By Ryan Mauro
On November 8-9 anti-Israel activists held a “24 Hour Middle East Leadership Briefing” at a Wheaton College center named after evangelist Billy Graham, who has told Christians to base their vote on supporting Israel. 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 (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.”
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