PrintPrint EmailEmail ShareShare CiteCite


Evangelicals and the Middle East [Rush Transcript; Federal New Service]

Speakers: Eliza Griswold, Fellow, New America Foundation, Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, and Timothy P. Weber, Senior Consultant, Higher Education Practice, EFL Associates
Presider: Rachel Bronson, Vice President, Programs and Studies, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
November 30, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations



This event is part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Symposia Series, which is made possible by the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.



RACHEL BRONSON:  Good afternoon.  I'm Rachel Bronson.  I'm the vice president for Programs and Studies at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  And to allay any confusion, I had been at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York for a number of years, and so it's really terrific to be home again.  And I thank Harry and Tim and Walter for making that possible.

I'm just delighted to be moderating the session that we have this afternoon, which, after two what I thought were powerful and interesting conversations, we have a lot to live up to.  But I think any conversation on the Middle East, particularly American foreign policy in the Middle East, and especially the role of evangelicalism in American foreign policy and the Middle East, can be nothing but interesting.

And so we have a big task in front of us, but hopefully made a little bit easier by how challenging and interesting the subject itself is.

On the panel today are three fantastic people to speak with us about it.  And I hope that, in my role, I'm able to draw them out so that they can really showcase how interesting and important the subject is.

Tim Weber, to my left, is a senior consultant at EFL Associates.  In his role in higher education in Denver, he's been president of four institutions -- four institutions of graduate theological issues.  To his left, Eliza Griswold is a fellow at the National America Foundation.  And to her left is Paul Marshall, who is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Just to give a little background also before we get into the conversation, Tim's done some very important and path-breaking work on the role of evangelicalism and Israel.  Eliza is finishing a book on the 10/40 parallel that we've been hearing so much about and will allow us also to get into a little bit of conversation on missionaries today.  And then Paul, of course, has been working on issues of religious freedom.  That's been actually referred to in the conversation.  So here we have three experts on very important topics and issues when it comes to the Middle East.

So what we've agreed to kind of as a panel is just to take some very basic questions and have each of the panelists take it on and give their take of the questions.

So let me just start with Paul, and maybe just start very broadly, Paul, on how do evangelicals view the Muslim world and the Middle East?  I mean, as we think about this very big topic, can you kind of give us a sense of what that landscape looks like?

PAUL MARSHALL:  Okay.  As we heard this morning, any statement which begins "Evangelicals think" is -- I'd better rephrase that.  Is there an evangelical view of something?  No.

With Israel, as I think Tim will point out in much more detail and nuance, I think most evangelical opinion is supportive of Israel.  Of that, about one-third is probably for prophetic reasons, premillennial dispensationalists; I would say another third for biblical reasons -- (inaudible) -- view of the Jews.  So there's a biblical tie-in there, but it's not dispensational or prophetic.  And the third would see Israel as a democratic country which has our values and we should support them.  So there is generally a pro-Israel tilt.

That's also supplemented by the fact of a more negative or critical view of Middle Eastern countries generally, and a lot of that is tied to the treatment of the Christian minorities, which the evangelical world has become more aware of.  You know, most notably would, of course, be Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also with Egypt, with Turkey, with Syria, people becoming aware of what's happening in there.

So in short form, a pro-Israel tilt, for a variety of reasons, but also concern about a lot of the Middle East.  If we include Sudan in the Middle East -- it depends where we want to draw that boundary -- then particularly the north-south conflict in Sudan, that peace agreement is fraying, but still holding.

I would say, in terms of focus on any country, the focus on Sudan has been the largest amongst the evangelical community in the last 10 years, and a lot of that has carried over into Darfur.  So that's also a large issue for evangelicals.

BRONSON:  Tim, why don't you pick up on that about -- I mean, I think the point has been made repeatedly that evangelicals don't think something.  But yet Paul has kind of laid out some area where there is some commonality in general, a pro-Israel stance in general, concern with human rights; not that out of touch with the American public, actually, in many ways, which I think is interesting.

So how should -- when you look over the landscape of evangelicalism in foreign policy and thinking about the Middle East -- and we'll get specifically to Israel, but even your work, obviously, will inform that -- what is the role for evangelicals in thinking about American Middle East policy?  Who are they and where are they?

TIMOTHY P. WEBER:  Well, as Paul has pointed out, most evangelicals are very pro-Israel.  All the polls say so.  But not all evangelicals are pro-Israel for the same reason.  A quarter, a third at the most, probably, are very concerned about Israel and the Middle East for prophetic reasons.  They follow a particular view of Bible prophecy which originated in the 1830s in Britain called dispensationalism, came to this country in the 1870s after our Civil War, and, by World War I, was firmly established among people who were beginning to call themselves fundamentalists.

It is a view of the future which is extremely detailed.  The conviction is that the Bible contains a scenario of great import and great detail that spells out what's going to happen in what order, when and where.

Bottom line for dispensationalism is that there can be no second coming of Christ without the rise of anti-Christ.  There can be no rise of anti-Christ without the restoration of the Jews in the Holy Land.  And this was a view that was taught in Britain and the United States from the 1830s on.

What I see as most significant about the evangelical approach to the Middle East is that it took an enormous turn, of course, in 1948 with the founding of the state of Israel, and then again it took great urgency again by 1970 after the Six-Day War, when Israel gained a lot of territory and began to put together a map that looked very much like the maps that used to hang on evangelicals' Sunday School walls.

Evangelicals love Israel because they're in the Bible a lot -- (laughter) -- from the beginning to the end.  Jesus was the son of God and the son of Israel, and all the children of Israel were the apples of God's eye.  For that reason alone, if a Bible prophecy was never uttered, those facts are enough to keep evangelicals in the game with Israel.

But you had this other thing, this premillennial dispensationalism, which really has given a public voice to a minority position within the evangelical community.  And we can say some more about that later.

BRONSON:  Eliza, why don't you talk a little bit?  The panel's been couched as evangelicalism with American foreign policy and the Middle East.  But a lot of your work is showing the importance of Muslim communities and where Christians meet Muslims outside and around and throughout the Middle East.  I mean, maybe you can talk a little bit about how really we should be thinking about our foreign policy in the Middle East and then beyond.

ELIZA GRISWOLD:  Well, I think what's important to remember, that 80 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims live outside what we term the Middle East.  So when we're looking at the encounter of evangelical Christianity and Islam, we're looking primarily in the developing world in Africa and Asia.

Now, we've been hearing a lot about this 10/40 window, which I thought I might define -- just kind of backup and define for a minute so we'd understand some of the terms.  And again, I think it's essential to remember that there's not one unified position or evangelical view of what this window is.  But the 10/40 window is also called the window of opportunity.  It's a geographic space that begins on the line of latitude 10 degrees north of the equator and it continues up until the line 40 degrees north of the equator.  It's a rectangle.  Inside live about two-thirds of the world's population.  Eighty-five percent of the poorest of the poor, which means people who live on less than $500 a year.  And I think it's between -- it's a soft figure -- but definitely over 90 percent have not been reached with the gospel -- have not heard someone preach to them directly about salvation through Jesus Christ.  So that is what this 10/40 window.

It was named in 1990 by an evangelist named Luis Bush --

MARSHALL:  No relation.

GRISWOLD:  I don't know.  (Laughter.)

Anyway, so -- and it became and still is -- I don't want to overstate its importance as some sort of pre-millennial drive, but it is certainly a focus among evangelical Christians and missionaries for the last great push of salvation -- reaching the unreached within this window.

Now, what I have been looking at specifically is that line of latitude 10 degrees north of the equator, which is about 700 miles north of the equator.  That splits, Nigeria, Sudan, the Horn of Africa; it runs through Somalia and Ethiopia; it's just above Indonesia and Asia and it splits the Philippines north-south.

In Sudan, in particular — which is a point of interest I'm looking forward to hearing Paul talk about -- the Brits used this 10th parallel to divide the north and south in 1905.  Now, right now looking at the evangelical presence in south Sudan, really the reason that we know about what's going on in south Sudan is the presence of evangelical relief workers who have absolutely consistently supported the people of south Sudan, and not just because they're perceived as Christians.  And they are the first to say, this is beyond a religious understanding.  Yet, there is a very -- there's a point in the current peace agreement that was forged in 2005 between north and south that involved a very specific oil rich area between north and south and it is directly on this 10th parallel.  And it is looking like -- the place is called Abyei -- and it's looking like peace may break down again.

So there's -- I was just speaking yesterday to a wonderful evangelical relief worker who was saying, watch Abyei, watch Abyei.  And he is not in the State Department.  And you know, he knows who's going where and why, because he's deeply committed to that work.

BRONSON: Let me pick up on that and kind of continue to broaden the conversation.  But Eliza, let's start with you and kind of the sort missionary work and where Christians and Muslims meet about sort of the key concerns and issues for evangelicals in the Middle East.  And so we talked a little bit before about persecution and things like this.  So I'd like to start with you on that one about talking about this particular issue of such key concern.

GRISWOLD:  Well, I think one place to begin in the Middle East -- I was in Iraq when the war began and I was with a group of missionaries who used what they call "creative access" -- meaning that they were in Iraq teaching English and not openly working as missionaries.  This group had been there -- and that's all I'm going to say about them in terms of defining information -- they had been teaching English through the first Gulf War and providing aid work there.  And although there is no question their primary and singular drive in their head was to bring people to salvation through Christ, their success rate was extremely low by their own admission.  And what served the daily good in a very important way was the teaching of English, the medical care.  So why that may not be the primary drive, very frankly -- by many of the missionaries who work within this area -- that is their primary affect.

When it comes to persecution, looking at persecution in terms of basically -- I think the nexus of evangelical Christianity -- and Paul will address this in detail, I'm sure -- the nexus of evangelical issues and human rights is really this issue of persecution.  It is extremely real.  We may couch it as something else.  You know, I mean, southern Sudan is a perfect example.  I went several months ago to a conference in Franklin, Tennessee called Voice of the Martyrs, which serves the persecuted church.  That is their mandate.  They work mostly in PR, so it's a pretty flashy presentation of information.  One pastor, an American, got up and talked about a southern Sudanese boy he had met -- and he showed pictures of this boy -- who had been sent to the north as a slave.  Clearly, he was sold and working as a slave.  And this boy had, in fact, been crucified and survived.  But he was nailed to planks.  Now, the pastor's understanding of that was that he was crucified in terms of Jesus -- that this was a direct corollary to his being Christian.  But identity isn't fixed.  It's shifting all the time and this young boy had about 10 identities.  So there's a very important and in many ways providential to both the human rights community and the evangelical community that brings these two concerns together around issues of persecution.

BRONSON:  Paul, let me ask you to kind of pick up on this and talk about the importance of religious freedom and what it means for foreign policy, and for the U.S., and looking and thinking about the Middle East and our involvement in the Middle East.


Just in terms of foreign policy, religious freedom, I don't think, is being properly taken up as an issue.  One reason is still in Washington in foreign policy, religion is not taken seriously.  I would say the difference is 10 years ago people would tell you, well, religion wasn't that important for foreign policy.  Now, almost nobody will say that.  They say, oh, yeah.  We realize now it's important.  But people produce their reports in exactly the same way.  It doesn't -- it has not been integrated into an understanding.  And so the problem of religious freedom is an issue.  And Tom Farr has a -- long-time the first head of the Religious Freedom Office in the State Department -- has a book coming out next year on this.  As a humanitarian thing -- there's someone in prison, we want to get them out of prison.  So you deal -- you put out fires.  And that's worthwhile -- more than that is done.

But in areas where religion is plainly significant -- and that's most of the world -- I could put it this way:  When religion and politics intertwine, if you don't have religious freedom, you cannot have political freedom.  If there's no freedom for Muslims to argue about the meaning of Islam, in a state which defines itself as an Islamic state, then you can't argue about the political order.  So it's not a marginal issue.  It's central to the discussion of democratization and many other things.  It's especially true in the Middle East.  You know, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Egyptians will imprison religious and political reformers -- who are often the same -- on grounds of blasphemy.  So that's a general background statement.

In the Middle East as a whole, most of the non-Muslim -- there's lots of Muslim religious minorities -- most of the non-Muslim religious minorities are disappearing.  And there are other groups -- there are Mandaeans, Sabians, Yazidis and so forth in Iraq -- but in most of this area, 90 percent of the minorities you're talking about are Christian, and historic.

If I can interrupt myself -- just to pick up on language, we often refer to these as "Muslim countries."  Quite a few of these countries are demographically no more Muslim than the United States is Christian, okay -- certainly Lebanon, obviously; Syria would be another example; Egypt is another one.  They're no more -- they're as religiously diverse as the United States is.  So when we start calling them Muslim countries, if you happen not to be a Muslim who lives in that country, that's also of concern.

So these communities are leaving -- obviously the Palestinians, the Palestinian Christian population is now a tenth of what it was 30 or 40 years ago.  But it's not simply a Palestinian thing.  There's a similar movement out of Turkey, the old Christian communities -- the Syriacs in the southeast, they've, by and large, gone -- and it's much more than guest workers.  You're seeing a movement out of Jordan.  You're seeing a movement out of Syria.  Also in Egypt, that's the largest group going, but I think their birth rate may be high enough so that they're self-sustaining.

Then the obvious example is, of course, Iraq.  You know, every Iraqi has suffered, but you find out that amongst the refugees, the minorities -- who are four percent of the population, are over 40 percent of the refugees.  They don't have militias.  They can't fight back.  They can't defend.  So they go.  So you see this large scale movement out.

Evangelicals, more than most Americans, are aware of that.  They see reports of persecution; they often know much more about what's going on than other people.  So this also colors (their ?) views of Islam, in general, because -- (inaudible) -- when you hear about Islam it's very often in these particular contexts.  So let me leave that there.  I can say more -- then I'll break.

BRONSON:  Yeah, we'll come back -- we'll come back because I want to get to Tim, but I'm reminded the economist quote, just recently -- and Adrian, you may have written it (laughs), but saying that "Faithful Unsettle Politics Everywhere This Century."  And unless we understand that, Washington understands that, and figures out how to engage, we will be operating with one hand tied behind our back on the foreign policy stage.

Tim, let me ask you to pick up where Paul left off, talking a little bit about the views of Muslim countries.  But also clearly very important to this -- and you kind of hinted in your introduction, is the role of Israel, and pro-Israel take, and some splits that are happening recently, but if you can kind of round that out for us in terms of thinking about the role of our own domestic politics and foreign policy, and how this pro-Israel sentiment plays itself out.

WEBER:  In my latest book on this subject I equated the changes within the pre-millennial community in these terms:  I talked about how, for most of their history, dispensationalists have been sitting in the stands on history's 50-yard line, (laughter) looking at the field below, watching the teams enter the stadium, begin to take up positions and then predicting what was going to happen next.  Their job was to explain the game before the game started -- and certainly before it ended.

But after the founding of the State of Israel -- and especially after the Six-Day War, more and more of these pre-millennialists believed that it was time to get out of the stands and get down on the field where they could arrange the teams in ways that fit their scenario.  So they became activists, not just observers and explainers.

Much of this new approach came about at the urging of the Israelis in the late '70s, early '80s.  Israel recognized that it was quickly losing the liberal Protestant support that it had had before the Six-Day War.  And when they did not withdraw from occupied territory, mainline Protestantism began to be highly critical of the Jewish state.  And they discovered instead, the fundamentalist, evangelical, pre-millennialists world that they didn't know much about before; and they began to court in major ways.  And the pre-millennialists loved it, and they responded.

Sometimes even prime ministers of Israel would help evangelical prophesy-types arrange tours of Israel to bring their constituencies there.  And from that time to this, Tel Aviv Airport is just flooded with evangelical tour groups to walk where Jesus walked, and to get the Israeli spin on the Middle East crisis.  And this has been a very important part of this marriage that has taken place.

So what we have, since the early '80s, is a -- is a tendency among some of these prophesy believers to organize in very overtly political ways, to influence American foreign policy.  And they've done so by creating essentially political action groups with names like "Christian Friends of Israel," "Bridges for Peace," "International Fellowship of Christians and Jews" -- which is run by a rabbi but which is supported overwhelmingly by evangelicals, or the "International Embassy -- International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem," we could go and on.

Most recently, the one that has received a lot of recent public attention is "Christians United for Israel," which is headed by John Hagee, who has a big church in San Antonio.  They have -- this last summer they had a huge rally in Washington -- 4,500 people came.  They trained them to disperse on Capitol Hill and lobby their various members of Congress and Senators on Israel with talking points.

I'm on the mailing list and I got my "E-mail Alert" this last week to e-mail the White House about the Annapolis Conference; to urge the White House to "Cut it out," and not to pressure Israel anymore to give up land for peace.  There's just all this kind of very sophisticated political involvement among that kind of group.

Now other evangelicals don't see it this way -- never have, never will.  They don't read the bible, prophetically, in the same way but they still are very pro-Israel.  In August a group of 34, I think -- evangelical leaders, presidents of seminaries, denominational leaders, apparent church leaders of various kinds, wrote a letter to the president urging him to recognize two things:  Number one, not all evangelicals are in the prophetic camp; and secondly, not all -- a very large number of evangelicals are for a Two-state solution in the Middle East.  And they sent that off.

John Hagee responded and said, "Evangelicals will laugh to scorn, this letter.  Well, what happened in Annapolis -- all those e-mails, all that lobbying did not stop Annapolis from happening, but that letter was right, it was calling on the president to do what he did in Annapolis.  So that raises all kinds of interesting questions about who's got the political connections and the political power in the evangelical community, under this president, to influence American foreign policy.

BRONSON:  Eliza, picking up on some of this, we were talking a little bit before about Israel and Palestine, in light of your work.  I wonder if you had some thoughts in terms of dispensational views, or maybe even talking about a little bit social justice and where that plays into all this conversation about where the evangelical community is going.

GRISWOLD:  Sure.  Well, definitely the prophetic tradition is alive and well outside of Israel and Palestine.  I mean, a couple of months ago I was in the "middle belt" of Nigeria which -- and, again, generalizations are dangerous here, but the mostly-Muslim north of Nigeria meets a predominantly-Christian south in an area called Middle Belt, which unsurprisingly, is 10 degrees north of the equator.  And again, it's the southern edge of arid land.  So basically, that's as far as Islam got during the 19th century before tsetse flies caused camels and horses to die of sleeping sickness.  So that's where Islam stopped.

And now, I think really important to our discussion today, is to remember that this explosive growth of effervescent Christianity in Africa and Latin American and Asia -- but especially along that sub Saharan region -- is one of the things driving our foreign policy, because we're seeing a new form of belief and really listening to people who have a form faith that does not necessarily come from us.

But anyway, back to social justice issues.  Well, in the middle belt, for example, there's a specific field that lies between a small Islamic emirate and a Christian village.  Maybe -- certainly over 1,000 people have died in the past several years fighting over this one field.  Now, religion is one of a thousand factors in that life.  You have land.  You have desertification, the influence of climate change and grazing patterns -- all of these play into issues of social justice throughout the developing world.  And then religion comes to color conflicts in an extremely convenient way for those who want to propagate conflict.

Am I answering your question enough?

BRONSON:  You are.  I mean, what I was fishing for a little bit.  And Paul, you can wrap us up too before we go to the Q&A.  But you know, in sort of my recent conversations, there's been this overwhelmingly pro-Israel sentiment.  This notion, though, of social justice has been very important to evangelicals and that is leading some to begin to take a more pro-Palestinian view in terms of their views of social justice and what's just.

So in that context -- and I probably should have set it up a little bit better -- I know that you've been running into sort of conflicts and questions around social justice --

GRISWOLD:  Oh, absolutely.

BRONSON:  -- elsewhere around the world.  But I'd like to come back to it, because, Paul, I want you to kind of jump in on this too.

MARSHALL:  Yeah.  A couple of things here:  You've always got to be careful with polling data.  We see amongst evangelicals a strong pro-Israel sentiment.  Amongst most, the major thing that boils down to is you want Israel to be protected.  It survives.  It exists.  If that is established, then you could do other things.  And I've seen some polling data which says -- actually, support for a Palestinian state is higher amongst evangelicals than it is amongst the general population.  The opposition isn't to a Palestinian state.  The basic thing is the preservation of Israel.  If that is secured, then one, you know -- you want the Palestinians to be happy and prosperous and as wealthy as possible.

And again, the concern about a lot of the Muslim world is, again, it's repressive.  If they haven't got oil, it tends to be very poor.  So that's there.  But with Israel and the Palestinians it's submerged to the basic conflict.  In other areas there's a lot of relief work going on.  That's true in Iraq.  Some of the major relief NGOs, even in Egypt, are indigenous Christian ones.  So that goes on, but the religious freedom-religious persecution issue in a lot of the area, then the Israel and the Palestinian issue overshadows that.

To add something else:  We've been talking -- when we've been talking about evangelicals, we've been talking more of say movement evangelicals or sociological terms, public opinion.  I'd just like to add, as you mentioned before, if you took that -- you know, if you raised -- what about evangelicals in Annapolis?  I said, well, I saw this evangelical standing in the middle of the Israelis and the Palestinians.  His name's George Bush.  A chief organizer of that was another one named Condi Rice.  I was surprised when we talked about Africa we didn't talk about Mike Guss (sp) and his role in that.  Or going back further from Middle Eastern politics take another one -- James Baker.  There are many evangelical figures who've been involved in foreign policy circles who are not identified as evangelicals -- that's not their public persona or whatever -- but nevertheless are.

Amongst elite evangelicals is a very strong realist streak, I think you'll find.  And let me throw out one other name which hasn't come up, who's very influential:  Doug Coe of the Fellowship.  Somebody mentioned before that evangelicals were -- I think it was Rich -- not very big on dialogue or at least structured dialogue, often very big on reconciliation.  There's quite a few organizations, lots of Catholic ones as well, who work on that.  A new group in Washington called the Fellowship -- that's very much one of their themes.  And they're quite influential in terms of foreign policy -- not so much on the hard edge, but bringing people together.  They've done this with Sudan.  And I think in discussions about Israel and the Palestinians they've done a lot of informal diplomacy -- what's the expression -- the two-track or third track.  There's a lot of that going on.  Someone like Doug Coe, I think, would have been very influential in bringing these parties together. So there's this subterranean element going on too.  Again, that's not mass opinion.  But if you're dealing with office holders, there's a lot of influence which we haven't really touched on much.

BRONSON:  Let me open up to the audience -- you've got a whole bunch of very broad themes here -- and just look for your engagement after a nice lunch.

Right there -- Jeff.  You can stand and introduce yourself.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, Rachel.  Jeff Laurenti at the Century Foundation.

While Israeli authorities are far more hospitable to Christian minorities within Israel than a lot of Christians in Arab -- suffocatingly Muslim societies nearby are -- still, Palestinian Christians have been active in the Palestinian cause almost from the beginning.  Is it that evangelicals don't see these Christian surviving communities that have lasted 14 centuries under Muslim domination -- Israeli Christian, because they're Catholic or Orthodox or whatever?  Because one has the sense that there is not much bonding among at least nominally co-shared Christian communities.  And you know, they certainly don't have, it would seem, an interest in the holy places the way the Catholic and Orthodox churches have been battling over each other for the Holy Church of the Holy Sepulcher and such.  What is the view among evangelicals of those Christian communities inside historic Palestine and the broader Middle East?

WEBER:  Let me say that this is one of the most surprising things to me in my own research was how evangelical Christians in America with this prophetic slant could so totally miss these Christian communities in the Middle East -- especially the Arab ones.  I think it's safe to say that Palestinian Christians simply do not make it on the dispensationalist radar screen.  They're just not there.  And some people who have taken these kind of prophetic -- prophetically informed tours of Israel will say that when they have asked about, can we meet with some Christians here in Israel?  They've been told there aren't any.  Well, there are -- although most of them have moved to Detroit in recent years.  I mean, the percentage of the Christian community among the Arab population -- the Palestinian population has greatly been reduced in the last couple of decades, because they find themselves caught in between Israel and the Muslim community and they're getting it from both sides.

But I think it's true that evangelicals from this prophetic point of view just don't see that community as playing a role in end-time events.  And if you don't play a role, then you don't show up.

MARSHALL:  If I could add on that:  not just the prophet camp, but American evangelicals have generally have not been aware of Middle East Christians.  In that, they're probably typical of Americans.  That's why I said, even we fall into calling these places Arab countries.  Well, there are Kurds.  There are all sorts of other people.  We call them Muslim countries.  There are all sorts of non-Muslims.

They hadn't been aware of that.  When people had been aware of it -- when earlier missionaries -- Presbyterians, say, founded the American University of Beirut, American University of Cairo, and so on -- with the exception of the Anglican, the Episcopalian -- they often didn't relate.

With evangelicals, the emphasis is very much on a living committed faith.  You've got to live that out.  You go to these places and these people just seem like everybody else.  They may show up in church on Sunday, but it doesn't do anything.  So they're just nominal Christians.  They're -- you know, they don't -- they're not really committed.  They're not real believers.  So ignore it or object to evangelism.  I think that's changing and it's changing quite rapidly as people start to become aware of the historic communities there.  But in general, evangelicals haven't been aware of them and when they had been, dismissed them.

Let me just put in a sort of additional ad on top of that because mentioning the universities there.  The disappearance of the Christian communities from the Middle East is, I think, an important foreign policy issue for reasons -- I mean, it's not just a concern of Christians.  You could say, "Well, it's sad that they're going, but does that really affect world dynamics?"  I think it does.  One has been disproportionately, the Christian communities have related to the West.  If you look in the Arab world, say, in terms of the growth of literature, education, many other things -- it's been disproportionately the minorities.  They have related to the West and that continues.  They've imported other ideas -- ideas of democracy, liberalism and so on have generally come through Christians.  Also other ones -- Ba'athism was chief -- early ideologue of -- Ba'athism was at first -- you know, Greek Orthodox -- Michel Aflaq.  So they brought in bad ideas, but very much a gateway that it goes -- you know, if they disappear, that creates that problem.

And secondly, they maintain that society is plural.  If you want religious freedom and I -- religious freedom is a gateway to many other freedoms, that's harder -- it's easier to argue for if there's more religious diversity.  It doesn't mean you can't without it, but it's tougher.  So if the size is approaching 99.9 percent of Muslim, these questions start to recede and you miss other forms of pluralism there.  So I think it will in fact affect the dynamics of the region as such.  So it's an important issue for all of us.

BRONSON:  Let me jump in.  Eliza, do you want to pick up or do you want to back to the audience?


I want to say that I think that the flight of minority Christians is extremely important to evangelicals because it plays into their perception of persecution.  Here we're being forced out.  We will not be forced out.  We will stand our ground and then leads to especially vis-a-vis Islam a greater binary division that then feeds into this idea of light versus darkness, salvation versus damnation and a very deep line in the sand that can be problematic for local communities and for our foreign policy.  So I think that's an important point today.

BRONSON:  That's very helpful. let me come right here, and then I'll head over there.

Please stand and introduce yourself.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks, Rachel.

My name is Pernan Qupei (zp).

You talked about Christianity in the Middle East, and obviously this is Christianity among Arabs.  But there's another Christianity, of course, which is that of expatriates and if you look at countries of the Gulf, for example, the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries -- nearly 80 (percent) to 85 percent of their populations are not indigenous.

WEBER:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTIONER:  They are expatriate.  And an overwhelming majority of those populations -- the expatriate ones, that is -- are indeed Christian or they are Hindu or they are non-Muslim.

Now this ties in with the question of freedom to worship -- freedom of worship.  And my question really is that how much to evangelicals take into account in their proselytizing or in their outreach to the Middle East the whole question of being able to worship or the worship in a church?  In Saudi Arabia, for example, that's banned.  In most -- or if not most, many Muslim countries, that kind of non-Muslim or non-Islamic worship is banned.  In the UAE, for example, it's far more liberal.  What sort of talk is going on right now and where do you see any new approaches toward this issue, if any?


WEBER:  Okay.

The point is very good with the expatriate population.  We notice in Saudi Arabia.  But as you mention, the smaller Gulf countries are majority expats.  And the question of freedom of religion -- even just freedom of worship, which is obviously only one part of freedom of religion, becomes important.  And we're always emphasizing -- when you mention this to people over here, they always think you're talking about the American oil executives.  I said, "No, they're from India.  They're from -- you know, they're from Egypt."  You know, Egypt -- a lot of Egyptian Christian workers in the Gulf.  But, you know, the Philippines especially with Bangladesh, India, elsewhere, the usually very poor people have no idea what's in their contract when they go over there to work.  So their situation is very important.

In terms of freedom of worship -- I mean, this is getting raised with the Saudi's a lot -- it's an important issue for evangelicals.  Evangelicals -- and I'm encouraging as many as possible to push our government to, you know, keep leaning on the Saudis on this issue.  With the other Gulf countries, there is more room to negotiate.  Kuwait has a variety of churches.  It has very traditional Christian families, so there are not just expats but Christian Kuwaitis.  Qatar has allowed the construction -- recently the construction of -- a Catholic church and donated the land to do that, and the government's also donating land for construction of other churches.  So with Bahrain, with Quatar, you're seeing some movement more in Kuwait.  With the Emirates, I'd have to know more.  But I -- in these settings, I think partially because economically they're growing, they're the wealthier -- they're feeling more relaxed.  I think good diplomacy is starting to open doors there.

With the Saudis, who are much more ideologically dug in on this and trying to portray themselves as the Vatican of Islam, which is very un-Islamic, the -- it's much tougher.

BRONSON:  Let me just --


But -- again, though -- but to just to emphasize, the majority of the people -- not in the Gulf states, but in the country at large -- the majority of people we're talking about are not expats, they're not missionaries.  They're 2,000-year-old communities.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I'm Jim Wallace from Boston University.

We have alluded to earlier in our conversation today about how evangelicals have had their differences in the past historically with both the Catholic community, the Jewish community -- but how bridges have been built over different issues -- the Catholic community particularly over social issues, the Jewish community primarily over Israel.  My question is this.  Do you see any hope for building bridges between evangelicals -- particularly neo-evangelicals versus the more fundamentalist variety and the Islamic revivalist versus the Islamic fundamentalist?  Where, how, on what issues could bridges be built between evangelicals and the Islamic revivalists with whom they share both values and some theological perspectives on the world?

BRONSON:  Eliza.

GRISWOLD:  Oh, I know -- that's a great question.

Here in this country around some of those moral issues about, you know, sex education and abstinence, there has been some movement between, let's say, conservative Christians and conservative Muslims to find some common ground on -- really, an education policy would be the primary place.  I think that can be dangerous because, for example, if you look at faith-based foreign policy, which sometimes -- I went with Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, who has a $500 million-a-year evangelical empire, to meet with President Bashir, the president of Sudan, for the first time in 2003.  And this is a man he has called just as evil as Saddam Hussein, even more so.  And this meeting was possible because, ostensibly, you're dealing with two leaders who place their faith before anything else.  In truth, that meeting ended up not being, although Franklin was able to ask about his right to evangelize and makes some strides toward that, what happened was these two people were coming from a point of view.  Both said, "I'd like to convert you; no, I'd like to convert you."

And the ability of the deep moral respect wasn't really present, because -- (laughter) -- and I think there really can't be deep understanding without some notions of absolute salvation.  "I am going to heaven and you are not, my friend."  Those can be extremely problematic in working out real-life issues.  So I think there has to be a deeper sense of pluralism before approaching some of those other social issues.

MARSHALL:  But you can also have -- I was about to add, "Well, I want to convert you."  "I want to convert you."  He says, "Good, then we're in agreement."  (Laughter.)

GRISWOLD:  Well, and that is --

MARSHALL:  But that's serious.

GRISWOLD:  And that's religious freedom, of course.

MARSHALL:  Yeah.  But it also means you know where the other person is coming from; then you can deal with that.  I'm always amused by people who say, "Well, obviously, get rid of all the conversion (thing ?) and then we'll have agreement."  He says, "No, they're much more in agreement already than they are with you.  You're the odd person out here."

So I think there is this foundation.  I was also in Nigeria finding out that quite a few of the Muslim schools in the north use curriculum, (sex ?) education, which they adapted with the help of the Southern Baptists, from the Southern Baptist curriculum being used in the Christian schools in Nigeria.

So you start to see this overlap in cooperation.  But, you know, the fact that you have two groups of people who take their religion seriously -- you know, that's why often evangelicals get along much better with Orthodox Jews than with Reform Jews, because you take your beliefs seriously, and so you can understand someone else.

I was talking to -- I shouldn't take too many anecdotes, but I was talking to one Muslim in Texas.  He says, "It's much easier being a Muslim in Texas.  People here take their religion seriously and they take mine."  He says, "I can close my store five times a day here to pray and people understand that."  He says, "You try and do that in France, you're a nut case."  Or you wear a head cover. Oh, people understand that.  Amish wear head covers.  All the Mennonites wear head covers.  Nuns wear head covers.  People -- it's assumed that people are religious, so you're open about that.

So I don't want to exaggerate it.  The opposition is there, but there is room for cooperation.  And there's been a lot of sort of faith-based diplomacy amongst more radical Muslims and conservative Christians.

GRISWOLD:  And just a note to that, that Franklin Graham has an ongoing relationship with Bashir that has been helpful in other ways.  But one other note is that I don't think you have to be conservative to take your religion seriously.


BRONSON:  Let me come over to Tim here on this.

WEBER:  Yeah, just a brief comment.  There is a Muslim-evangelical dialogue beginning here in America.  Back in July, a meeting was held, put together by Benny Hinn.  Do you know who Benny Hinn is?  He's on TV, healing things, lots of things.  But anyway, Benny Hinn got together this group of Muslim -- or ambassadors from Arab countries in the Middle East and a bunch of evangelical leaders with things like Falwell and Robertson.

Before you get too excited, these were the sons of Falwell and Robertson.  This is a generational shift -- a different style, a different openness to talking with different kinds of people.  And Rick Cizik was there for that.  And I think there's some more scheduled.  Right, Rick?  Do you want to say just a word?

RICHARD CIZIK:  I'm not sure what's going to happen.  It was pretty interesting, though.  Benny Hinn went around the room and introduced both sides.  I think that the evangelicals, like Ron Godwin, who had been one of the founders with Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and the Moral Majority, he was interested in an academic kind of contact.

I think Jonathan Falwell was speaking for religious freedom.  That's what he was saying.  Don Argue was there.  He's from the NAE.  He's on the International Religious Freedom Commission, recently sworn in by Hillary Clinton; Don generally for increasing relationships and diplomacy.  Everyone had a little bit different agenda.

I think the Muslim ambassadors were primarily interested in sounding them out; like you say, second-generation leaders to see if they were at all willing to move on the question of Israel.  And the evangelicals present, they weren't willing to say they were.  They weren't willing to acknowledge that there's any room here for dialogue.

But sitting at the end of the table, I at one point said, "I think, knowing some on both sides" -- because we've been doing this since 2003, the same kind of thing, but not quite so high-profile.  (There has ?), as somebody said, (been ?) fellowship for years.  But I think there was a sounding out to see if there's any flexibility in the policies that evangelicals have been holding so dear to them on these issues, especially those within that community.  And so whether it takes flight and becomes anything more than what it was once, I'm not sure.

But the question I would have is, can we improve relations with the Muslim leaders around the world -- that is, the evangelicals -- can the evangelicals, without a change in our foreign policy views?

BRONSON:  So let me just get this straight.  You're asking the panelists -- (laughs) -- whether --

CIZIK:  In their mind, yeah.

BRONSON:  Yeah -- I mean, whether evangelicals -- because you have an important answer to that, I would think.  But I'm going to come back to the panel since you threw it to them.

WEBER:  Well, I think, from the prophecy-based evangelical community, there's not going to be any perceptive change on some of these issues.  They believe the Bible is clear on what's going to happen and what their responsibilities are for the future; that is, stick with Israel no matter what, because history is under the control of a sovereign God who spelled out the details.  And therefore, if you go against those details, if you back the wrong horse in these kinds of political debates, you not only are opposed to God, but you incur the judgment of God on yourself.

And there's a real interesting part of this prophecy community that is constantly warning about the practical consequences of going for a two-state solution.  They said, "You know what happened the last time America pushed hard for a two-state solution?  God sent us Katrina and Rita.  And just wait what's going to happen after Annapolis."  So there's that kind of fear.  So, you know, people with that mentality are not going to sit down at a table and say, "Let's talk about the West Bank."  They're just not going to do it.

But this other evangelical group made up their minds a long time ago that one of the best ways of being pro-Israel is to help Israel survive in its community, and that is by making peace.  So they write the letters and they support the president in his attempt to bring about a Palestinian state.  So, again, there's not one evangelical answer to that question.

BRONSON:  Walter, let me turn to you.  I know that you have a -- (inaudible).  Wait for the mike.  Introduce yourself.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD:  I'm Walter Mead here at the Council.

Maybe this is for Eliza primarily, but the others would probably have something to add to it too.  I was in Nairobi last summer, and the big best-selling book on display at the Anglican cathedral in Nairobi was John Hagee's book on Israel.  And I'm wondering, you know, has, through this rapid Christianization of other parts of the global south, are you getting an export also of some of these prophecy views and other sort of emotional support for Israel?  And how much has this been playing into relations between Christian and Muslim communities in those parts of the world?

GRISWOLD:  I think primarily what you're seeing is Palestine is a huge issue for every Islamic community from, you know, Detroit to rural Nigeria.  So the issue of Palestine obviously has those kind of legs.

In terms of biblical prophesy tradition yes, very much so in areas of conflict because -- I mean, I'm thinking specifically about a church that was burned down in 2004 by a group in -- a group of Muslims who surrounded the church and shouted and burnt the church down and killed every Christian coming out.

Now, what isn't told in that story -- and then the Christians who live in that community -- and most had to leave afterwards and they're now coming back -- believe that that is the destruction of the temple foreordained -- that they have now entered end times quite viscerally, and Voice of the Martyrs sent them $18,000 to rebuild their church.  So that has become even a more pronounced fault line along -- so yes, that's definitely happening, not -- I haven't seen -- you know, in Nigeria and Sudan and Indonesia and Malaysia, the Horn of Africa and the Philippines -- I haven't seen a lot of awareness of -- about Israel per se among new Christians but I have seen Palestine for sure and biblical prophesy of end times in other ways.

MEAD:  Where was the church burned down?  Where did that happen?

GRISWOLD:  This church was burned down in the town of Yelwa.

MEAD:  In Nigeria?

GRISWOLD:  Yeah, and just to make sure that I told the full context of that, there were a series of -- right after that -- about two months after a group of Christians surrounded the town and massacred 900 Muslims who lived there so -- and these two communities are now coming back and this began very viscerally in a field.  So it's infinitely -- and about land and politics and of course power.  So -- no, but definitely.

WEBER:  Yeah.  The -- there is some export but comparatively little.  There's a few reasons.  One is I think -- I seem to remember about a lot of evangelicalism and especially dispensational kind, it's very Anglo American.  It was often tied up with a sort of British identity so that's the -- another feature when we're talking -- evangelicalism is so very American.  People -- what are the distinctions of evangelicalism?  Well, the distinctions of Americans -- it's individualism, it's activism, it's moralism -- all of those kinds of things.  So -- and then partially contradicting myself you go to evangelical -- you know, talk to British evangelicals.  Talk to Canadian evangelicals, then Nigerian, Ugandan, Singaporean.  Very different things going on.  That's one dynamic.

Secondly, particularly in Africa, most of the evangelicals will be Anglican, often Presbyterian, Methodist, and so on, you could probably say Catholic too.  The mainline churches are evangelical churches in most of Africa, and so in some ways have stronger theological traditions than many of the more free church evangelicals in the United States and so are less inclined to look at these prophetic strands.  If they go to theological education it's very often to England, no -- often are extremely well educated.  So I don't expect -- I expect a pro-Israel stance for -- because Israel is the people of the Bible -- it's that sort of second level of attachment -- but I don't expect developed prophetic scenarios to be that influential.

MARSHALL:  Just a quick word about how American prophetic tradition ends up in Israel.  This interesting marriage between the Israeli government, especially the Likud government and American pre-millennialists, one of the offshoots of that is that American pre-millennialists are often in cahoots with the so-called temple movement in Israel that sees the rebuilding of the Third Temple on Temple Mount as crucial to Israel's identity and survival, and they do it from a Jewish perspective and so on but that fits so well with the expectations of American pre-millennialists who believe that there will be a Third Temple constructed which the Antichrist must enter and declare himself to be God.

So the coming of the Third Temple is right smack dab in the middle of expectations.  So you can see why American pre-millennialists would really like to cozy up with the temple movement and have done so.  There's something called the Temple Institute in Jerusalem where certain Israelis have begun to do research and to reconstruct and refashion temple utensils for the sacrifice of animals when the temple is built, and to train rabbis -- not rabbis, but priests to do animal sacrifice just like in the good old days.  But American pre-millennial tour groups show up in their busses to such places.  Then, of course -- I don't know if I have the time to do this -- but the red heifer interest -- you know, the -- yeah, the red heifer.  Well, not yet but just wait.  American cattle raisers who know bull semen better than anybody else are in the business of helping or trying to help produce the red heifer which is required for sacrifice so the Third Temple can be built and purified.  And when that happens, put on your crash helmet.

BRONSON:  Let me come right here.

QUESTIONER:  Vinay Samuel, Oxford Center for Mission Studies and Oxford Religion in Public Life.  The -- I just want to highlight the -- and ask a question to the panel.  The increasing confidence of evangelicals in the 1040 window and then on Western world -- where they're able to share their faith with confidence and say we are here to convert doesn't actually prevent them from looking at possibilities of cooperation on social issues as well.  Now I think we don't say until someone falls and if they're converted we're not going to work with you.  I don't think it's as rigid as that.  It might be in this country but I don't think it's as rigid as that elsewhere.

My question to the panel is that -- well, I have two but one particular question is that with this increasing confidence they're having their own positions -- public policy positions -- own political positions and because of the international connectivity of evangelicals, and I think evangelicals are noted now by this international connectivity, and the interesting thing about American and having been an evangelical involved for the last 45 years from this I've seen a change.  The younger evangelicals, like the Wyram (ph), younger evangelicals who are these 80 (percent) 90 percent of the people who are all over the world in different parts of the world, they are younger people.  They don't come with this degree of manifest destiny of America and exceptionalism of America.  It's hardly there.  In fact, it's -- even if it's there it's hidden very cleverly.  But they are there to hear and learn.  Now --

BRONSON:  Let me just ask you to get to your question --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER:  -- now, my question is where is that playing back into evangelicalism here?  Is that influencing evangelical -- U.S. evangelical thinking at all or is it simply evangelical foreign policy is driven by its  own particular concerns?  That's my question.

BRONSON:  I'm going to do something unfair because we're going to run out of time.  There was a question right over there.  Let me just make sure that I get this side of the room to add -- take the last two questions.  And I'm going to ask each of the panelists to take the two questions and respond with your views also for some last comments before we close.  Right here.

QUESTIONER:  Mark Berder (sp).  Several journalists and others have been writing recently about the upsurge of faith groups in China, particularly in the southwest of China, and there's a movement I understand -- a kind of pre-millennial-driven, theologically-driven movement among converted Chinese that they see as their destiny to convert Muslims in southwest China in a movement towards -- an evangelistic movement towards Jerusalem and towards the Holy Land.  In other words, it's a kind of a Chinese analog to a pre-millennial movement.  And my understanding is this is creating some serious heartburn both for the Chinese government and also with the Muslim communities in the southwestern part of China.  Can any of you speak to that issue?

MARSHALL:  I've heard of it.  I don't know much about it but within the Christian or Chinese Christian community, there is an amazing residue of this kind of prophetic thinking which takes different forms that is a holdover from the old era of Protestant missions -- you know, how the Protestant missionaries were expelled after the rise of -- after the Communist takeover.  But they left behind all kinds of interesting things and part of that is this kind of prophetic perspective which has become kind of Chinese and has morphed into different things.  And this is one example of that, but that's about all I can say.

BRONSON:  Do you want to add also -- any last points?  I just wanted to make sure.

MARSHALL:  Just in terms of Vinay's comment, let me just make an add with Walter's comments about, you know, do pre-millennial ideas play amongst African and other Christians?  Vinay, we won't have time to do it.  I think you'd be the best person to answer that question.

In terms of influence back in American evangelicalism from overseas, that's increasing.  It's been mentioned before.  Large numbers of American evangelicals go on short-term mission trips or travel elsewhere.  That's happening.  In that sense it's very cosmopolitan.  So people are aware -- not just Christians in other countries.  You've been in another country, you're aware of the society and so on.  Then in international gatherings you're getting -- you've organized quite a few of these -- of having, you know, Americans, Europeans, listening to evangelicals from other places.  So I see a major change in internationalization there.  I think the World Evangelical Fellowship is playing a role in that.  So yeah, I think there is something happening there.

In terms of China, probably the best person on that theme -- the Back to Jerusalem movement in China -- is probably David Ackman (sp).  He's written about this.  I'm not sure people are aware of that.  Statistics are -- good statistics are hard to come by, but the Christian church has been growing rapidly in China on a par with the growth in African and it could be upwards of 100 million now.  So it's possible you may then see the Korean-ization of China -- at least parallels here.

The Back to Jerusalem movement is saying, well, the Muslim world sort of sees its enemy as the West and so on.  What's it going to do with a few million Chinese missionaries if we start sending them?  So that movement is there.  I don't think it's a mainstream movement, even in the unregistered churches in China, but it's there.  Just to add one wrinkle:  That also ties back to the fact that the earliest Christian missionaries in China were, of course, from the Middle East.  They were Nestorian missionaries coming out of Iran.  And they established the first Christian monasteries in China in the 6th and 7th century.  China being very, historically, a war society, very much wanted to pick up on that and it sort of -- let's go back along the Silk Road.  So it's a very interesting phenomenon.

BRONSON:  Eliza?

GRISWOLD:  I think a couple of things.  I think, first of all, in terms of Western evangelical missionaries in the developing world -- in the 10/40 window, for example -- overwhelming, what I would say I've seen them learn and experience is humility.  It's overwhelm at the world in which they are and a great sense of duty to bring back what they've learned and then that being a huge impetus of social justice here in this country.

We also -- we haven't touched on it today, but the phenomenon of reverse missions, that especially in Nigeria there are -- the statistics are huge.  There are thousands of missionaries coming to America every year from Latin America and from Africa, in particular Nigeria, to bring us our faith back.  That's an explicit drive now.  And finally, I'd say, you know, faith grows in opposition.  You know, some of my favorite demographers will say, well, if you really want to grow a faith, show us some form of opposition, because that really creates an explosive growth movement.  And I think that's what we see in China.  And also, again, in indigenous communities in Africa and Asia this isn't a phenomenon of Westerners going somewhere and creating a problem.  This is people choosing faith traditions and that coming to bear on a host of local issues.

BRONSON:  Let me take the opportunity of being the closing panel here to thank a whole bunch of people.

First of all, I thank Walter, Tim and the Council on Foreign Relations for really providing this forum for us to have a fantastic conversation.  And the Luce Foundation who really is making this happen here in New York and really throughout the country; to the panelists for this morning -- this morning's two sessions; and to my panelists here for really wrapping it up, bringing it up to the contemporary period and leaving us all with a lot to think about.

So thank you to all.  (Applause.)








More on This Topic