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Evangelical leaders push Mideast policy

Sunday, July 28, 2002

WASHINGTON - A group of prominent evangelical Christians, challenging the view that their community is solidly behind the Bush administration's Middle East policy, has urged President Bush to adopt an evenhanded stance affirming "the valid interests" of both Palestinians and Israelis.

In a July 23 letter to Bush, 59 theologians, community activists, pastors and college professors assert that "the American evangelical community is not a monolithic bloc in full and firm support of present Israeli policy." They ask the president "to move boldly forward so that the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state may be realized." The letter, accompanied by a request to meet with Bush, represents an unusual challenge by leading evangelicals to the position staked out by the religious right, which has been vocally pro-Israel.

"What's unusual," said signer Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., is that the letter "is going straight to the political authorities and saying: `Hey, there are some of us who are not quite in sync with the loudest voices. And if you're motivated by a desire to please the evangelical community, you've got to know that some of us are not pleased by the heavy-handed favoring of the Israeli side in all of this.' "

Not just Falwell

Gary Burge, professor of theology at Wheaton College in Illinois and chairman of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, said he and other signers want Bush to know that "Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, just to take two names, do not represent the evangelical voice of America. They represent a segment ... but not the majority." The administration's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is widely seen as tilting heavily to Israel and has pleased conservative Christian evangelicals, one of the Republican Party's most important constituencies.

"We very much appreciate them taking their time to share their concerns with us," The letter, which also was sent to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, condemns Palestinian suicide bombings and "violence against Israeli citizens" as well as the Israeli military occupation and "the continued unlawful and degrading Israeli settlement movement." The "theft of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes and fields," the letter states, "is surely one of the major causes of the strife that has resulted in terrorism." The actions of both sides in the conflict should be judged by "biblical standards of justice," the evangelicals wrote, adding that "significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages" to underpin "uncritical support ... of the Israeli government."

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