American Christian Organizations Split in Response to Trump's Jerusalem Move

Pope Francis expresses 'deep concern' while evangelical Liberty Council congratulates Trump on keeping his promise

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017
Alessandra Tarantino/AP

NEW YORK — American Christian organizations are divided over U.S. President Donald Trump’s official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with opinions breaking along predictable conservative and liberal lines.

The National Council of Churches, which represents some 35 million American Protestants across 38 different denominations from Presbyterian to Methodist to the National Baptist Convention, said that the president “has thrown fuel on the fires of conflict in the region. People are likely to die as a direct result of this decision.”

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NCC members are, on the whole, liberal churches and some have considered — with most ultimately rejecting — divestment of pension fund assets in companies that do work in Israel.

In a statement about the U.S. decision, NCC leadership accused Trump of taking a “simplistic approach to the complexities of the region that make a mockery of the hardships people there — whether Israelis or Palestinians, whether Christians or Jews or Muslims — have suffered over the years.”

Trump made clear in his announcement Wednesday that the U.S. is taking no position on final status issues relating to Jerusalem, like the ultimate division between Israeli and Palestinian-controlled areas. Still, the NCC said, “by unilaterally declaring the entire city to be Israel’s capital and by announcing the upcoming move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem,” the president “has severely damaged any remaining U.S. diplomatic credibility to act as a broker for a peace agreement.”

Liberty Counsel, an organization representing the conservative and politically influential right wing of the evangelical community, enthusiastically welcomed the news.

"King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago. It has been, is, and shall remain the capital of Israel. It is time America recognized the obvious. I am pleased with President Trump's announcement. He is the only president who has kept his word,” said Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of the legal and education group, in a statement.

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents a broad swath of the evangelical community in America, declined Haaretz’s request for their perspective on the issue.

Meanwhile, in Rome Wednesday, Pope Francis devoted much of his weekly address to the subject of Jerusalem, saying “I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days.” He made “a heartfelt appeal” asking those in power to respect “the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”

The pope represents 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. “I praythat wisdom and prudence prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts,” he said.

And in Jerusalem, patriarchs and heads of local churches expressed their concern over the shift in U.S. policy with regard to Jerusalem, saying it could cause “irreparable damage.”

Representatives for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not reply when asked about their perspective on behalf of American Catholics.