Christian scholars say it's too early to judge how the decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem could affect the mission work of Americans in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.
In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Recognition Act – and every U.S. president since then had blocked the move by framing the issue as a roadblock to peace in the Middle East. Like his predecessors had done numerous times, Donald Trump last summer signed the Jerusalem Recognition Act Waiver, delaying the move for at least six months.
But on December 6, 2017, he formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital – as he had promised while a presidential candidate – by ordering the State Department to begin moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In reaction, Palestinians protested in cities across the West Bank and Gaza Strip – and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it "a milestone."
Dr. Darrell L. Bock is executive director of cultural engagement and senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He says while it's still too early to determine the impact of the move on American mission work, he explains there's no doubt the decision upset the Arab and Palestinian communities.
The educator suggests that the reaction – including the possibility of increased persecution in Arab countries – might be better gauged when the actual move of the embassy takes place.
"Because in one sense the announcement did nothing but reaffirm what has been American policy for a long time, even though they haven't acted on it," he tells OneNewsNow.
"And what it means for persecution? I also think that's hard to say at this point," he continues. "Depending on where we are in the world, the hostility towards Christians in segments of the Arab world and in certain Muslim contexts is already pretty intense. [The embassy move] certainly doesn't do much to help it."
The "World Watch List" published annually by Open Doors USA backs up Bock's concerns about Christian persecution in that part of the world. In the current list, five of the top 20 persecuting countries in the world are in the Middle East: Iraq (#8), Yemen (#9), Iran (#10), Saudi Arabia (#12), and Syria (#15). Eight more appear in the top 50. In all cases, the source of persecution is identified as "Islamic oppression."
Dr. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries, a Messianic Jewish organization, argues that there are obviously bigger concerns for the growing church in the Middle East other than wondering how Muslim-majority countries will react to Trump's decision on the embassy.
"Look at what happens in Egypt, it's just terrible. It breaks our hearts to see the way Christians are suffering there. That's the bigger concern," he shares. "Islam, when left sort of unrestrained, can be very violently opposed to the preaching of the gospel. I think that's the big threat."
Interestingly, Glaser believes the Trump decision has had a positive impact on Jewish evangelism because it has enabled Jews in Israel and beyond to have a more favorable view of evangelical Christians.