Taking Religion Seriously

The results of the Pew Report on how Democrats and Republicans see Israel and Palestine was predictable enough. Over the past 18 years, Republicans have increased in their sympathy for Israel while Democrats have increased their sympathy for the Palestinians.

Democrats about as likely to sympathize with Palestinians as with Israel

The predictability of this is in no small part due to the religious affiliations of the Democrats and the Republicans. As Pew and PRRI have both reported, and as I have covered in previous posts, a strong constituency of the Republican base is made up of white evangelicals while Democratic Party is increasingly made up of people who are unaffiliated religiously.

One of the standing beliefs of conservative Christianity, which white evangelicalism accepts, is that Jerusalem and the nation of Israel are uniquely important to God. This includes these locations being of central importance in the end times, when Jesus Christ returns to usher in the Kingdom of God. These beliefs have been a powerful force in leading white evangelicals to support American policies that favor Israel. And, the lower part of this graphic from the Pew Report shows this.

Wide religious differences in views of Israel and the Palestinians

Whether we agree with this set of beliefs or not, it does underscore a point of critical importance: religion needs to be taken seriously by U.S. policymakers. Often, religion is brushed off as of no more importance than people participating in other voluntary organizations. Policymakers wouldn’t care if groups of people all were part of bowling leagues or all collected stamps. Why should they care if a group of people happen to gather together for stylized signing and listening to a public address in a church building once a week?

Religious beliefs are not just voluntary ideas people pick up akin to a hobby, they are expressions of how people understand the universe and hope that the universe will move toward the ultimate good.

The problem with this thinking is that it minimizes how powerful the beliefs behind religion are. Religious beliefs are not just voluntary ideas people pick up akin to a hobby, they are expressions of how people understand the universe and hope that the universe will move toward the ultimate good. As such, they have incredible power to define how people interpret everything else they come into contact with.

Policymakers could look at this Pew Report and simply shrug off fairly obvious information, or they could learn from the deeper point that it demonstrates: We have to take religion seriously when creating policy. What people believe about the ultimate will affect what they vote for, support in the public square, and lobby for American policy to be.

It also provides a hint as to how we might break the impasse Americans have as to whether a peaceful solution is possible in Israel. According to the report, Republicans are far less likely to think this is possible than Democrats.

Opinions on peaceful, two-state solution associated with Middle East sympathies

While the question specifically asks about a two-state solution, that does not need to be the starting point for seeking to engage with white evangelicals to aid in supporting a peaceful settlement to the longstanding violence and pain that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has brought. If the Christian faith is at the heart of defining how white evangelical Republicans are viewing Israel, then interpreting the possible routes toward a peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine in light of the gospel call to reconciliation could make that demographic more open to such a policy move. The key here is not to try to bludgeon or disregard white evangelicals for their faith and how it affects their view of Israel and Palestine, but to invite them to wrestle with the core teachings of their faith to consider if a call for reconciliation might be an appropriate act of faith. Should this happen, these Christians could become a powerful voice to support American policies that help bring reconciliation and peace.

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