Leading US Evangelicals for Palestine

CAIRO – A group of evangelical leaders have signaled a rare support for the creation of a Palestinian state, drawing immediate reprimands from fellow evangelical figures, The New York Times reported on Sunday, July 29.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have "legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine," some 34 evangelical leaders wrote in a letter to President George Bush on Friday, July 27.

They signaled support for the creation of a Palestinian state "that includes the vast majority of the West Bank."

Palestinians want an independent state on lands occupied by Israel after the 1967 which includes the entire of the Gaza Strip, occupied West Bank and Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem).

The signatories insisted that being a friend to Jews and to Israel "does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted."

"Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other," wrote the signatories, featuring leaders of many denominations, Christian charities, ministry organizations, seminaries and universities.

The letter marks a clear departure from the usual position reiterated by top Evangelical leaders that they have a biblical and moral obligation to support and protect Israel.

Several key Evangelical leaders have insisted over the years that their position was part of "God’s foreign policy" because Israel is an important catalyst in the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Believing that the Israeli-Arab conflict is a battle between good and evil, conservative evangelicals built a bulwark of support for Israel, sending donations and denouncing Israel’s critics.

Evangelical Christians have had a growing impact on American political landscape, in part because adherents believe conservative Christian values should have a place in politics — and they support politicians who agree with them.

Reaching Out

Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, said he and three other evangelical leaders got the idea for the letter in February at the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar.

He recalled that meetings with Muslim diplomats showed they were shocked to discover the existence of American evangelicals who favored a Palestinian state.

"We think it’s crucial that the Muslim world realize that there are evangelical Christians in the US in large numbers that want a fair solution," Sider said.

He added that the leaders would translate the message into Arabic and sent it to the Middle East.

"There is a part of the evangelical family which is what I call Christian Zionists, who are just so staunchly pro-Israel that Israel and their side can do no wrong, and it’s almost anti-Biblical to criticize Israel for anything," said Rev. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood.

"But there are many more evangelicals who are really open and seek justice for both parties."

Aware of their influential political clout, the ambassadors of nine Arab countries recently approached young US Evangelical leaders to court their support for Arab causes.

The ambassadors held landmark meeting early in July with some of the evangelical leaders at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington.

None Believers

The signatories insisted that their support for the creation of a Palestinian state does not contradict with their unwavering support for Israel.

"This group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we’re committed to the security of Israel," said Sider.

"But we want a solution that is viable. Obviously there would have to be compromises."

However, this was not enough to satisfy pro-Israel evangelicals like Rev. John Hagee, who founded Christians United for Israel.

"Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message," he commented after reading most of the letter.

"Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason. What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?" Hagee said.

"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact."

Hagee claimed the Palestinian people "have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society."

"…to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."

Hagee sends e-mail action alerts on Israel every Monday to 55,000 pastors and leaders and his organization organized a pro-Israel conference attended by 4,500 people in Washington this month.

Timothy P. Weber, a church historian and former seminary president, insists those who agree with Hagee are a minority among evangelicals leaders.

"The dispensationalists (who interpret the Bible as predicting that in order for Christ to return, the Jews must gather in Israel, a third temple must be built and the Battle of Armageddon must be fought) have parlayed what is a distinctly minority position theologically within evangelicalism into a major political voice."

(IslamOnline.net + News Agencies)

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