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Most US Christians Back Israel’s ‘Bold Measures’ to Combat Hamas

But they still want to see civilian casualties minimized, negotiations, and political solutions for lasting peace, according to a new survey.
Most US Christians Back Israel’s ‘Bold Measures’ to Combat Hamas
Image: Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Most American Christians have been following the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Ultimately, they say they want negotiations, Hamas to be subdued, and a result that benefits both Israel and Palestinians.

Almost 9 in 10 self-identified Christians in the US have kept up with the current war between Hamas and Israel, according to a Lifeway Research study sponsored by The Philos Project. More than 2 in 5 say they have been following the events closely since the war began (44%).

Another 42 percent say they have heard several updates since the war began. Few (13%) say they knew the two sides were fighting but not much more. Only 1 percent say they weren’t aware of the war at all.

“American Christians have been following the war between Israel and Hamas, and two-thirds of those who attend church most often say their church has prayed for peace in Israel,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

“While a majority of American Christians support military action by Israel now, a much larger group believe lasting peace must come by mutual agreement of Palestinians and Israelis.”

In general, US Christians (52%) believe America does too much in trying to solve the world’s problems. Another 30 percent say the US is doing the right amount, while 12 percent say the nation does not do enough. Fewer (6%) aren’t sure.

Specifically with Israel, however, 50 percent of US Christians believe America is doing the right amount to help. A quarter (26%) say the US does too much in trying to help Israel. Around 1 in 6 (16%) say America doesn’t do enough, and 7 percent aren’t sure.

American Christians tend to have nuanced perspectives on the circumstances surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas but clear views on the reality of Hamas, the rights of Israel, and the need to protect innocent lives.

Three in 4 self-identified Christians in the US (75%) say Hamas is “an extremist group that is isolated from most other Arabs who live in Israel and neighboring countries.” More than 4 in 5 (83%) agree Israel “must take bold measures to defend itself against Hamas’s decades-long campaign of terrorism against Israel.”

Most American Christians (88%) say Israelis have the right to determine their own statehood and government. Around 3 in 4 (76%) say the same about the Palestinians’ governance. A similar number (74%) agree Palestinians “have the right to defend themselves and the land their families have lived on for generations.”

Fewer (31%) believe “the Palestinian people in Gaza are responsible for the attacks carried out by Hamas.” Less than half of US Christians (43%) say most of the Palestinian people in Gaza have supported Hamas’s fight, while 31 percent disagree, and 26 percent aren’t sure.

“The Israel-Hamas war is the latest episode in a series of long-standing disputes in the region, and American Christians are aware these relationships have been complex,” said McConnell. “Most American Christians recognize the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to defend themselves while also wanting Hamas’s terrorism to be stopped.”

On some of the underlying issues concerning the Palestinian people, US Christians are more divided. They are split on whether Israeli control of Gaza and the West Bank is an illegal occupation (36% agree, 40% disagree). A plurality (45%) say Israeli settlements beyond the agreed-upon borders are illegal, but 24 percent disagree and 31 percent aren’t sure. While 43 percent disagree that the “armed rebellion of Palestinians against Israel” is a natural response to being mistreated by Israel, 39 percent agree.

US Christians are more likely to believe Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2005 has hurt Palestinian people more than Hamas. Half (50%) say the blockade has oppressed Palestinian people who have no option of leaving, while 26 percent disagree and 24 percent aren’t sure. A third (33%) believe the blockade has prevented Hamas from obtaining weapons to use against Israel. More (43%) disagree, and 25 percent aren’t sure.

“The widespread agreement we see among American Christians on defending the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians is absent when we look at specific tactics taken in recent years to address disagreements,” said McConnell. “American Christians disagree with one another on disputes over land and how Israel has sought to minimize ongoing terrorism.”

Most US Christians believe Israel and Hamas view civilian casualties as justified in the conflict. Slightly more than half (52%) say Israel appears to consider civilian casualties justified in the pursuit of military goals. Even more (77%) say the same about Hamas. As a result, most Christians want to minimize civilian deaths, and many want to see a ceasefire in the region.

US Christians are split between wanting their fellow believers to advocate for Israel to fight Hamas to achieve specific results and to advocate for a ceasefire.

Most (53%) say Christians should champion strong measures to minimize civilian casualties. Around 2 in 5 (42%) believe Christians should support an immediate, complete ceasefire to stop the killing. Other options find less support: 39 percent want freedom from oppression for innocent Palestinians, 38 percent back Israel fighting until all hostages are released, 33 percent support Israel fighting until Hamas surrenders, and 30 percent believe Christians should advocate for the formation of a self-governing Palestinian state outside of Israel.

One in 5 (21%) believe Christians should support “justice for all Hamas fighters who participated in the October 7, 2023, massacre.” Fewer say none of these (2%) or that they’re not sure (7%).

“When asked to respond to the war from a Christian perspective, most American Christians advocate for preserving lives including civilians, those fighting, and hostages,” said McConnell. “This desire to preserve life coexists with a desire among the majority of American Christians for Israel to seek justice and save future lives by subduing Hamas.”

When asked what the optimal outcome for the conflict would be, most Christians prefer some type of negotiations (56%), and a majority prefer an option that begins with Israel subduing Hamas (53%). Almost 3 in 10 (29%) believe it would be best for Israel and Hamas to negotiate an enduring ceasefire that results in the release of hostages.

Around a quarter (26%) prefer for Israel to subdue Hamas and resume negotiations with other Palestinian leaders on a permanent political solution to disagreements. Two smaller groups also want Israel to subdue Hamas and either establish long-term security over and control of Gaza (15%) or consolidate civil and military control over both Gaza and the West Bank (12%). Another 15 percent aren’t sure, and 3 percent say none of these.

Specifically, 88 percent of US Christians believe lasting peace in the region requires a mutually agreed-upon political solution between Israel and Palestinians, while 8 percent disagree. Additionally, 81 percent support the goal of a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine are self-governing with national borders respected by all, with 11 percent disagreeing.

US Christians doubt Israel can only achieve a good result through military force. Two in 5 (41%) say the nation can secure a positive, long-term outcome solely through military force, but 47 percent disagree. American Christians are even more skeptical of the Palestinians’ need for fighting, as 16 percent say they can achieve their national aspirations solely through violence. More than 3 in 4 (77%) disagree.

Most say their church has made some type of response to the war. Almost half (45%) say their congregation has prayed for the peace of Israel and/or Jerusalem.

Fewer say within their church they’ve seen condemnation of the killing of innocent civilians (18%), condemnation of Hamas’ attack on October 7 (15%), support voiced from church leadership for Israel (14%), appeals from church leadership to stand by Israel’s side during this war (10%), support voiced from church leadership for Palestinian Christians (9%), or appeals from church leadership to stand against the oppression of Palestinians (7%). For 18 percent of US Christians, none of these have happened at their churches, and 25 percent aren’t sure.

As they’re following the news about the conflict, 59 percent of US Christians believe news stories often over-simplify reasons for events in the war. Additionally, more than 2 in 5 believe the media is biased in their conflict coverage, but they aren’t sure in which direction.

Around 3 in 10 (31%) say the mainstream media’s coverage of the war is objective. More than 2 in 10 (22%) say the press is skewed toward pro-Israel views in how they report. Meanwhile, 22 percent say the media is skewed toward anti-Israel views. Another quarter (26%) aren’t sure.

Despite the doubts about objectivity, most US Christians (56%) say the media has influenced their opinions about Israel. Around a quarter say they’ve been influenced by the Bible (27%) and friends and family (26%). Close to 1 in 8 point to personal experiences with Jews (13%), positions of elected officials (13%) and their local church (12%). Another 10 percent say national Christian leaders.

Fewer say teachers or professors (6%) or personal experience with Palestinians (5%) have influenced their opinions. Almost 1 in 8 (13%) aren’t sure. US Christians are more likely to say they have met an Israeli (41%) than a Palestinian (27%). Around 3 in 10 (31%) say neither, and 25 percent aren’t sure.

In general, American Christians are more likely to have a positive perception of Israel (65%) than negative (23%). That positive perspective seems to stem more from the practical than the prophetic.

When asked what has positively influenced their opinions about the country of Israel today, US Christians are most likely to say Israelis have a right to defend and protect their state (60%).

Additionally, 47 percent say the nation is the United States’ closest ally in an unstable region, while 44 percent say Israel is the historic Jewish homeland. More than a quarter (28%) say Jews needed a refuge after the Holocaust. Meanwhile, 32 percent point to Jesus being a Jew, 30 percent say Israel is important for fulfilling biblical prophecy, and 28 percent say the Bible says Christians should support Israel.

“While a noticeable minority of American Christians are critical of some of Israel’s policies prior to October 7, 2023, a majority have positive views of Israel and feel a strong response to the terrorist attack is warranted,” said McConnell.

“Support for the defense of Israel does not supersede American Christians’ desire for civilian lives to be preserved, for negotiations to take place and to continue praying for peace.”

[ This article is also available in العربية. ]

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