As an American evangelical Christian and the leader of an organization dedicated to the interests of Christians, Jews and people of conscience, I felt that our prayers and the prayers of millions of evangelical Christians had been answered at the announcement that President Trump would be including Israel on his first international trip.
I was delighted to hear that the president's tight schedule would include both the Western Wall and the city of Bethlehem. Bethlehem is not only the birthplace of Jesus Christ and the burial site of our matriarch Rachel; it is also a microcosm of the conflict and regional threats Christians face throughout the Middle East. It is my prayer that during his time in Bethlehem, our commander in chief will take the time to meet with local evangelical Christians to learn about their life under the repressive Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority has controlled Bethlehem since 1995, when Israel conceded the territory as part of a peace agreement. Four days before Christmas, all Israeli security forces withdrew from the city, giving over full control to the Palestinians. In 1995, the population of Bethlehem boasted a 20 percent Christian minority. Sadly, over the last 22 years, there has been a mass exodus of Christians from the birthplace of Christ, leaving the city with a meager 2 percent Christian minority. The vast majority of Christians fled to escape the oppressive clutches of the Palestinian Authority.
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The president must learn the tale of two cities, Bethlehem and Nazareth; the first is under Palestinian control, the latter Israeli.
Christians in Bethlehem are not free to practice their faith and live in constant fear of attack. Pastors and priests are accosted on their way to services, their cars stoned and even shot at. Christian homes and churches are routinely burned to the ground. In my role as special envoy to the U.N., I have been made fully aware that the responsibility for the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Christians falls totally on what has proven to be the corrupt Palestinian Authority and its illegitimate leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
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The PA has stood by as Muslim extremists have worked to ethnically cleanse Christians from one of their holiest cities in the Middle East. Sadly, while the Palestinian Authority will no doubt parade out a few hired Christian leaders for a photo opportunity with the president, these same people will not dare tell him about the daily oppression they encounter. The American leader will have to meet with evangelical Christians in secrecy to learn about their fate.
In contrast, the city of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up and established his first ministry, is a safe haven for Christians and people of all faiths. The reason Christians can worship freely and openly in Nazareth is due to the fact that it remained under full Israeli control. Christians in Nazareth enjoy full Israeli citizenship and all of the benefits available to all other Israelis. In recent years, increasing numbers have even begun to enlist in the Israeli military, believing that Israel is the only safe country for Christians in the entire Middle East. As Christians are butchered throughout the continent and ethnically cleansed by the Palestinians in Bethlehem, Israeli Christians are thriving.
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Let us not forget that Christians escaping religious persecution founded the United States of America. Christian blood is flowing like rivers throughout the Middle East, and thousands have fled the clutches of the Palestinian Authority.
As an American Christian, I was raised to love and defend freedom and have dedicated my life to protect the rights of the downtrodden. I believe it would be an injustice to America's core values and the plight of Middle East peace if the president of the free world were to visit Bethlehem without highlighting the fate of the Christians who suffer daily persecution under the Palestinian Authority in the city of Jesus' birth.
In closing, I pray for President Trump's visit, his voice to the world in support of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, his fervor in helping end these atrocities and the resultant human suffering they bring. And let us all pray for God's blessing on Israel and the peace of Jerusalem.