WASHINGTON – Dozens of prominent evangelicals across the nation voiced support for President Bush's Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, emphasizing that they support the call for a two-state solution.
The letter signed by 34 evangelical leaders – ranging from presidents of some of the nation's top Christian universities and humanitarian organizations to the editor of a preeminent Christian magazine – acknowledged that both Israelis and Palestinians have rights to the disputed land.
"Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine," states the letter dated July 27 and published in the New York Times on Sunday.
Signers called for a lasting agreement to end the "tragic cycle of violence" by guaranteeing both sides "viable, independent, secure states."
To achieve the agreement both sides will be required to give up some of its demands and reach a compromise, said the evangelical leaders.
"Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other's right to exist," they stated.
The signers wanted to rectify the "serious misconception" that all American evangelicals are against a two-state solution and the creation of a new Palestinian state.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," they stated. "We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians."
Signers included Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Tony Campolo, president/founder of Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education; Stephen Hayner, former president InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; and Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., and member of the executive committee of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Outspoken evangelical zionists have often overshadowed more moderate evangelicals on the Israel-Palestine state issue. Christian zionists have been criticized for unconditionally supporting Israel even if it does wrong.
"There is a part of the evangelical family which is what I call Christian Zionists, who are just so staunchly pro-Israel that Israel and their side can do no wrong, and it's almost anti-biblical to criticize Israel for anything," said megachurch pastor Hunter, according to the New York Times. "But there are many more evangelicals who are really open and seek justice for both parties."
Evangelical signers of the letter emphasized that though they continue to observe the biblical mandate to protect Israel, the Bible does not prohibit them from criticizing the state when it does wrong.
"The group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we're committed to the security of Israel," said Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action. "But we want a solution that is visible. Obviously there would have to be compromise."
Sider was one of the leaders who formulated the idea for the letter during a U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, in February when he met Muslim and American diplomats who were shocked to hear American evangelicals for a Palestinian state.
"We think it's crucial that the Muslim world realize that there are evangelical Christians in the U.S. in large numbers that want a fair solution," said Sider.
The Rev. John Hagee, founder of Christian United for Israel – one of the nation's most vocal Christian pro-Israel groups, responded to the letter by saying: "Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at the message."
Hagee pointed to the Bible and said God's covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning the land of Israel is "eternal and unbreakable" and "still intact," according to the Times.
"The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never exited as an autonomous society," said Hagee. "There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud."
However, two-state evangelical supporters believe perhaps the "best way" to bless Israel is to encourage her to deal with neighboring Palestinians with justice.
"Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors," the letter stated.
The evangelical leaders ended the letter by requesting a meeting with President Bush to personally share their support of his effort and discuss the situation.