'Road Map' hits bump with evangelicals
By Robert Marus
ABP Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (ABP)–While the rest of the world looks on in hope at President Bush's proposed “Road Map for Peace” in the Middle East, some American Christian groups are expressing reservations because of their unequivocal support for Israel.
President Bush met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon June 4 in Jordan to jump-start the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Leaders abandoned the process started by former President Bill Clinton after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat walked away from negotiations in 2000. Palestinian radicals then instituted an armed uprising–the Intifada–against Israel. The Intifada continues and has resulted in more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths and about 700 Israeli deaths.
Both sides have accepted, in principle, Bush's road map. The president presented the plan in conjunction with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
|If the United States takes a role in ripping half of Jerusalem away from Israel and giving it to Yasser Arafat and a group of terrorists, we are going to see the wrath of God fall on this nation .
Polls show a majority of Americans support the plan. But some conservative evangelical Christians have expressed disdain for the plan's focus on Israeli concessions and what they see as its tendency to suggest there is a “moral equivalency” between Israel and Palestine.
In recent comments on his “700 Club” television broadcast, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson criticized the plan's goal of returning to Palestinians land currently under Israeli military occupation. According to Robertson's website, www.patrobertson.com, he said: “I am telling you, ladies and gentlemen, this is suicide. If the United States–and I want you to hear me very clearly–if the United States takes a role in ripping half of Jerusalem away from Israel and giving it to Yasser Arafat and a group of terrorists, we are going to see the wrath of God fall on this nation (in a way) that will make tornadoes look like a Sunday School picnic.”
Robertson called the other sponsors of the Bush plan “enemies of Israel” and said if American leaders “ally ourselves with the enemies of Israel, we will be standing against God Almighty. And that's a place I don't want us to be.”
Other prominent U.S. evangelicals have offered more nuanced criticism of the plan. Former Family Research Council head and Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer sent Bush a May 19 letter saying that, although he believed the Road Map was “well-intentioned,” it ran the risk of equating what those leaders saw as a righteous Israel with an inferior Palestine.
“It would be morally reprehensible for the United States to be 'evenhanded' between democratic Israel, a reliable friend and ally that shares our values, and the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure that refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist at all,” Bauer said.
Other U.S. evangelical leaders signing Bauer's letter included Presbyterian evangelist James Kennedy, Christian talk-radio magnate Marlin Maddoux, and Southern Baptists Adrian Rogers, Jerry Falwell, Richard Land and Ed McAteer.
Ken Hoglund, a religion professor at Baptist-related Wake Forest University, said some conservative evangelicals' interpretation of the Bible's end-times prophecies influence their largely uncritical views of Israeli policies. Such views are part of a theological system called dispensationalism, which Hoglund described as “a perception that before Jesus can return again, we need to see the physical restoration of a nation Israel and its conversion to Christianity.”
Bill Baker, a professor of Arabic and Middle East studies at Baylor University, said that what he considers a misunderstanding in interpreting biblical promises leads to favoritism toward Israel among many conservative American Protestants. “When God promised the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, he didn't exclude any of Abraham's children from that promise,” Baker said. “Since Ishmael is Abraham's eldest son, he and his descendents (the Arabs trace their lineage to Abraham through Ishmael) by birth inherit Abraham's promise.”
Both Baker and Hoglund said they didn't expect Bush to suffer much politically due to his support for the peace plan, even though conservative evangelicals tend to be among Bush's strongest core supporters.