Prominent evangelical leaders urged President Bush last week to pursue a balanced Middle East policy, offering a sharply different perspective from fundamentalist leaders who believe God will bless America if America is unconditionally pro-Israel.
In a July 23 letter to Bush, evangelical leaders said, “An even-handed <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. policy towards Israelis and Palestinians does not give a blank check to either side, nor does it bless violence by either side.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
They condemned the suicide bombings and the failures of the Palestinian Authority. They also opposed the “theft of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes.”
“We write as American evangelical Christians concerned for the well-being of all the children of Abraham in the Middle East—Christian, Jewish and Muslim,” they said.
Among the 59 signatories were Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, the country’s largest seminary; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Ronald Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; Philip Yancey, a popular evangelical writer; and Ronald Nikkel, president of Prison Fellowship International.
Baptist signatories included Glen Stassen, professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Seminary; and Dean Trulear, pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Twin Oaks, Pa.
The letter noted that “the American evangelical community is not a monolithic bloc in full and firm support of present Israeli policy.”
“Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions—of both Israelis and Palestinians—on the basis of biblical standards of justice,” the letter read.
One of the evangelical leaders, Gary Burge, a Wheaton College professor, told the Washington Post that “Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, just to take two names, do not represent the evangelical voice in America. They represent a segment … but not the majority.”
Mouw told the Post that the religious right was theologically confused about some biblical texts. “If you take the Old Testament seriously,” Mouw said, “the prophets, who were pro-Israel, knew God would never bless Israel if it did not do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God. And bombing little Palestinian kids in order to get at one leader … and then claim it was a successful military operation—that is not doing justice and that is not showing mercy.”
Earlier this year, Ralph Reed, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and a former Christian Coalition leader, joined Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, to form the “Stand for Israel” campaign.
Their goal is to mobilize 100,000 churches and one million American Christians to support Israel, according to the organization’s Web site.
A few days later, fundamentalist leaders held a press conference at the Southern Baptist Convention to endorse the campaign.
Jerry Falwell said that the “Bible belt is Israel’s safety belt,” according to Baptist Press.
“God has blessed us in larger measure because we have blessed the Jews,” said Richard Land, head of the SBC’s public policy agency.
“God doesn’t make conditional covenants, and he doesn’t negotiate. It’s God’s way or the highway,” he said. “For us, supporting Israel is a matter of being obedient to God and obeying God’s command to bless his chosen people.”
Oliver North, a frequent SBC speaker and right-wing talk-show host, said Americans would “abandon our future” if the United States drops its commitment to Israel.
The Post reported that the signatories asked for a meeting with Bush.
The White House said it would give a meeting “all due consideration.”