JERUSALEM (BP) — President Trump’s visit to Israel this week drew praise from some Southern Baptists and led some of them to renew calls for moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“For several years the Jewish people in America and Messianic Jewish communities have been pleading with our government to bring back the relationship that we once had with Israel and the Jewish people,” said Ric Worshill, president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.
“Israel has never stopped supporting the U.S. Now that President Trump is fulfilling his promises to rebuild our relationship and support of Israel as our main ally in the Middle East, we are seeing a powerful revival of encouragement among Jewish people and Messianic Jewish worshipers [Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah] in the U.S.A. and all around the world,” Worshill told Baptist Press in written comments.
During Trump’s May 22-23 visit to Israel, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Trump promised to “stand with Israel” and expressed optimism regarding “a renewed effort at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” according to media reports.
No previous American president has visited Israel this early in his first term, The New York Times reported. Trump is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Old City, the walled section of Jerusalem claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians. The Old City was captured by Israel in a 1967 military conflict with Jordan and remains under Israeli control.
Among Trump’s stops on the trip were the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site traditionally regarded as the location of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection; the Western Wall, the only portion of the Jewish Temple left standing after its destruction in A.D. 70; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Worshill called Trump’s visit “an answer to many years of prayer” and “an important signal to the Middle East nations that the U.S. boldly stands with Israel.”
“Like myself, many Messianic worshipers and Jewish believers feel that President Trump will work hard to help illustrate the truth that Israel desires safety and freedom for all of its inhabitants, including all faiths and ethnic backgrounds,” Worshill said. “Like the U.S., Israel is a melting pot of people from all over the world.”
Worshill added that while “the killing of innocent” Muslims, Christians and Jews in Israel must stop, “I don’t believe there will be true peace in Israel or on the earth until the Lord returns.”
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, a Southern Baptist and an Arizona Republican, said Trump’s Israel visit signals “a new day has dawned” in U.S.-Israel relations after some tension between Israel and the Obama administration. At a May 22 press conference in Washington, Franks called on the Trump administration to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Such a move would be controversial because the United Nations and many countries regard portions of Jerusalem as Palestinian territory. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem likely would be viewed as an endorsement of Israel’s claim to the entire city.
“Jerusalem should never have been a bargaining chip to bring Palestinians to the negotiation table,” Franks said at the press conference according to prepared remarks provided by his office.
“Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and Israel the world’s only Jewish state. America stood with the Jewish people in restoring their ancient state. It is now time to truly recognize her ancient and eternal city as her eternal and undivided capital,” Franks said.
A May 16 letter to Trump from the American Christian Leaders for Israel coalition noted that the Jerusalem Embassy Act, adopted by Congress in 1995, declared the U.S. embassy should be moved to Jerusalem by 1999. The move has never occurred, the letter stated, because each U.S. president since the legislation was adopted has exercised a provision of the law allowing him to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv if “necessary to protect the security interests of the United States.”
“Now we ask you to send a message early in your administration that the United States will indeed honor its strongest and only true democratic ally in the Middle East by respecting its capital city — Jerusalem — and immediately moving the U.S. Embassy there,” the letter stated.
The letter’s signatories included at least five Southern Baptists: Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters; Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta; Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel; Tony Crisp, pastor of Eastanallee Baptist Church in Riceville, Tenn.; and Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CBN News May 16 she believes “that the capital should be Jerusalem and the embassy should be moved to Jerusalem.”
In 2016, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution “on prayer and support for Israel” that “commit[ted] to bless Israel” and supported its “right … to exist as a sovereign nation.”
The resolution added, “We recommit ourselves to pray for God’s peace to rule in Jerusalem and for the salvation of Israel, for the Gospel is ‘God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew’ (Romans 1:16).”