Evangelist Billy Graham told Christians to base their vote on supporting Israel, yet anti-Israel activists held a “24 Hour Middle East Leadership Briefing” at a center named after him at Wheaton College on November 8-9. The irony should serve as a reminder that evangelical support for Israel cannot be taken for granted and must be fought for. Evangelicals against Christian Zionism will make headway if they are ignored.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association worked with Wheaton College to open the Billy Graham Center in 1980. Graham wanted it to be a “world hub of inspiration, research, preaching and training” for the church’s mission of evangelism. If Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU) has its way, this hub will also be a platform to undermine Christian support for Israel. The organization’s anti-Israel advocacy is so strong that one of its founders and current advisory board member, Reverend Donald Wagner, is a featured speaker at American Muslims for Palestine’s (AMP) annual conference later this month. The AMP’s list of speakers includes at least 13 Islamists, most of whom are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and have defended Hamas and acts of terrorism.
An email to the Billy Graham Center about the EMEU event was replied to by Lon Ellison, executive director of Billy Graham Center Ministries. Ellison explained that “We are not a politically associated organization” and that, though the event was held in the building, it is not sponsored by Billy Graham Center Programs/Ministries. Indeed, EMEU’s website says it sponsored the event with Wheaton College’s Biblical and Theological Studies Department and Dr. Gary Burge, a professor at the college, was one of the speakers.
“While my understanding of EMEU is not exhaustive, the experience with them I have had suggests that their primary concern is the welfare of the Palestinian people. I have not sensed they are however, anti-Israel,” Ellison said.
A spokesperson for Billy Graham declined to comment.
EMEU openly fights against Christian Zionism. Its website, for example, promotes a book by Norman Finkelstein titled, “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.” In 2010, he gave a speech at the University of New York where he reportedly urged Palestinians to not “concede” to Israel and to keep up “nonviolent resistance.” An article by Wagner that appears on the Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism website argues that Christian Zionism is motivated by a “prediction of a bloody Battle of Armageddon in the Middle East.” The website lists EMEU as one of its “friends.”
“Politically, as we recognize that the theology shaped by this distorted view of scripture too easily morphs into a militaristic, anti-Palestinian, pro-expansionist ideology with negative consequences of all parties in the current conflict,” the Institute says.
Dr. Gary Burge, the aforementioned Wheaton College professor and speaker at the event, is a staunch opponent of Christian Zionism, arguing that it is motivated by a desire to trigger Armageddon. He writes, “This is the crown jewel in Christian Zionism’s worldview. This is why Rev. [John] Hagee is willing to risk throwing the Middle East into nuclear war. The birth of Israel has now set the stage for the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ.”
His position on the legitimacy of the state of Israel is clear by the title of his book, “Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians.” The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America describes it as a “combustible mixture of misinformation and theologically justified hostility towards modern Israel.”
Another speaker was Dr. Mark Braverman, whose website links to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and other anti-Israel websites. The forward to his 2010 book, “Fatal Embrace,” has a forward written by Walter Brueggemann. In it, he says that “the claim of exceptionalism…gives warrant for brutalizing policies carried out by the Israeli government that are destructive, self-destructive and finally irresponsible.” He says this exceptionalism also drives “religious-ideological support for American expansionist imperialism.”
EMEU is part of a broader Christian movement against Israel that Islamists appreciate. For example, on October 4, 15 Christian leaders wrote a letter to Congress suggesting that military aid to Israel be reconsidered because of its alleged violations of international law. American Muslims for Palestine thanked them for it. Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in the U.S. also have a Christian coalition they can rely upon to defend them.
The issue here is greater than the EMEU’s use of the Billy Graham Center building. There is a real struggle happening in the Christian community that can weaken one of Israel’s most stalwart bases of support.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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