Study spotlights Hispanic Christians' views on Israel

by Bob Smietana, posted Friday, June 23, 2017 (one year ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) – Hispanic Christians -- evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics -- are more likely to say the nation of Israel has the right to exist than the average American, a new study released Thursday (June 22) shows.

They worry about the fate of Christians in the Palestinian territories and sympathize with both Palestinians and Israelis.

But the Bible, most say, has little to do with how they see Israel.

Those are among the findings of an online survey of self-identified Hispanic Christians and their views on Israel from LifeWay Research. The research firm conducted the survey Jan. 11-23.

The response was mixed, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Few Hispanic Christians have a negative view of Israel, he said. But many have no opinion.

"Overall, Israel isn't a major concern for many Hispanic Christians," McConnell said.

More supportive than Americans in general

Hispanic Christians are generally supportive of Israel, according to LifeWay Research's survey.

Half (50 percent) say the modern state of Israel, which was founded on May 14, 1948, has the right to exist. Only 15 percent disagree. About a third (35 percent) aren't sure.

For comparison, a 2015 LifeWay Research study found Americans much more skeptical about Israel. Forty-two percent agreed when asked if they support Israel's statehood. Thirty-five percent disagreed, while 23 percent were not sure.

The 2017 survey found only a quarter of Hispanic Christians in the U.S. have a negative view of Israel (26 percent). Forty-five percent have a positive view. Twenty-eight percent aren't sure.

About a third (34 percent) think the U.S. is doing enough to help Israel. Fewer say the U.S. does too much (19 percent) or too little (18 percent) to help Israel. Twenty-nine percent are not sure.

Hispanic Christians seem reluctant to take sides in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. Two-thirds (66 percent) sympathize with the hardships faced by both Israelis and Palestinians. A quarter (27 percent) sympathize more with Israelis. Seven percent sympathize more with Palestinians.

Most Hispanic Christians also worry about the welfare of Christians in parts of the Holy Land. Three-quarters (72 percent) say they are concerned about the safety of Christians in territories governed by the Palestinian authority. Ten percent disagree, while 18 percent are not sure.

Role of religion complicated

Faith plays a role in how Hispanic Christians see Israel. But they often disagree how the two are related.

Forty percent say the modern nation of Israel is "a fulfillment of God's covenant with the Jewish people." Twenty-one percent disagree. Thirty-nine percent are not sure.

And more Hispanic Christians cite the media (34 percent) than the Bible (16 percent) when asked what most shapes their views on Israel.

Among Hispanic Christians who support Israel's right to exist, few cite the Bible (7 percent) or Bible prophecy (11 percent) as the reason for doing so. Instead, 55 percent say Israel has a right to exist because every nation has a right to exist.

Researchers found that self-identified Hispanic evangelicals are by far the most ardent supporters of Israel:

-- 59 percent have a positive view of Israel.

-- 58 percent say Israel has a right to exist.

-- 83 percent are concerned about the safety of Christians in areas under control of the Palestinian authority.

-- 35 percent say the U.S. does not do enough to help Israel.

-- 49 percent sympathize with the hardships Israelis face.

-- 54 percent say the Bible shapes their views on Israel.

-- 15 percent cite the Bible as the main reason they support Israel's statehood.

-- 28 percent support Israel because of its role in biblical prophecy.

Support among Hispanic evangelicals differs slightly from American evangelicals in general. American evangelicals overall were less likely to say they support Israel's right to exist as a state (50 percent) but more likely to make a connection between their faith and their views on Israel. About 7 in 10 (69 percent) American evangelicals said the modern nation of Israel was formed as a result of biblical prophecy. And 73 percent of American evangelicals said events in Israel are part of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation.

Tony Suarez, executive vice president of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), says Hispanics -- and especially Hispanic Christians -- will play an important role in shaping American policy toward Israel in the future. So understanding their views on Israel is essential.

"Their support for Israel should not be taken for granted," Suarez said.

Disconnect with the Jewish community

As part of the survey, sponsored by NHCLC and the Philos Project, LifeWay Research also looked at several other issues, including views of Hispanic Christians on politics, foreign policy, the media and the Jewish community.

They found about a third (33 percent) are more likely to vote for a candidate who had pro-Israel views. More than half (53 percent) say a politician's views on Israel doesn't affect their vote. Fourteen percent are less likely to vote for a candidate who has pro-Israel views.

On foreign policy, Hispanic Christians are ambivalent about the role the U.S. plays in solving the world's problems. Forty percent say the U.S. does too much. A third (32 percent) say the U.S. does the right amount. Fifteen percent say the U.S. does too little. Fourteen percent are not sure.

Television (85 percent) is the most popular news source for Hispanic Christians, followed by social media (55 percent), websites (47 percent) and radio (37 percent). Less than a third (29 percent) rely on print newspapers or magazines.

Researchers found a disconnect between many Hispanic Christians and the Jewish community. Just over a third (36 percent) say they have Jewish friends. Half (49 percent) have no Jewish friends. Fifteen percent are not sure.

A significant number of Hispanic Christians hold somewhat anti-Semitic views, McConnell said. Forty-two percent say Jewish Americans have too much influence in American society. About a third (31 percent) disagree. A quarter (27 percent) are not sure.

That's a troubling finding, McConnell said.

"There appears to be at least some resentment among Hispanic Christians," he said. "It's clear there's a disconnect between this group of Hispanic Christians and Jewish Americans."

Jesse Rojo, Hispanic Affairs Director for the Philos Project, agrees.

His organization has been sponsoring trips to bring Hispanic Christian leaders to Israel to connect with Jewish leaders in that country. They've also worked to connect Hispanic leaders and Jewish leaders in the United States.

"There should be more efforts on the local level to build bridges between these two communities," Rojo said. "There is a lot more work to be done."

Methodology: The online survey of Americans was conducted Jan. 11–23, 2017. The project was sponsored by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Philos Project. Targeted sample was obtained from national online panels. This sample was screened to only include self-identified Latino/Hispanic adults who indicate a religious preference of Catholic or Protestant/Non-denominational. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, education, Catholic/Protestant, country of origin and generation immigrated to more accurately reflect the Hispanic Christian population using statistics published by Pew Research and the Census Bureau. The completed sample is 1,038 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 4.1 percent including weight effects. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.

Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP).
Download Story