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Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is one of the relatively more “moderate” anti-Israel church coalitions constantly pushing for a more ostensibly neutral U.S. stance towards Israel. In July, a CMEP delegation met with National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to offer “support” for President Obama’s Middle East policy but also to share “concerns.” What were these concerns?
CMEP was distressed by continued Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the “humanitarian situation” in Gaza, and the “importance of Jerusalem being a shared city (for three faiths as well as two peoples).” And, oh yes, they were also concerned about the “dwindling Christian population of the Holy Land.” But this concern seemingly extends only so far as it implicates Israel and does not fault radical Islam or the policies of Arab regimes towards Christian minorities.
This very concerned CMEP delegation to the White House included the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s presiding bishop, a Greek Orthodox representative, several clerics from pacifist denominations, a Roman Catholic bishop, and strangely, an official from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC). This latter group is comprised of Latino evangelicals, mostly Pentecostals and charismatics, who are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. NHCLC, which was represented at the White House by senior Vice President Angel Nunez, is not a member of CMEP. NHCLC is headed by the almost omnipresent Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a chief national spokesman for liberalized immigration.
Rodriguez sits on the executive committee of the increasingly left-leaning National Association of Evangelicals and has joined in its campaigns against U.S. “torture,” and for nuclear disarmament. Although Rodriguez has been very pro-Israel, the presence of NHCLC in the CMEP White House visit may signal that Rodriguez’s political activism, especially on immigration, is tugging him leftward even on the Middle East. If so, his perspective will be elitist and not representative of pro-Zionist Hispanic evangelicals as a whole.
Last year, Rodriguez’s NHCLC formed an alliance with Rev. John Hagee’s pro-Zionist Christians United for Israel. “I have always loved Israel and believed that Christians must speak out in support of Israel’s right to exist and [its right of] self-defense,” Rodriguez enthused at that time. Also last year, Rodriguez robustly wrote for The Washington Post’s religion blog: “In order to protect the Palestinian people, and secure peace between Israel and Arab neighbors, Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda must experience the same fate as the Nazi Party in Germany, annihilation.” This perspective does not quite fit with CMEP’s priorities, so perhaps Rodrigeuz’s vice president’s participation in the CMEP White House visit was a misunderstanding.
CMEP’s delegation to the White House seems to have been chaired by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. “The continued expansion of settlements becomes that to which Palestinian people on the ground look to either substantiate or negate what politicians are saying about the progress being made,” Hanson afterwards explained, in a typical CMEP slant. “The greatest antidote to religious extremism in the world is to see us, who are not religious extremists, consistently work with people of other faiths to achieve a just and lasting peace; and for people to see successes from these efforts,” he added. Hanson boasted of his own denomination’s “strong history of advocacy for a lasting peace with justice, which in this case involves a two-state solution.”
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