In July, several dozen prominent evangelicals urged President Bush to strike a more even-handed posture between Israel and the Palestinians. The letter's signers included Evangelical Left fixtures such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Glenn Stassen, Ron Sider, along with some less predictable evangelicals.
Their language was mild, but the letter's implications potentially are serious. America's nearly 100 million evangelicals are key to America's pro-Israel policies. Breaking up traditional evangelical support for Israel, and steering U.S. policy in a more neutral direction, clearly is the Evangelical Left's goal.
"Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other," the evangelicals told President Bush. "The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states."
In other words, these evangelical letters writers portray Israel and the Palestinians as equally recalcitrant. The letter's strong implication is that peace depends on the U.S. forcing Israel into more concessions that might, perhaps, placate the Palestinians.
One letter signer was Chris Seiple, president of the Institute on Global Engagement. He is the son of former Clinton-era Ambassador for Religious Freedom Bob Seiple, another letter signer. Reacting to harsh criticism, the younger Seiple recently defended the letter.
"Whether one agrees with U.S. foreign policy of the past six years or not, there is nevertheless the widespread perception abroad that imperial America is trying to build a Christian empire," Seiple wrote. "This perception is acute in the Muslim world." Seiple described Muslims he meets as hostile to America because they assume all Americans are evangelical and therefore "political, strident, unforgiving." One Muslim friend told him: "You Americans have the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other."
Seiple, writing on his website, fretted that many will "never experience the love of Christ" because of evangelical stereotypes. "I signed the letter to let non-believers know that there are evangelicals beyond this stereotype."
Indeed, the letter was cooked up when its evangelical authors were attending the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, earlier this year, where supposedly they astonished Muslim diplomats who were unaware that some U.S. evangelicals favor a Palestinian state.
Seiple and other signers also portray their letter as an attempt to fight terrorism. "The single greatest thing the U.S. can do for its long-term national security is to take the Israel-Palestine issue off the table by playing an even-handed, active, and sustained role in creating a peace that is just," he wrote. Ostensibly, the Muslim perception of "one-sided" support for Israel is a "recruiting tool for terrorists worldwide."
"As a Christian, Jesus commands me to love God and to love my neighbor, including those who do not look like me, vote like me, or share my faith," Seiple further explained. "More specifically, I am called to act as an Ambassador of Christ's reconciling love until He returns -- a time that He himself told us we cannot know."
More revealingly, Seiple shared that he is "tired of the evangelical stereotype." And he wants America "to work for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine."
Here's the gist of the Evangelical Left's latest argument. Many Muslims hate America because it is partial to Israel. If America reduces its support of Israel, then many Muslims may stop hating America. These Muslims will then be open to the love of Christ that evangelicals are anxious to share with them.
These letter signers are obsessed with overcoming negative stereotypes about simplistic evangelicals but ironically seem almost determined to live up to them. Turning U.S. policy against Israel as a tool for evangelical evangelism, or at least as a public relations benefit to evangelicals, is hardly a sound geopolitical argument. And where is the evidence that Muslim antipathy towards the U.S. would recede absent the Israel/Palestinian conflict?
If the U.S. relocated every Jewish Israeli to America's shores tomorrow, would Islamic gratitude towards America last more than a week? Would it not would be followed by increased -- and deserved -- Islamic contempt towards America, followed by frenzied calls for reclaiming other "lost" Islamic lands in Spain, the Balkans, and parts of Russia, among others.
Simplistic evangelicals often confuse the Christian commandments for personal behavior into guidance for statecraft. Individual Christians are to love their enemies, be kind to their persecutors, give away their possessions even to the undeserving, and deny themselves. But states that behave accordingly are suicidal. Although the Religious Left ignores him, St. Paul explained that civil governments are divinely ordained to punish wrong doers, not to win universal love.
The U.S. has ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into the Palestinian territories. The U.S. has endorsed a Palestinian state. The U.S. has pressured Israel to make territorial compromises with the Palestinians. Where is the increased love for the U.S. by Palestinians and by Muslims?
Is a U.S.-backed Israel the main obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement? Or is it actually unconstructive Palestinian attitudes, vividly expressed by the Palestinians' majority political party, Hamas, which demands Israel's destruction? Don't even "moderate" Palestinians implausibly demand a complete return to Israel's pre-1967 borders and the gradual demographic destruction of Israel, through an unlimited right of return for all the descendants of pre-1947 Palestinian residents inside what is now Israel?
Perhaps the Evangelical Left advocates of more U.S. pressure against Israel should ask whether tacitly giving hope to untenable Palestinian demands is actually doing any favors for the Palestinians. Rather than engaging in superficial public relations ploys aimed at winning Muslim approval for themselves, the evangelical letter writers might strive instead for a plausible and just peace in the Middle East.
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