BEIRUT, Lebanon– President Bush and American evangelicals are harming Christians in the Middle East, says a Palestinian Baptist pastor interviewed by EthicsDaily.com.
Bush’s self-identification as a Christian “has not helped us,” said Munir Kakish, pastor of a Baptist church in Ramallah, a West Bank town in Israel.
“Knowing that Bush is a Christian, reads his Bible, this has caused us concern as evangelicals in the Holy Land,” Kakish said last week in Beirut, Lebanon.
Kakish also said evangelical Arabs were hurt by U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which lacked the support of the United Nations and found no proof of promised weapons of mass destruction and ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
“Since the invasion of Iraq and not getting involved in Arab-Israeli solution, the hatred against the White House and America is the highest that I can remember,” said Kakish, who holds both American and Israeli passports.
Attending the annual general council of the European Baptist Federation meeting in Beirut, Kakish said that an “Iraqi here told me that people are wishing that Saddam would come back. People are sacred to go out in the evening.”
Organized in 1949, the EBF has 800,000 baptized members in 12,000 churches scattered from Portugal to the far reaches of Russia, as well as churches in the Middle East and North Africa.
EthicsDaily.com confirmed Kakish’s statement at the meeting with an Iraqi Baptist, who declined to be photographed and asked not to be named on the Internet for security reasons.
In conversations on two different days, the young man talked about how insecure the Iraqi people feel. He said that when he drives in Baghdad he avoids American vehicles for fear of getting caught in crossfire.
He also said that the Baptist congregation asked American visitors not to attend church services.
“We do not want to endanger our people more than absolutely necessary,” the 27-year-old Iraqi told a German Baptist reporter.
Kakish, pastor of Ramallah Local Church, said the killing will continue in the Middle East until Bush gets involved in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Bush has been ill-advised by leaders around him and evangelical leaders have given him the wrong information,” said Kakish. “He needs evangelical pastors on the West Bank to advise him on our needs.”
Kakish’s church is located two miles from the headquarters of Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian National Authority.
The Baptist pastor said American evangelicals “should be peacemakers, not one-sided.”
They should “be fair, to see justice and freedom and help given to all parties involved, Jews and Palestinians,” he said.
“The one-sided issue of [American] evangelicals to be with the Jews has caused great grief for the evangelical churches [in Palestine],” said Kakish. “People [Palestinians] say that we are of the evangelicals of America.”
Kakish said that in Palestine the “evangelicals are called Christian Zionists.”
“We have written to evangelical leaders about this being one sided and not fair,” he said. “These leaders responded negatively. They did not pay attention to our letters. One organization’s funds were cut off.”
Kakish declined to name the evangelicals on the record, but he referred to well-known Southern Baptist leaders of the religious right.
About 100 Palestinians attend Kakish’s church in Ramallah, a city which suffers from high unemployment.
Talking with EthicsDaily.com after breakfast on the porch of the Royal Park Hotel, overlooking downtown Beirut, Kakish said that the Palestinian children live with fear.
They “fear of hearing missiles, seeing Israeli tanks, seeing soldiers in their homes aiming guns at their parents, seeing their doors knocked out,” he said
He readily offered that the “Jews are afraid of the people who bomb themselves.”
Kakish, who was raised in a Christian orphanage, now directs the Home of New Life orphanage in Ramallah, which helps both Muslim and Christian children. The orphanage was opened in 1997.
In addition to his work in Ramallah, Kakish serves the Ramla Baptist Church five miles south of Tel Aviv. Its members are Arab-Israeli citizens, he said.
When asked what his role was in the midst of such an intense, longstanding conflict, Kakish answered peacemaking.
“I serve as a peacemaker first by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Secondly, we receive funds we distribute to the needy people—Muslims and Christians alike.”
“Thirdly, we have centered people in Jesus Christ for hope,” said Kakish, who has four sons, one of whom is a medical doctor in the United States.
“Fourth, we have talked to Yasser Arafat about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said he is committed to peace and the road map,” said Kakish.
Kakish said that he had prayed with Arafat last April.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.