Conservative Christians criticize Bush's peacemaking efforts in Mideast
Yesterday's New York Times and the front page of today's Washington Post have the same news: conservatives, especially conservative Christians, are increasingly frustrated with Bush's interaction with Israel. "Many of the conservative thinkers who influence the part of the party that President Bush considers his base have become loudly critical of his efforts at Middle East peace-making, calling them a muddled mission that undercuts his post-Sept. 11 antiterrorist doctrine," reports the Times. A major pro-Israel coalition has joined forces in the Republican Party, punditland, and Congress (though the paper claims Billy Graham's recently publicized 1972 comments somehow threatens that coalition).

The major conservative Christian leader quoted by both the Times and the Post is former presidential candidate Gary Bauer. This is a fascinating development for conservative Christian activists: Bauer doesn't have the institutional framework he once did when he headed Family Research Council. But he may have more of the media's ear than the large Christian organizations do.

(Actually, the larger organizations aren't saying much about the Mideast. The Family Research Council's "National Security & Foreign Affairs" section, for example, doesn't have anything on the current crisis—or on many other recent topics. Concerned Women for America doesn't have much, but did address the subject in an April 5 radio broadcast. The Christian Coalition's Web site, which World magazine criticized last month for being hopelessly out of date and out of touch, now has a press release supporting Israel's actions "for defending itself against terrorism.")

The other major voice on this subject is another former institutional leader now more or less out on his own: Ralph Reed. The former head of the Christian Coalition, now chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, has an op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times on why Christians support Israel. "For many, there is no greater proof of God's sovereignty in the world today than the survival of the Jews and the existence of Israel," he says. One hopes more journalists read Reed's piece, because it hits an important point: premillennial dispensationalism is a major part of evangelical support for Israel, but is not the only reason for it.

Postwar Christians, he says, "saw support for Israel through the prism of a proud tradition that included Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed their own lives while resisting Nazi tyranny and protecting Jews from the Holocaust." Now Christians support it because it's "the only genuine democracy in the region and remains one of the most reliable allies of the United States." End-times beliefs' role is overestimated, he says: "Regardless of one's eschatology—and there are as many theological strains as denominations—there is an undeniable and powerful spiritual connection between Israel and the Christian faith. It is where Jesus was born and where he conducted his ministry."

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This support of Israel, say the newspapers, is leading to criticism of Bush. "Conservatives in a broad cross section of the movement are getting very uneasy about this presidency," Paul Weyrich tells the Post. And it's not just on Israel. "These activists complain that Bush has increasingly chosen political expedience over principle: supporting campaign finance reform after promising to veto it, imposing tariffs on imported steel despite his free-trading rhetoric, expanding federal power in response to the threat of terrorism and choosing moderates over conservatives in a few Republican congressional primaries," says Post reporter Mike Allen.

But deeper down in the story, it's clear that this dissatisfaction is being inflated. A recent poll found 100 percent of Republican evangelical and fundamentalist Christians supporting Bush. One hundred percent. The Post calls it "statistically rare," but that's an understatement.

Meanwhile, Reed says, "There is incremental progress and an ongoing conservative message delivered with greater clarity and conviction by a president than we have seen since the first term of Reagan, before we lost the Senate." But like Weblog said, he's a state party leader, so you wouldn't expect him to say otherwise.

Support from evangelicals or not, things in Bethlehem are getting worse. The Church of the Nativity is reportedly out of food, among those detained in the church are two 10-year-old boys and several others too young to shave, and neither the Israel Defense Forces nor the Palestinians are showing any signs of budging.

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