What is it about religious leaders who parachute into the Middle East, then think they can become power brokers to effect some kind of Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement? And while they are at it, trash villians like “Christian Zionists” and home-grown evangelicals?
I got a press release announcing that King Abdullah, who is in town today apparently to meet with President Obama, had met Monday at some DC location (possibly the Jordanian embassy) with these four religious leaders:
+ The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago;
+ The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National Council of Churches USA, New York;
+ Imam Mohamed Magid, vice president, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Sterling, Va.;
+ Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini, scholar and religious leader, Islamic Center of American and founder, Young Muslims Association, Dearborn, Mich.
OK…Bishop Hanson had been in Amman in January with several dozen ELCA bishops meeting with Orthodox and mainline Protestant leaders there plus King Abdullah, who is big on interfaith relations. Three years ago, the king met with evangelical Christian leaders here in Washington (a closed-door meeting, unfortunately) to get Christians and Muslims talking with each other, to ward off extremist Muslims and to get religious support for certain personal goals regarding Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Anyway, apparently the king asked to meet stateside with the Lutheran bishop he befriended January in Amman - so we media folks were informed yesterday - along with a Sunni and a Shi’ite imam. Imam Magid and Imam al-Qazwini are known to me as men comfortable interacting with other religions.
What some of us didn’t expect, in the phone presser soon after the Abdullah meeting, is that Bishop Hanson would trash evangelicals in Jordan and “Christian Zionists;” apparently conservative Christian tourists who go to Israel.
First off, the bishop did say he spoke up for Palestinian Lutherans, who seem to be more numerous in Michigan than on the West Bank.
“We did acknowledge that Christian Zionism is not a helpful force,” he said. The Palestinians, “see in Christain Zionism an ideology and not a theology; a use of the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict as a way to further their interpetation of Scripture …They see planeloads of American Christians coming and refusing to visit them on the West Bank….They (the Zionists) come already decided in their narrative of the Chrisitian story of how that resolution should occur. There nothing that gives Palestinian Christians shared hope and shared commitment.”
We asked if anything was said about Christians in Jordan. Bishop Hanson said they encountered Lutherans, Orthodox and Anglican believers during his January visit but not evangelical Protestants.
“Christians are considered part and parcel of the population,” Mr. Kinnaman told us. “What is problematic is efforts to proselytize and convert Muslims” which evangelicals do but the Orthodox, Lutherans and Anglicans do not. “Churches insensitive to the consequences of that have been clamped down on.”
No kidding. Just over a year ago when King Abdullah also in town, I wrote how evangelical Christians are under fire in Jordan, how two dozen missionaries and seminary students had been deported or refused visas. This is not information the Jordanians want known to evangelical American Christians who help support Jordan’s $2.3 billion tourism industry.
Some of these same denominations the Lutherans chatted with during their January visit to Amman actively work against evangelicals, seeing them as foreign interlopers who undermine their churches by converting their members. Not only that, but Jordan has a habit of jailing people - particularly foreign students - who convert from Islam to Christianity.
Well, the king was definitely on the charm offensive with these gentlemen, all of whom sang his praises as a great interfaith leader. When I asked them if the king had made any significant concessions, such as easing up on some of his religious minorities, they couldn’t answer.
I went to Jordan for the first time in 2001 on a press trip and was marched past Orthodox and mainline Protestant leaders as well. But I also sought out evangelicals - who were under some duress even then - and talked with Catholics who complained about not being able to build their own seminary. Since then, things have worsened significantly for the evangelicals. What if Bishop Hanson had spoken up for them? After all, isn’t that part of the title of his church?
- Julia Duin, religion editor