Nowhere are the deep divisions within Christianity more apparent than in the current responses to the Obama-Kerry Iran nuclear deal (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA).
Even before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's appearance on all five Sunday news talk shows on July 19, in which he elaborated on the administration's position, Christian groups had already lined up for a war of sorts that would focus Christian attention on the political debate to come.
The ink was barely dry on the 150-page final agreement when the Vatican, which represents roughly 70 million American Catholics, released a statement in favor of the Iran deal, pronouncing it an "important step" and calling for a "commitment to make it bear fruit," basically affirming the Pope's wish for peace in our time.
American Christians, when it comes to a nuclear Iran, generally appear to reflect the nation as a whole — on the one hand, concerned that Iran's daily chant "Death to America" actually means what it says. On the other hand, advocates for the "deal" say the time has come to turn the other cheek, give diplomacy a chance and embrace your enemies — even those who vow to kill you.
According to a statement released by the Vatican on July 14, just as the deal was made public, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said in response to reporters' questions that
"The agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is viewed in a positive light by the Holy See. It constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit. It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of nuclear programme, but may indeed extend further."
Pope Francis communicated his support of initial framework of the Iran deal in his Easter message, one month after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out strongly against it in an attempt to convince both Houses of Congress that the deal was not only not going to provide peace but was instead a pathway to war.
Bishop Oscar Cantu, chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, followed suit in a letter to members of the U.S. Congress, in which he urged Congress to support the effort.
It is not really news that the Pope and Israel are divided on many issues: certainly, on the value of President Obama's Iran deal, and recently on the Pope's premature recognition of a Palestinian state.
Even the group Catholics for Israel has not taken a firm stand opposing the Pope's position on the Iran deal.
While the Roman Catholic Church appears unified under the Pope's proclamation in favor of the Iran "deal," Protestant groups embrace each extreme — convinced that either this deal presents an opportunity to "bring Iran into the community of nations" or conversely that this deal represents nothing more than a pathway to satisfying Iran's nuclear ambitions and a catalyst for an inevitable regional nuclear arms race.
Pacifist groups including both Catholics and Protestants have hopped on a bandwagon of "hope" absent a clear, realistic comprehension of Iran as a determined and intractable foe of all people outside their brand of Islam.
Protestant Christianity is not unified — it is both diverse and divided. The divisions line up along as the many hundreds of Protestant denominations might suggest — each denomination and often each individual church has its own unique way of interpreting God, Jesus, scripture, war and politics. "Denominationalism" itself has become almost a curse within Christianity. John, the Apostle and Jesus' best friend, said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church, along with and some Protestant groups, have landed on the same side of the Iran debate. Their common narrative is a liberal, social justice platform couched in a "pacifist narrative" that Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, called "neither reassuring nor relevant." Further, Tooley says:
"Serious Christians can't just cry peace, peace, peace. We've a sacred duty to think through unintended consequences and advocate policies that seek approximate justice and security, which requires diplomacy and capacity for effective force."
Well-known champions of the "post-modern emerging church" movement, such as Tony Campolo, Shane Caliborne and Ronald Sider, embrace an extreme version of the "peace and social justice" scenario that they apply to the Iran deal. However, their version of "peace and justice" has nothing at all to do with actual peace and justice, but rather hijacks the term and inverts it in order to demonize Israel as an "Imperialist occupier" and advance the Palestinian and Islamic agendas.
It is astounding to think that the term "peace and justice" could embrace Iranian nuclear ambitions, but these post-modern Christian groups seem to be able to make the mental adjustments in order to advance their anti-Israel agenda.
Similarly, Christian organizations such as Sabeel, Christ at the Checkpoint Conference and hundreds of other Christian groups that deny Israel's legitimate claims to the land seem totally oblivious to the existential threat Iran poses not only to Israel but to all of Western civilization.
Included in this "club" is Jim Wallis, founder and President of the Sojourners, an organization focused on "social justice" with roots in "liberation theology," made famous in 2008 by former Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright. Wallis is a longtime friend and adviser to the President. He is leading his Christian devotees in a "Hope But Verify" movement to support Obama's Iran deal. CAMERA has cited Wallis' Sojourners magazine for its frequent attacks against Israel.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and leader of an enormous media ministry, has expounded the Christian pro-Israel message for the past 25 years. With longtime friend Gary Bauer at the head of a new lobbying initiative and well over two million followers, CUFI is leading an all-out campaign against the Iran deal, in solidarity with Israel.
In that same camp, the influential International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ) has taken a major leadership role in opposition to the Iran deal. Their campaign, called Not One Bomb for Iran, has been collecting signatures on petitions to help defeat the deal.
Joining ICEJ is a list of Christian groups including such heavies as Dr. Michael Little, President of Christian Business Network (CBN); Jerry Johnson, President of the National Religious Broadcasters; Steve Strang, Founder and CEO of Charisma Media; Dr. James C. Dobson; Jane Hansen Hoyt, President of Aglow International; Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America; Dr. Paul Nyquist, President of Moody Bible Institute; Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council; and many others.
Hispanic Evangelicals are also raising their collective voices against the Iran deal. They are represented by:
- Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC/CONEL), the world's largest Hispanic Christian organization, claiming to represent Hispanic Evangelicals in more than 40,000 US churches; and
- Rev. Mario Bramnick, President of the Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition, an organization that stands against anti-Semitism and the campaign to delegitimize Israel.
In a statement published on July 24, Hispanic Christian leaders said:
"This deal is not only bad; it is very dangerous. It falls woefully short of what both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have said is acceptable.
"The implementation of this deal will lead to devastation results in the near term and in the future. In the short run, the agreement ensures the end of sanctions and empowers Iran to continue to fund terrorists who target Christians and Jews, and even Muslims with whom they disagree.
"We represent millions of evangelical Hispanic Christians across the United States who, like us, have a moral duty to fight anti-Semitism, defend America and support Israel. ... This is not a partisan issue; it is a moral imperative. "
Evangelical leader Franklin Graham criticized the nuclear deal, writing, "Iran has a history of funding terrorism around the world, and they are Israel's worst enemy. We are alienating our decades-long allies and cozying up to their enemies and ours."
As the September deadline approaches for Congress to act on the Iran deal, many Christian groups will continue their lobbying campaigns. What hangs in the balance is the fate not only of Israel but Western civilization.
Susan Warner is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Gatestone Institute and co-founder of the Christian group Olive Tree Ministries in Wilmington, Delaware. She has been writing and teaching about Israel and the Middle East for over 15 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.