Christian groups raise alarm over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

By David Paulsen
Posted Dec 6, 2017
Trump on Jerusalem

President Donald Trump speaks Dec. 6 at the White House, announcing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Photo: White House, via video

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church is joining a global chorus of Christian voices speaking against President Donald Trump’s announcement Dec. 6 that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing longstanding U.S. policy toward the city.

“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious, that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said at the White House in remarks that lasted just over 10 minutes. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do.”

Leaders of the Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Anglican primate, released a letter to Trump on Dec. 6 before his announcement warning that the decision “will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations followed up with a statement Dec. 6 backing the Christian church leaders in Jerusalem and opposing Trump’s vow to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

“This decision could have profound ramifications on the peace process and the future of a two-state solution, and it could have a negative impact throughout the region and with key U.S. allies,” the Office of Government Relations said. “The Episcopal Church Office is joining with Churches for Middle East Peace and many other organizations in opposing any effort to move the Embassy.”

Trump, in changing U.S. policy on Jerusalem, was taking a step toward fulfilling a campaign pledge. Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has strong support among American evangelicals and pro-Israel Jews.

“The Israeli government, its parliament, courts, and prime minister, have been located in Jerusalem since just after the birth of the state,” Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an organization that represents 16 national Jewish agencies in the U.S., said in a statement applauding Trump’s decision. “We agree with the president that Israel, like all countries, has the right to determine the location of its capital.”

The Episcopal Church’s stance on the issue was set by General Convention in a 1985 resolution, in which the church “expresses its opposition to the movement of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, except within the context of a broad resolution of Middle East problems, with the status of Jerusalem having been determined by negotiation and not by unilateral action by any one community, religion, race or nation.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tweeted that keeping the status quo on Jerusalem “is one of the few stable elements of hope for peace and reconciliation.”

Also earlier in the day, Pope Francis, in his weekly general audience at the Vatican, called Jerusalem “a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace.” He raised concerns that changing the city’s status quo could lead to greater conflict.

World Council of Churches, too, expressed “grave concern” over Trump’s move.

“Such a step breaks with the longstanding international consensus, and almost seven decades of established American policy, that the status of Jerusalem remains to be settled,” said the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches’ general secretary. “It also preempts a negotiated resolution of this most difficult issue in any final peace agreement, which must be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”

Episcopal Public Policy Network issued a policy alert in February opposing relocation of the embassy. At that time, the Office of Government Relations advocated the church’s position to members of Congress in partnership with Churches for Middle East Peace, an ecumenical coalition of 27 American denominations that includes the Episcopal Church.

On Dec. 5, Churches for Middle East Peace repeated its objection to changing U.S. policy toward Jerusalem.

“Rather than being a broker for peace, the U.S. will be undermining trust and making the resumption of meaningful negotiations and achieving a viable solution all the more difficult, if not impossible,” said the Rev. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace.

And National Council of Churches, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, issued a statement that in part rejected biblical, theological and historical justifications for the president’s decision on Jerusalem: “Mr. Trump’s simplistic approach to the complexities of the region make a mockery of the hardships the people there – whether Israelis or Palestinians, whether Christians or Jews or Muslims – have suffered over the years.”

Trump, in his remarks Dec. 6, affirmed the United States’ commitment to helping facilitate Middle East peace and to a two-state solution that has the support of both sides. But he defended his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by saying past policy has not gotten the Israelis and Palestinians any closer to a lasting peace.

“We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past,” he said. “Old challenges demand new approaches. My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Trump cited a law Congress passed in 1995 calling for the U.S. embassy to be moved to Jerusalem. Every president since Bill Clinton has waived that requirement six months at a time, citing security concerns, and Trump initially followed suit in February. Now, by recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, the president is putting embassy relocation plans in motion.

For decades, the United Nations has insisted on Jerusalem’s unique status as an “international city” despite Israel declaring it as the nation’s capital in 1980. Because of that history, 86 countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv, and none now has an embassy in Jerusalem, according to CNN. While most of the Israeli government is based in West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem is considered by much of the world to be an occupied territory, which the Palestinians hope will someday become the capital of a Palestinian state.

The city is considered a sacred place for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike, which Trump alluded to in his remarks on Dec. 6. “Jerusalem is today and must remain a place where Jews pray at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the Stations of the Cross and where Muslims worship at al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The mosque is at a site known by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, and it was the focus of renewed tensions earlier this year between Israelis and Palestinians after a deadly July 14 shooting between Arab-Israeli gunman and Israeli policemen prompted the mosque’s closure.

It was the first time the mosque had been closed for Friday prayers in 17 years. Protests escalated when the mosque was reopened with new metal detectors, but the scanners were removed days later.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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Comments (19)

  1. Donna Hicks says:

    Thanks for getting this out in such a timely fashion and for lifting up long-standing Episcopal Church policies.

  2. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    The President is morally, theologically and historically correct in his action!

  3. The Rev. Thomas Bruttell says:

    I continue to pray for right minded Washington Leadership to step-up. There is an ethnic cleansing taking place in the Holy Land and our government has but is not using its influence for peace. This move is another grand mistake.

  4. Father Al Pike says:

    It is amazing that you place your judgment about the U.S. president’s action above the views of most world leaders, the Bishop of Rome, the Primate of the Episcopal Church, and most leaders of other Christian denominations. I would like to know the facts of your declaring that the president is moral, theological, and historical in his dangerous action.

  5. M Miller says:

    Thank You President Trump for taking action on this issue. The Embassy belongs in its Capital. More than 20 years ago, our Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which recognized Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel (Jerusalem has been the Capital of the Jewish People for nearly 3000 years, it’s been the Capital of Israel for nearly 70 Years, the focus of their Hopes, Dreams, & Prayers)….. The Lord is Pleased!

  6. Doug Desper says:

    Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish people long before there were Arabs, Muslims, or now Palestinians. Our friends on the left often remind us about honoring native claims to land and geography when the potentially aggrieved are Native Americans, original nations in Alaska and Canada, or Australia. Why not the Jewish people? Their nation and capital has been sacked by interlopers for generations. The violence of the Romans and later by Mohammad as he conquered and subjugated and enslaved Jews is no less cause for defending and jonoring the Jewish origins of Israel and Jerusalem. No one but the Jewish people originated that Holy City and their claim cannot be disputed regardless of how many conquerers or intruders have come and gone….or stay.

  7. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    Thank you Doug Desper. You are absolutely right.

  8. Norman Hutchinson says:

    The President is NOT correct in his recent actions on this matter. The vast majority of the religious communities of all faiths disagree with his decision as do most governments. The arguments presented in this article against his decision are appropriate and there is no need to restate them. It is interesting to note that even the US State Department and the DOD cautioned against his actions. He was convinced by them to delay his announcement for a week so that beefed up security arrangements could be made to protect US embassies around the world in anticipation of violence that is sure to follow.
    Many of those who applaud this action hold the badly conceived theology of a violent End Times that is anathema to Christians who follow and worship a loving God as seen in the person of Jesus Christ.

  9. Catherine Cummings says:

    I don’t see how the United States has the right to declare which town is the capital city of another nation. May be we should turn out states over to the original people who lived in North America before the Europeans arrived? There were people living in what is now known as Israel before the Jews arrived and fought them for this land, they were called the Philistines! Check out the Old Testament. There are more Jewish people living in the UK and the USA than are living in Israel. There is not enough land in Israel for all the Jewish people in the world to move there. Some Jewish people have no interest in moving there.

  10. Adelaide B Kent says:

    Jerusalem is a holy city to three religions. Why impose the requirements of a civil government on an already crowded situation? This is not the time of King David.
    Think how in many states of the Union the capital is not the largest city, for example, and then multiply that by the number of pilgrims!

  11. Finley Middleton says:

    There appear to be misunderstandings about Israel and Jerusalem. The capital of Israel has been Jerusalem since its establishment. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and the Supreme Court. Jerusalem is a holy city for all. In 2011, the population numbered 801,000, of which Jews comprised 497,000 (62%), Muslims 281,000 (35%), Christians 14,000 (around 2%) and 9,000 (1%) were not classified by religion. (Wikipedia)

  12. Doug Desper says:

    Jerusalem is not a mere tourist destination for religious buffs. It IS the capital of a nation with roots thousands of years old, whose right to exist after generations of hostile attention was recently reaffirmed in 1948 by the United Nations reconstituting the nation once and now called Israel. No pope, think tank, news junkie, or commenter can alter or diminish this reality. So what that three religions claim the space as meaningful? That doesn’t lessen the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of a nation. One of those religions – namely Islam – has claims born of their acts of violence, bloodshed, conquest, and theft as its founder took what was not his and enforced loyalty to his philosophy by violence. This reality is seen in the fact that you can view on exhibit all 9 known swords belonging to the so-called peaceful prophet. Those swords were not for show and tell – they were used to pillage, steal, and shed blood and create fear and domination. Too many of his modern followers aren’t too far from that mark as they refuse efforts for peace among themselves and among Jews and Christians as they set fires, throw rocks, and target their opposition. This same “peace-loving” people ganged up on Israel in 1948 and afterwards with the mission of totally exterminating the Jews after they had fled post-Holocaust Europe (who didn’t want them either). They turned to their ancestral home as their last refuge on a planet that wanted to kill them off. They got back to their ancestral home to find that the descendants of conquerors had settled in very comfortably, despite their being given untold stretches of land to establish Muslim-majority nations.

    If we were to turn this around into a similar scenario here in America it would not make sense any more than denying the Jews their nation and capital does. The Native American tribes on our continent often have reservations in the region of their ancestral homes. They are recognized as an ancient people with ancient claims, no matter who decided later to steal and conquer. We don’t hesitate to say that it is only right to recognize them and to even acknowledge that an ancient precedent has been set for us to respect. Why not the Jews? Holocaust after holocaust has been visited on those people but that doesn’t give anyone a legitimate claim to steal from them what ancient precedent had established.

    Israel was and is a nation of people, not just land, and they long-ago established their capital. The Jews are willing to share that, but not willing to be further interrupted, bullied, bloodied or displaced by the descendants of their Muslim conquerors.

    Our opinions about whether Israel is a nation or whether Jerusalem is their capital are moot and irrelevant.

  13. Charles B. Allen II says:

    I admit that at my age my memory is faulty but among other prominent people in the United States of America, didn’t our last president say “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and must remain undivided” and his presumptive successor HRC say Jerusalem ” is Eternal and Indivisible Capital of Israel”? I believe her husband had similar sentiments as well.
    Hopefully the results of this move will have better results than have been achieved to date, which have been none.

  14. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    I think of this scripture whenever I think of Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” I hope this troubled City will find peace. I agree with President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel and to move them U.S. Embassy.

  15. Bill Louis says:

    Father Al, with all due respect what makes the opinions of the primate and other church officials the Gospel? The Middle East has been in turmoil for thousands of years. The Palestinian issue has been at the forefront since the seventies without resolution What makes you think continuing the status quo will bring peace? Israel is our ally and we should stand by them. Most of the radicals in that area of the world already hate us and want us dead so recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol won’t make much difference. It’s the right thing to do. Thank you PJ and Doug for spelling it out.

  16. Doug Desper says:

    You’re right, Bill. Radicals (mainly Arabs) in Israel and the wider Middle East already hate us, already hate Judaism, and often hate sub-groups among themselves. Yes, these people are flints for powder kegs and our embassy move is yet another spark. But, if they weren’t rioting because of the Jerusalem issue they would certainly be rioting just because it was Thursday.

  17. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    In this case, the Church should refrain from political statements and pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, the Holy City of God for thousands of years. We should remember there will come a New Jerusalem in the future with Christ as its King.

  18. William R Russiello says:

    Trump likes to pour gasoline on fires. The brighter the blaze, the more he will be remembered. As long as his actions make him the center of attention, regardless of their destructiveness, he is happy.

  19. Donald Heacock says:

    How is it a change in policy? I watched PresidentsClinton, Bush & Obama say in speeches state that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel . It is a debate about the timing of the moving the Embassy. Let us agree or disagree but let us keep our facts right
    .

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