As I drove through my hometown of Jerusalem on Saturday, I had no problem navigating through traffic. Once a week, on the Sabbath, a good portion of Jerusalem is closed and the streets are empty.
Of course this doesn't apply for all of Jerusalem. Other areas of the city bustle about as busy as ever, including most of the Old City and at least 20 Palestinian neighborhoods. Muslims keep Friday as their holy day, and we Christians keep Sunday. Thus, three days of every week in Jerusalem are dedicated for worship by the three religions that inhabit her.
Today though, Jerusalem has prepared for Mike Pence's upcoming visit. His goals seem to be an attempt to fix relationships with Jordan and Egypt, give Israel a pat on the back, and play to his evangelical base in the US who are no doubt celebrating his visit to our city.
It is suspected that Pence is one of the primary engineers behind the decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and for this he will no doubt receive a warm welcome here--at least in some quarters. But due to his indifference to the desires of Palestinians who have lived for hundreds (and even thousands) of years in this city, and who have been waiting with expectation for decades to have a portion of the city as our own capital, he will not receive a warm welcome from us. For all his stated care of Middle Eastern Christians, he has been remarkably disinterested in learning about or advocating for our genuine needs.
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but I must confess that because of its one-sidedness, America has probably lost its opportunity to be a genuine peacemaker in the Middle East. Any trust that remained in the Arab population regarding the impartiality of the US towards our situation here has been shattered. The USA has discredited itself from being a trustworthy broker for peace.
While Pence famously claims to be Bible-believing Christian who wants to protect the Christians of the Middle East, he has alienated almost all of them, from the Copts of Egypt (one of the oldest Christian communities the world) to the modern Evangelicals, among which I count myself a part. The Synod of Evangelical churches in Jordan has already issued a statement rejecting Trump's decision and the Synod of the Evangelical churches in the Holy Land did the same. In fact, before the decision was even announced, both of our Synods sent letters pleading with the American administration to refrain from making such an announcement. In a Christmas talk, Dr. Andrea Zaki, President of the Evangelical Synod of Egypt, the biggest protestant community in the Arab world, also declared that Jesus is the center and fulfillment of all prophecy-- a message that was meant to be a contrast and refutation of the dispensational beliefs that current events in modern Israel are the fulfillment of prophecy.
Among the 300,000 Arab Palestinians in Jerusalem, there are only a few hundred evangelicals. Our brother, Mike Pence may or may not be aware that the country he supports so fervently has never recognized the Evangelical church. For many years, we have sought for recognition from the Israeli government, though until now our efforts have been futile. To this day, evangelicals cannot register their churches in Israel. We are faced with difficulties when marrying people and face other complications that come with a lack of registration.
I wonder if Pence is aware of the challenges that we evangelicals face in our nation? Several years ago, for example, my church in Jerusalem (Christian and Missionary Alliance) was firebombed probably by Jewish fanatic group, and the government did nothing to track the attackers. Sadly, occurrences like this are more common than one would imagine. There have been many similar incidents across the nation. These things don't usually make the news in many of the Evangelical magazines in the USA. I cannot help but wonder what Pence, who wants to be a champion of Middle Eastern Christians, would say about these things.
Somehow, the city where God chose to perform His marvelous work of salvation has become like burden to many, as Zechariah foretold: "And in that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all peoples! All who lift it or burden themselves with it shall be sorely wounded. And all the nations of the earth shall come and gather together against it" (Zechariah 12:3).
While some people might see this as a future event, in our experience it has already happened again and again. Many nations stood against my city and spoiled her fortunes and destroyed her walls. Today, instead of being a city of peace and harmony, it is a city of segregation, discrimination and rejection of the Gospel. But I suspect that Pence is not primarily concerned about the Gospel being preached in Jerusalem. While he may be cheered when he enters Jerusalem, it will primarily be by those who like his politics but reject his faith. And conversely, the majority of those who share his faith will be weeping on the sidelines because of his politics.
Until the city that we love becomes a safe a haven for all her citizens and a place in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is received with joy, many of us will remain praying and lamenting in hope with the Psalmist of the past: "If I forget you, oh Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137:5-6).
Rev. Dr. Jack Y. Sara is an Evangelical Leader in the Holy Land, after serving as senior pastor for the Jerusalem Alliance Church in Jerusalem, he assumed the leadership of Bethlehem Bible College, an Evangelical institution that trains people for Christian ministry. Dr. Jack serves as advisors for some important Evangelical institutions including consultancy for the World Evangelical Alliance for the Middle East & North Africa.