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Peacemaking and prophecy: US Christians' Mideast ties

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Although the Bush administration dragged its feet before jumping into the search for Middle East peace, American Christians have been passionately connected in complex ways to the 50-year struggle. Their involvement is spurred by convictions of the demands of their faith. Yet theological differences within the Christian community play out in strikingly diverse approaches to the conflict.

Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches feel called to peacemaking and to steps that seek justice and security for both parties. Conservative evangelicals strongly back Israel's control over the territory what they see as the first step in fulfilling biblical prophecies of the Second Coming. In fact, Christian Zionism, with its centuries-old roots in Britain and the US, preceded Jewish Zionism by several years.

Recently, media reports have speculated on whether President Bush might share Christian Zionist views, as President Reagan did, and how they might affect US policy. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is also a deeply religious evangelical.

As the violence has escalated, both Christian communities have intensified their efforts to influence US actions and build support at the grass roots.

Focus on peace and justice

Ties to a Jerusalem churches and Palestinian Christians give members of mainline churches greater familiarity than most Americans have with the daily realities of the occupation. They are now trying to respond to the damage from Israel's military incursion on church facilities in the West Bank, including schools and hospitals Â- some of which they helped build. Many feel compelled to speak out more forcefully about the injustices of Israel's 35-year occupation.

• On April 13, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is currently teaching in the US, condemned the suicide bombings and "the corruption of young minds," but strongly criticized Israel for what "it has done to another people to guarantee its [own] existence."

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