A coalition of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches that works to influence U.S. policy on peace and justice issues in the Middle East applauded the Obama administration for not exercising veto power of a Dec. 23 United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as a violation of international law.
But other U.S. Christians who read God’s promises in the Bible to ancient Israel as applying literally to the modern state of Israel founded after World War II criticized the move as ignoring warnings in Scripture connecting a nation’s blessings to its treatment of Israel.
U.S. ambassador Samantha Power’s abstention allowed passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 by a vote of 14-0. Israel responded by curbing working ties with governments that supported the resolution. President-elect Donald Trump criticized the U.N. on Twitter as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” The House of Representatives plans to vote later this week on legislation opposing the U.N. resolution.
Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech Dec. 28 denying the U.S. is turning its back on Israel but claiming extreme elements of the settler movement jeopardize a two-state solution to a lasting peace.
Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 23 church denominations and organizations including the Alliance of Baptists and American Baptist Churches USA, asked President Obama Dec. 1 to vote yes on a resolution clearly stipulating that all Israeli settlements outside of Israel’s pre-1967 border, including those in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law.
After the Security Council vote, Churches for Middle East Peace Executive Director Mae Elise Cannon supported the U.S. abstention that allowed the measure to pass.
“This historic action was one of the first times in recent years where the United States did not utilize its power of veto within the UNSC to block actions within the U.N. that address major global concerns about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” Cannon said in a statement on the CMEP website. “We believe the call on both parties to return to the negotiating table, to mitigate conflict and incitement, and for the Israelis to end the settlement enterprise are fundamental efforts that can lead to a just peace.”
Founded in 1984, the position of Churches for Middle East Peace contrasts starkly with the powerful Christian Zionist movement among conservative Christians led by groups such as Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which claims 3.3 million members and 1.3 million Facebook fans.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, denounced U.S. inaction on Security Council Resolution 2334 on “The Sean Hannity Show” Dec. 29.
“John Kerry and Barack Obama are not only on the wrong side of history, they’re on the wrong side of God on this issue,” Jeffress told guest host Congressman Louie Gohmert.
Jeffress said the 12th, 13th and 16th chapters of Genesis outline the geography of Israel as God’s gift to his people with the promise they will live there forever. Jeffress said God also promised the descendants of Ishmael — Abraham’s first son born to Sarah’s handmaid Hagar — “that they would have a great land to the east of Israel.”
“God blessed the Arabs with oil rich land, but in Genesis 17 he said this land is reserved for Abraham, Isaac and their descendants,” Jeffress claimed.
Jeffress said the Book of Joel adds a warning that God will judge any nation which “divides the land that God gave to Israel.”
“That is why it is a scary thing to listen to Barack Obama and John Kerry,” Jeffress said. “The good news is we have a new president coming, Donald J. Trump, who is determined to be on the right side of history and of God on this issue.”
Jerry Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, criticized the U.N. resolution as “a new low in the United Nations’ long history of anti-Israel actions,” and America’s failure to veto the measure “a breathtaking change in U.S. policy to defend the State of Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East and America’s most important ally in the region.”
The NRB board of directors, which includes approximately 100 leaders in Christian media ministries, unanimously passed a resolution in 2016 calling on members “to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for God’s protection over all of Israel, and for all people of good will who seek true peace in the Holy Land.”
“Furthermore, while other nations and international bodies may alienate or abandon Israel, NRB calls on the United States to continue to stand steadfast by Israel in its time of need,” the resolution stated. A Dec. 29 press release said when the board meets again in February, a new resolution supporting Israel will likely be considered, renewing the organization’s longstanding position.
A 2015 study by LifeWay Research found that seven in 10 evangelical Christians believe the modern nation of Israel was formed as a result of biblical prophecy and that God has a special relationship with the state of Israel declared in 1948. Nearly three in four U.S. evangelicals said current events in Israel fulfill prophecies in the New Testament Book of Revelation.
In 2011 two Baptist ethicists — David Gushee of Mercer University and since-deceased Glenn Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary — issued a 3,500-word open letter opposing Christian Zionism on theological, moral and security grounds.