News

Trump’s evangelical supporters disappointed about Israel embassy decision

President Trump touches the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 22, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Trump’s decision to maintain the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has disappointed conservative Christians who were counting on him to make good on a key campaign promise.

But many expect that the long-awaited move will still occur and seem to give him the benefit of the doubt on the need to at least delay relocating the U.S. mission to Jerusalem given the realities of peacemaking in the Middle East.

“America’s recognition of the capital city of our foremost and only democratic ally in the Middle East should not be a bargaining chip,” said National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry A. Johnson, in a statement. “I am disappointed, but I take the President at his word that this is only a delay in delivering on his promise.”

The White House said the decision — which includes a six-month waiver on action related to the embassy — should not be considered “in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel” or his commitment to its alliance with the U.S.

“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests,” the White House stated. “But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”

U.S. President Trump, second from left, walks with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, right, upon Trump’s arrival aboard Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod near Tel Aviv, Israel, on May 22, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Amir Cohen

Trump had said in a speech last year to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee he wanted to move the embassy to “the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” and added in a later interview that would happen “fairly quickly.”

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer had appeared to walk back that pledge at his very first press briefing, saying the administration was “at the early stages in this decision-making process.”

“If it was already a decision, we wouldn’t be going through a decision-making process,” he said.

Many Christian conservatives who have been strong proponents of relocating the embassy in Israel remain confident that Trump, who garnered 81 percent of the vote of white evangelicals, will keep his promise eventually.

“We are disappointed the President chose at this time to sign the Jerusalem Embassy Act waiver but remain hopeful that he will fulfill his campaign pledge and move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” said Christians United for Israel in a statement. “The President knows that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel and we strongly believe that the location of our embassy should reflect that reality.”

“History proves that Jerusalem has been the recognized capital of Israel for 3000 years,” Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress also said in a statement. “I trust the Trump Administration to eventually fulfill their commitment to move our embassy to Jerusalem at the most opportune time. ‘Not now’ does not mean ‘never.'”

In mid-May, before Trump visited Israel during his recent trip abroad, about 60 evangelical Christian leaders signed a letter urging the president to end the waivers that every president has granted since Congress called for the relocation of the mission in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.

“Such suspensions have been repeated semi-annually for two decades, and it is time to end America’s doublespeak,” they said in the letter organized by American Christian Leaders for Israel.

That letter mentioned language in the Republican Party’s 2016 platform that reads: “We recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state and call for the American embassy to be moved there in fulfillment of U.S. law.”

And the letter writers noted that Trump had promised the ACLI that that policy would be kept if he made it to the White House: “Many of our constituents cast their vote for you due to this commitment.”

Johnnie Moore, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, referenced the image of Trump praying at the Western Wall and said most evangelicals are convinced that the president remains supportive of Israel, while needing to juggle broader issues related to peace and security in the region.

“Most evangelicals will take this decision within its full context, not doubt the president’s support of Israel, and continue to believe that this is something that will happen at the right, appropriate time,” he said.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

12 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Trump has already conned you on the “religious liberty” issue. Now he’s conned you on moving the embassy. How much more will it take for Trump supporters to realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods?

  • Good comment. The awful oaf in the Offal Office has only contempt for religious liberty and our constitutional principle of church-state separation. — Edd Doerr

  • What?! Say again, sisters Adelle M. Banks and Emily McFarlan Miller: “About Israel embassy decision … disappointed conservative Christians … seem to give (President Trump) the benefit of the doubt”?! No, really? Just “seem to” – not “surely” or “absolutely”, not “proof-positively” so and so? What’s the matter? Are you also giving these born-again Christian siblings of mine “the benefit of the doubt” for giving brother President Trump “the benefit of the doubt”? I’m with you there, most def. (Now see, that’s not giving you “the benefit of the doubt” on my part.) I’m certain of it; they’ll have his back, like, always. Maybe not all 81% of them, but still a super-stubborn (Jesus’ favorite words were uber-stiffnecked) majority of Christian American conservatives. They’ll stick with their “Dream President” for as long as he’s in office (and stick with Mikey, too) – even if he betrays them repeatedly. Why not? They’ve never had it so good throughout church history, what with this much attention given to them from the White House. So, see how smart and shrewd he is politically; that was how he won the election (thanks Strategist Steve Bannon). It’s unbelievable how much of a stranglehold and brainwashing trance he’s got on them. Which makes for quite an atheistic show after show when replayed at Friendly Atheist, at Laughing in Disbelief, at Slactivist, at Progressive Secular Humanist, and at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. I love it. I’m loving every bit of this embarrassment to my Father in heaven and His Son, Jesus, at His right hand and on His throne next to His. Because – OMG! – through the Lord of lords, the King of kings IS going to do something about this, most def, ‘yo. “Let’S do this!”, I can just hear it now, you know, the Holy Decree on The 81%. So, no, my sisters, I daren’t give Them “the benefit of the doubt”; not Those Two. Maranatha, instead, OMG, I’ve been praying.

  • For once, just a one-off, I would love to see just a lousy 1% in that The 81% say to Dream President, Hey, you playing us?! We’ve been played here or what?! Make good on your promise, or else! (Or else: yeah, right. As if The 81% has any leverage on Trump.)

    Well, Ben in Oakland, I say, Keep it up, Mr. President. Keep on betraying The 81%. Because you know they’re still going to love you no matter what.

    When Israel backslid from God, they became a laughing stock for the rest of the world. God brought that upon His own children. It’s the Christian Right’s turn now.

  • In effect, having narrowly escaped the fundamentalist religionate myself, I’m 81% convinced that they have no real love or devotion for Trump, or Israel. All they are really interested in is getting confirmation on their narrow-minded, simplistic interpretation of biblical prophecy, so they can gloat over world of the lost in order to get them on board the Rapture Train.

  • You’re an optimist. I think it is much simpler. 2Rump promised them power, money and dominion. That’s what they voted for, especially for the power over them uppity wimmin, uppity homoseuxals, and uppity liberals.

  • Well, essentially, it spells the same thing. With “proof” of their belief, they become licensed and more emboldened, with self-justification, to plow over all non-adherents.

  • I also don’t see it as optimistic. Their “love” becomes exposed as rarified hubris and cold disregard for anything but a simplistic ideology to which they can physically point their accusing fingers.

  • That is why when Trump finally rubs enough Americans the wrong way, the holy hypocrites are going to get the boot as well. They have tied their fates and fortunes to Trump’s already teetering house of cards.

  • “They have tied their fates and fortunes to Trump’s already teetering house of cards.”

    That’s true. But only for the moment, I fear.

    When Trump inevitably craters they’ll just shift allegiance to whatever snake oil con man next appears.

  • It is becoming more and more clear that Mr. Trump is a political naif, in this instance wiser (or more pragmatic) heads must have counseled him that the proposal would not fly without potential consequences that might prove costly. I take no position on the merits of the move, merely posit chances for an unhappy political development if taken.

ADVERTISEMENTs