TBM, the disaster relief ministry of the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission, sent a team of volunteers on October 10 that has so far supplied thousands of meals to Israelis and Palestinians. The commission also established the “Israel-Hamas War Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Relief” fund, which will support humanitarian aid and crisis relief efforts.
Meanwhile, as various churches prepare to help long-term, Leatherwood said that it is Israel’s “moral responsibility” to end Hamas’s terror-making capabilities.
“Hamas is the enemy in this, not just to Israel, but to the Palestinian people and everyone who desperately seeks peace in the Middle East,” Leatherwood said.
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