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Friday, August 28, 2015

Ambiguity Is Persuasion's Best Friend

In July, in the Exchange, a blog run by Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer posted an article citing a study about American support for Israel (click here for the article). The study was from Lifeway, a research group that conducts studies to help advise churches regarding today's issues. We should note that Stetzer is both the author of this Christianity Today blogpost and the executive director of Lifeway

The study used two surveys and concerned itself with American attitudes regarding Israel. The context for the Christianity Today blogpost was the nuclear deal with Iran. The research cited included survey data from Americans including self-identified evangelical and fundamentalist as well as senior pastors/ministers/priests (click here to see the section on methodology).

The study found that support for Israel's statehood correlated positively with both education and one's belief in, what must be a specific view of, prophecy--from Lifeway's description of the study. Interspersed in the Christianity Today blogpost were quotes from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. But what was absent were quotes from any Iranian leader.

With regards to the title of the article, 80% of American Evangelicals support Israel's statehood as opposed to 46% of Americans who do the same. Now while the Lifeway article on which the Christianity Today blogpost was based gave some specifics about who was surveyed, as far as I can tell, the exact question asked of the participants was not released. In other words, what did the participants mean by saying they support Israel's statehood. For some of my fellow evangelicals and fundamentalists, that statement means supporting Israel in all of its foreign policies towards its neighbors including the Palestinians--please note that rarely does a person or nation treat a neighbor the way that Israel treats the Palestinians. For others, supporting Israel's statehood could merely mean merely supporting Israel's right to exist. That latter support may not include supporting all of Israel's foreign policies. 

And in light of the blogpost's use of Netanyahu quotes, we should note the following about the circumstances in which Israel has found itself. Netanyahu has been publicly saying that Iran is on the brink or or was just a few years away from developing nuclear weapons since 1992 (click here).  We should also note that as a member of the Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Iran has every right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes which means that all members have the right to produce low enriched uranium. Thus, Iran having the capacity to low enriched uranium is both legal and does not imply any present or future threat to any nation. We should also note that Israel, on the other hand, is suspected of by most in the world as having hundreds of nuclear weapons.

Before commenting on the significance of the survey results cited by this Christianity Today blogpost, we should note some other background information on both the participants and those who conducted the study. The Lifeway article used in the blogpost cites Lifeway Research Vice President as saying that of all literature, the Bible has had the greatest influence on America. The same article reports that from previous Lifeway research, around 48% of Americans believe that there exists a unique relationship between God and Israel today while less than 53%  believe the same about God and America. However the same article states that close to 70% of Evangelicals believe that today's Israel exists because of Bible prophecy.

And one more bit of background information, and this was not part of the Lifeway report, the predominant eschatological (a.k.a., study of the endtimes) theology in America is Dispensationalism. Here we should know that Dispensationalism sees today's Israel as having a special relationship with God and is in existence because of Bible prophecy.

With all of that background information, what are we to make of this Christianity Today blogpost? Does having such support from the majority of American Evangelicals imply anything good or bad about the state of Israel and its policies. Does that support imply that we should support Israel? The answer to the last two questions is 'NO!' What the blogpost is reporting is the results of a couple of surveys conducted on people with certain predispositions toward certain attitudes and ways of interpreting the world. And what complicates the meaning of the survey results even more is the ambiguity of the question asked. What does it mean to support Israel's statehood. Again, does it mean that the people saying they supported Israel's statehood agree and promote all of its foreign policies? Or does it mean mean that the participants merely believed that the state of Israel?

See, the blogpost article vaguely suggests that we should support Israel especially in all of its foreign policies. The quotes from Netanyahu at the beginning as well as the specifics on how Evangelicals see Israel in the light of the Bible indicates such an interpretation. And when we add those points to the high percentage of Evangelicals who support Israel's statehood along with the culture of the company doing the research,  it seems pretty conclusive that the purpose of the blogpost is encourage support for Israel's foreign policies.

But the same evidence used to suspect that the blogpost was promoting a certain agenda can also sabotage the purpose of the article. What is lost here is objectivity. And when we add that to vague support for Israel's statehood can be, there is no significant information in terms of how we should think about Israel and its policies provided by this Christianity Today blogpost.





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