A group of evangelicals have written an open letter to President Bush to express their support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Signed by such people as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary, evangelist Leighton Ford, Chancellor Vernon Grounds of Denver Seminary, Gordon MacDonald of World Relief, David Neff of Christianity Today, the presidents of the Christian & Missionary Alliance and Evangelical Covenant Church, and Richard Stearns of World Vision, it’s a pretty unobjectionable statement of where many if not most evangelicals are. I’d associate myself with it, and so reproduce it here in its entirety:

Dear Mr. President:

We write as evangelical Christian leaders in the United States to thank you for your efforts (including the major address on July 16) to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve a lasting peace in the region. We affirm your clear call for a two-state solution. We urge that your administration not grow weary in the time it has left in office to utilize the vast influence of America to demonstrate creative, consistent and determined U.S. leadership to create a new future for Israelis and Palestinians. We pray to that end, Mr. President.

We also write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope this support will embolden you and your administration to proceed confidently and forthrightly in negotiations with both sides in the region.

As evangelical Christians, we embrace the biblical promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you.” (Genesis 12:3). And precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted. Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors. Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.

Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other. The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states. To achieve that goal, both sides must give up some of their competing, incompatible claims. Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other’s right to exist. And to achieve that goal, the U.S. must provide robust leadership within the Quartet to reconstitute the Middle East roadmap, whose full implementation would guarantee the security of the State of Israel and the viability of a Palestinian State. We affirm the new role of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and pray that the conference you plan for this fall will be a success.

Mr. President, we renew our prayers and support for your leadership to help bring peace to Jerusalem, and justice and peace for all the people in the Holy Land.

The difference between this approach and the extremes on right and left is striking. They don’t insist, as many on the religious left do, that Jerusalem has to be divided, or that the “right of return” must be given to the Palestinians (a move that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state), or that Hamas must be returned to power or treated as a legitimate partner for peace (which it isn’t). They don’t insist, as many on the religious right do, that Israel has a biblical claim on the West Bank (much less on all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates), or that the Palestinians should under no circumstances be granted sovereignty, or that essentially anything Israel does in the pursuit of its security is morally acceptable. There are things I might have wished they’d said–for instance, a recognition that there are still lots of Palestinians who are devoted to Israel’s destruction, or that virulent anti-Semitism continues to be endemic in Palestinian schools and media, making it next to impossible to create a climate where fruitful negotiations are really possible–and I think that they failed to do so because they were striving so hard for “balance.” But by and large, in terms of the goals that we should be supporting, I think they got it right.

UPDATE: Hmm. I have to admit that this makes me wonder what I’ve missed here:

Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP’s director, called Ron Sider this morning with appreciation for this important evidence of public support among evangelicals for a fair solution to the conflict and with suggestions for bringing their letter to the attention of members of Congress and other key people in the Administration.

CMEP’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict embodies the worst of the religious left’s stance (they have advocated all three of the items listed above, for instance). If they approve of this letter…?

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