In an age of polarization and strong opinions, a sizable share of American Christians are still “not sure” what they think about issues within the Israel-Hamas war.

A recent Lifeway Research survey, sponsored by the Philos Project, found significant convictions among self-identified believers: Strong majorities support Israel’s right of self-defense (83%), but also the Palestinian right of self-determination (76%) and the goal of a two-state solution (81%).

But many questions revealed uncertainties about the complexity of the conflict:

  • 15% are not sure about the optimal outcome.
  • 17% are not sure if Gazans are responsible for Hamas’s attacks.
  • 18% are not sure if armed Palestinian rebellion is a natural response to mistreatment.
  • 24% are not sure if Israel’s blockade of Gaza has oppressed Palestinians.
  • 24% are not sure if Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal occupation.
  • 26% are not sure if most Gazans support Hamas’s fight against Israel.
  • 31% are not sure if Israeli settlements beyond agreed-upon borders are illegal.

Furthermore, 41 percent hover between somewhat positive (25%) and somewhat negative (16%) in their overall perception of Israel, while 11 percent are not sure at all.

For each of these issues, of course, pluralities had an opinion on one side or another, as CT noted last week. To parse out the meaning of these diverse American Christian perspectives, CT asked four evangelical experts—two from peace-focused organizations in the US, and a Palestinian Christian and a Messianic Jewish leader from Israel—to describe what they found most surprising, concerning, and encouraging about the survey results:

Robert Nicholson, president of the Philos Project (“promoting positive Christian engagement in the Near East in the spirit of the Hebraic Tradition”):

In a moment when so much of the world is equivocating on or condemning Israel, I am pleasantly surprised to see so many American Christians still holding the line and calling out the unspeakable evil perpetrated by Hamas. A large majority (83%) agrees that Israel must take bold measures against their decades-long campaign of terrorism.

That most Christians name the media as the biggest influence on their thinking about this conflict (44%)—not the Bible (27%)—is pretty shocking. Only small percentages say that their church (12%) or Christian leaders (10%) influence their opinion at all. It just goes to show that Christians are no more immune from the Zeitgeist than anyone else. It also points to a lack of leadership among pastors who are not helping their flocks think through one of the most important conflicts of our day. Only 14 percent have heard support for Israel voiced in their churches.

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I am also concerned by the large number of people who lean toward peace-forward options for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That 88 percent believe that lasting peace requires a mutually agreed-upon solution is commendable but out of touch with reality when Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

This survey reveals a direct correlation between church attendance and moral clarity, regardless of one’s denomination, and that is very encouraging. Those who attend church more often are more likely to name the evil that started this war, and support the victims as they act to defend themselves. Whereas 16 percent of Christians say the US is not doing enough to help Israel, the share jumps to 23 percent for those in church at least once per week. The overall positive perception of Israel increases from 65 to 71 percent as well.

Christian friendship with the Jewish people—41 percent have met an Israeli—and by extension the Jewish state, has never been more important than it is today. But only 13 percent express that their personal experiences with Jews are contributing to their perception of Israel. Christians spent the better part of 20 centuries condemning the Jews. It is unconscionable that now, when the Jews are under attack by religious extremists, Christians would do anything but stand beside them.

Todd Deatherage, executive director of the Telos Group (“a pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace movement seeking dignity, freedom, and security for all”):

For too long, many in the American church have participated in the fiction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a zero-sum game. These survey results show that this false pro-Israel/pro-Palestine binary does not match most Christians’ understanding that all life is sacred, and that Israelis and Palestinians each have inherent dignity.

But it was still unexpected to see such strong support for what we at Telos call “mutual flourishing”—that there cannot be a good future for either Israelis or Palestinians in the land unless there is a good future for both. Overwhelming majorities of US Christians support the goal of a two-state solution (81%), believe in the right of statehood and self-determination for both nations (88% for Israelis, 76% for Palestinians), and say that lasting peace depends upon their mutual agreement (88%).

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It was heartening how so many see that violence begets violence, and that the sacredness of human life necessitates a stand against both the brutal Hamas attack of October 7 and the Israeli blockade, invasion, and bombardment of Gaza that has resulted in massive loss of human life and ruination.

Only 16 percent agree that Hamas can achieve its national aspirations solely through violence, while 75 percent agree that it is an extremist group isolated from most other Arabs. And 50 percent agree that the blockade has oppressed Palestinians.

That such large numbers believe Christians should advocate for an immediate ceasefire (42%) and strong efforts to minimize civilian casualties (53%) speaks to an understanding that violence in all its forms is how we got into all this. It is not the way out.

My concern arises from the way the views expressed here are not being heard. The dominant voice emerging from the evangelical world is not reflective of the nuance and complexity represented in this survey. This is a historic moment in which Christians should not remain silent, especially as many prominent Christian leaders have expressed ongoing support for the destruction of Gaza, and others are maddeningly indifferent to the loss of Palestinian lives.

For too long, evangelical Christians have been the largest and most vocal voice dismissing Palestinian connections to the land and ultimately disregarding Palestinian humanity, even that of Palestinian Christians. And yet, it’s hard to see how this war does not bring about the extinction of the Christian community in Gaza that goes back centuries.

A robust community of peacemakers is urgently needed, bound to support the flourishing of all—and in a time like this to mourn with all who mourn. But we are also compelled to act to end this madness and address the core issues in a way that will allow for security, dignity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike. These results suggest that this road, which has often felt so lonely, is more possible than ever. Christians can and must be a part of this work.

Dan Sered, chief operating officer of Jews for Jesus and president of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism:

Findings within the Lifeway survey were expected—and shocking. What concerns me the most is how heavily the media influences one’s opinion of Israel. We have been praying that the Lord would use this tragedy to draw people nearer to himself. But the present reality revealed that 44 percent of Christians admit that the media most shapes their perspective, compared to a low 17 percent who follow the Bible.

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The implications go beyond the war and transcend the Middle East. When media drowns out the Scriptures, faulty news reports go unconstrained and perspectives get steered by emotion, experience, and opinion. In Isaiah 55, the Lord tells us that My thoughts are higher than your thoughts, but only 12 percent of Christians are influenced on Israel by their local church. And the challenge will be amplified for biblical discipleship as the US enters a presidential election year.

But furthermore, when 81 percent of self-identified Christians support the goal of a two-state solution, it reflects their lack of understanding that Hamas does not—they want Jews exterminated. Yet only 33 percent of responders believe Christians should advocate for Israel to continue the fight until Hamas surrenders.

I ask my fellow believers, “Are you willing to become a modern-day Corrie ten Boom and give safe harbor to Jewish people?” As we focus on Jesus’ Nativity, it is appropriate to remember that the one born King of the Jews wants us to pray for the safety of the people he came to save.

Christians believe God’s promises to preserve them, but these are no assurance to non-believing Israelis. For them as well as us, the Holocaust is not so distant a memory that we can be forgiven for wondering if the world would once again turn a blind eye to the renewal of a “final solution.”

Satan would like nothing better than to see terrorists wreak destruction on the land and all its people. As Christians—Jews, non-Jews, and Palestinians—we need to make it clear that the only hope for lasting peace is by becoming followers of Jesus. Gospel proclamation must be our high priority.

This survey was conducted online, and media is a main reason why almost 9 in 10 Christians have kept up with the current war. But when anything moves from being a resource to a reliance, it suggests that trust is put in the Psalm 20:7 equivalent of chariots and horses. These are challenging times, and the cruelty of terrorism has left many yearning for hope and comfort. Indeed, the IDF has a long track record of success, and the United States has shown strong support for Israel.

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But I know that to draw hope from these is futile and temporary. My trust must be rooted firmly in the Lord, strengthened by his Word and presence in prayer. Only then am I reminded of the eternal hope I have in Messiah Yeshua, both now and for the future.

Botrus Mansour, Nazareth-based chairman of the Convention of Evangelical Churches in Israel, in his personal capacity as a Palestinian Israeli Christian writer and lawyer:

In light of the brutal October 7 attack by Hamas, I had expected that US Christian support for Israel would have been even higher than it is. Yet I was surprised the results indicate more balanced positions. A majority (53%) agree that believers should advocate for strong measures to minimize civilian casualties, reflecting the high death toll of innocent Palestinians. A strong minority (42%) additionally calls for an immediate ceasefire to stop the killing.

I wish these numbers were higher.

There also appears to be a better understanding of the context of the Hamas attacks—without justifying them, of course. While only one-third (36%) agree that Israeli control over Gaza and the West Bank is an illegal occupation, half (50%) agree that the blockade of Gaza has oppressed Palestinians. And three-quarters (74%) agree in general that Palestinians have the right to defend themselves and the land their families have lived on for generations.

Occupation contradicts international law and is a serious hurdle to peace talks and any just solution.

What encourages me is the solid support of a political solution after the war (88%) and the recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination (76%). My prayer is that this translates into solid action without compromise. My hope is that for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, any party that refuses a viable fair resolution of this conflict be held accountable.

But I am concerned that many think Christians should advocate for Israel fighting until all hostages are released (38%) or until Hamas surrenders (33%). The price would be very high: a long war with increasing numbers of Israeli soldiers killed alongside tens of thousands of additional innocent Palestinians. Not only are these goals very difficult, but they also contradict.

Yet the share advocating for the formation of a self-governing Palestinians state outside Israel (30%) is even lower, despite it being a strong aspiration. This is the long-range solution that if done in good faith will put an end to cycles of bloody violence.

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It is interesting to see that 44 percent of American Christians cite the media as most influential on their opinions about Israel, while only 17 percent cite the Bible. I wonder if this is reflected in the descending reasons they give for their support, from Israel’s right to self-defense (60%) and it being the closest US ally (47%) to it being the historic Jewish homeland (44%) or linked to Jesus’ Jewishness (32%), biblical prophecy (30%), and the Bible’s teachings (28%).

All of these reasons are perhaps valid, but they completely ignore the moral dimension of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The media is a good source but is sometimes biased—and 44 percent agree—while understanding God’s word about the current state of Israel is not as easy a task as some people think.

Unfortunately, only 13 percent of American Christians have had their opinions influenced by personal experiences with Jews, and only 5 percent with Palestinians. Of the latter, I wish there was more, to overcome the stereotypes that exist. Palestinians are generous, hard-working, and hospitable. More people should discover this.

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