They said that being a friend to Jews and to Israel "does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted." The letter added, "Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other."
The letter was signed by 34 evangelical leaders, many of whom lead denominations, Christian charities, ministry organizations, seminaries and universities.
They include Gary Benedict, president of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination of 2,000 churches; Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Gordon MacDonald, chairman of World Relief; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; and Berten Waggoner, national director and president of The Vineyard USA, an association of 630 churches in the United States.
"This group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we're committed to the security of Israel," said Ronald Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, which often takes liberal positions on issues. "But we want a solution that is viable."
"Obviously, there would have to be compromises," he added.
They are clearly aiming their message not just at Bush, but at the Muslim world and policy makers in the U.S. State Department.
Sider said he and three other evangelical leaders got the idea for the letter in February at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, where they met Muslim and U.S. diplomats who were shocked to discover the existence of American evangelicals who favored a Palestinian state. Sider said they would translate the letter into Arabic and distribute it in the Middle East and Europe.
"We think it's crucial that the Muslim world realize that there are evangelical Christians in the U.S. in large numbers that want a fair solution," Sider said.
In the past year and half, liberal and moderate evangelicals have initiated two other efforts that demonstrated fissures in the evangelical movement. Last year, they parted with the conservative flank by campaigning against climate change and global warming. This year, they denounced the use of torture in the fight against terrorism. Some of the participants in those campaigns also signed this letter.
The Reverend Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, said: "There is a part of the evangelical family which is what I call Christian Zionists, who are just so staunchly pro-Israel that Israel and their side can do no wrong, and it's almost anti-biblical to criticize Israel for anything. But there are many more evangelicals who are really open and seek justice for both parties."
The loudest and best-organized voices in the evangelical movement have been sending a very different message: that the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to the land.
The Reverend John Hagee, who founded Christians United for Israel, was informed of the letter and read most of it. He responded: "Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message."
"Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason," Hagee said.
"What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?" he added.
"God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact," he said. "The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."
Christians United for Israel held a conference with 4,500 attendees in Washington this month, and Hagee sends e-mail action alerts on Israel every Monday to 55,000 pastors and leaders.
There is a crucial theological difference between Hagee's views on Israel and those expressed by the letter writers, said Timothy Weber, a church historian, former seminary president and the author of "On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend."
Hagee and others are dispensationalists, Weber said, who interpret the Bible as predicting that in order for Christ to return, the Jews must gather in Israel, the third temple must be built in Jerusalem and the Battle of Armageddon must be fought.
Weber said, "The dispensationalists have parlayed what is a distinctly minority position theologically within evangelicalism into a major political voice."
The following is the full text of the letter sent
Dear Mr. President,
We write as evangelical Christian leaders in the United States to thank you for your efforts (including the major address on July 16) to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve a lasting peace in the region. We affirm your clear call for a two-state solution. We urge that your administration not grow weary in the time it has left in office to utilize the vast influence of America to demonstrate creative, consistent and determined U.S. leadership to create a new future for Israelis and Palestinians. We pray to that end, Mr. President".
We also write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope this support will embolden you and your administration to proceed confidently and forthrightly in negotiations with both sides in the region.
As evangelical Christians, we embrace the biblical promise to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless you." (Genesis 12:3). And precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted. Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors. Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.
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 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. To achieve that goal, both sides must give up some of their competing, incompatible claims. Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other's right to exist. And to achieve that goal, the U.S. must provide robust leadership within the Quartet to reconstitute the Middle East roadmap, whose full implementation would guarantee the security of the State of Israel and the viability of a Palestinian State. We affirm the new role of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and pray that the conference you plan for this fall will be a success.
Mr. President, we renew our prayers and support for your leadership to help bring peace to Jerusalem, and justice and peace for all the people in the Holy Land.
Finally, we would request to meet with you to personally convey our support and discuss other ways in which we may help your administration on this crucial issue.
Ronald J. Sider, President
Evangelicals for Social Action
Don Argue, President
Raymond J. Bakke, Chancellor
Bakke Graduate University
Gary M. Benedict, President
The Christian & Missionary Alliance
George K. Brushaber, President
Gary M. Burge, Professor
Wheaton College & Graduate School
Tony Campolo, President/Founder
Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education
Christopher J. Doyle, CEO
American Leprosy Mission
Leighton Ford, President
Leighton Ford Ministries
Daniel Grothe, Pastoral Staff
New Life Church (Colorado Springs)
Vernon Grounds, Chancellor
Stephen Hayner, former President
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor
Member, Executive Committee of the NAE
Jo Anne Lyon, Founder/CEO
World Hope International
Gordon MacDonald, Chair of the Board
Albert G. Miller, Professor
Richard Mouw, President
Fuller Theological Seminary
David Neff, Editor
Glenn R. Palmberg, President
Evangelical Covenant Church
Earl Palmer, Senior Pastor
University Presbyterian Church Seattle
Victor D. Pentz, Pastor
Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Atlanta
John Perkins, President
John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development
Bob Roberts, Jr., Senior Pastor
Northwood Church, Dallas
Leonard Rogers, Executive Director
Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding
Andrew Ryskamp, Executive Director
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee
Chris Seiple, President
Institute for Global Engagement
Robert A. Seiple, Former Ambassador-at-Large,
International Religious Freedom
U.S. State Department
Luci N. Shaw, Author, Lecturer
Regent College, Vancouver
Jim Skillen, Executive Director
Center for Public Justice
Glen Harold Stassen, Professor
Fuller Theological Seminary
Richard Stearns, President
Clyde D. Taylor, Former Chair of the Board
Harold Vogelaar, Director
Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice
Berten Waggoner, National Director
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