Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
Yes, you read the title correctly. President Trump has earned praise, so I will give him his credit due, with the hope that he will earn more. Even more important, I’ll suggest how Christians can and should support his work thus far on Israel and the Middle East.
Trump certainly has pushed some very “non-Christian” ideas with respect to Islam. For example, his “Travel Ban” violates Christ’s command to help those who need it (while actually making America less safe!) The only reason I can think of for Trump to make such a bad move is that the “Travel Ban” might help him politically. The good news is that, besides being immoral and dangerous, the “Travel Ban” is also illegal (according to the courts). I hope that Trump will soon move on from this effort and get on with the task of pursuing real solutions to our nation’s problems.
With respect to Israel, however, the Trump administration has been performing very well. According to this article from politico.com, Trump’s approach to Israel has been “surprisingly nuanced,” as his administration has reached out to both Israelis and Palestinians to try to bring lasting peace.
Trump got off to a good start in part because of President Obama’s problems with Israel. While Obama’s policies toward Israel were not much different from those of his predecessors Bush and Clinton, Obama started off badly with Israel and never really recovered. Without the trust of the Israeli people, it was hard for him to get Israel to make concessions which might be necessary for peace.
Trump, however, seems to have kept most of the trust of the Israeli people even when he failed to keep a campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem (at least not yet). He also has managed to get Israel to substantially slow its construction of settlements in the West Bank. You might recall that this was a major issue in January, when Obama chose not to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel for expanding its West Bank settlements.
Trump’s administration also seems to be showing a real interest in listening to Islamic peoples and countries in the region. His lead advisor, Jason Greenblatt, met with a number of Palestinian groups during his “listening tour” of Israel. And Trump himself is meeting seriously with leaders from countries around Israel.
Trump is taking a big political risk by not moving the embassy to Jerusalem and by encouraging Israel to stop settlement activity. Many, many Evangelical Christians in the United States support the idea of an Israel which controls all of the West Bank and whose capital is in Jerusalem. They see these things as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. If Trump does not move the embassy by the time he runs for re-election in 2020, he will have to explain why he broke his campaign promise. And if he ever takes the Palestinian side in a dispute (and there will be disputes!), Trump will surely be criticized by the pro-Israeli crowd. Doing the Right Thing often has political consequences.
Christians need to accept that, with respect to Israel, our responsibility as Christians has little to do with biblical prophecy or with any unique relationship God has with the Jewish people. Christians should strongly support Israel’s existence and security because Jewish people need what Israel has to offer: a place for Jews to go when they face Anti-Semitism. Contrary to what some Americans might believe, Anti-Semitism is a problem not just in the Arab world, but in Europe and even here in the USA.
Modern Israel was created so that Jewish people would always have a safe harbor. Today, any Jewish person in the world can immigrate to Israel at any time. Immigrants do not have to be practicing Jews; by definition, Israel is a “non-religious” country. Most Jews in Israel, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and most other government officials, do not practice Judaism or any other religion. In this way, Israel is a lot like the United States: we may call ourselves “One Nation Under God,” but we do not make a religious “test” for citizens or leaders. Israel operates the same way.
The country of Israel would like to control Jerusalem and make Jerusalem its capital, and many Israelis want Israel to have full control over the West Bank. As Bible-believing Christians, we might more easily empathize with Jewish people than with Palestinians. But our connection to biblical peoples is not as important as our call to do justice. Justice requires carefully listening to and understanding all sides, Palestinian and Muslim, as well as Israeli and Jewish.
At the moment, Trump’s Middle East policy seems very consistent with our Christian responsibility to do justice in the world. I hope that Christians encourage him to continue to listen to all sides, and search for the most just solutions in the Middle East – and everywhere else!