Peacemaking and prophecy: US Christians' Mideast ties
Although the Bush administration dragged its feet before jumping into the search for Middle East peace, American Christians have been passionately connected in complex ways to the 50-year struggle. Their involvement is spurred by convictions of the demands of their faith. Yet theological differences within the Christian community play out in strikingly diverse approaches to the conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches feel called to peacemaking and to steps that seek justice and security for both parties. Conservative evangelicals strongly back Israel's control over the territory what they see as the first step in fulfilling biblical prophecies of the Second Coming. In fact, Christian Zionism, with its centuries-old roots in Britain and the US, preceded Jewish Zionism by several years.
Recently, media reports have speculated on whether President Bush might share Christian Zionist views, as President Reagan did, and how they might affect US policy. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is also a deeply religious evangelical.
As the violence has escalated, both Christian communities have intensified their efforts to influence US actions and build support at the grass roots.
Ties to a Jerusalem churches and Palestinian Christians give members of mainline churches greater familiarity than most Americans have with the daily realities of the occupation. They are now trying to respond to the damage from Israel's military incursion on church facilities in the West Bank, including schools and hospitals Â- some of which they helped build. Many feel compelled to speak out more forcefully about the injustices of Israel's 35-year occupation.
Â On April 13, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is currently teaching in the US, condemned the suicide bombings and "the corruption of young minds," but strongly criticized Israel for what "it has done to another people to guarantee its [own] existence."
"All my visits [to the Holy Land] reminded me of what had happened to us in South Africa," he said, detailing a series of humiliations. "Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their own humiliation? Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people."
He spoke at a New England conference in support of Sabeel, a Palestinian ecumenical center in Jerusalem committed to nonviolence.
"Israel has three options: Revert to the previous stalemate filled with hatred and vengeance; exterminate all Palestinians; or strive for peace based on justice Â- withdrawal from the territories and establishment of a viable Palestinian state with secure borders," Archbishop Tutu said. Calling on Americans to speak out, he added, "Peace is possible Â- we are free today in South Africa because of people like yourselves."
Â Bishop Thomas Shaw, the top Episcopal leader in Massachusetts, took the unprecedented step last October of protesting with two other bishops in front of the Israeli consulate in Boston. The public action shocked local Jewish leaders, who felt Israeli suffering was being ignored, and initiated an in-depth conversation between the two faith communities. Shaw, who lived for a time in Jerusalem, says that Israeli and US governments - and the Jewish community - must also acknowledge the injustices that the Palestinians have suffered.
Â Through a coalition called Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Protestants and Catholics are organizing at the grass roots and holding monthly prayer vigils in every state. They are urging Congress not to pass proposed legislation to close down Palestinian offices in the US and restrict those at the UN.