(Washington, D.C.) — Last Thursday, I was humbled to be invited to the White House for four hours of meetings regarding the upcoming rollout of the President’s Middle East Peace Plan, as well as the threats posed to the U.S., Israel and our allies by the rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea.
- The morning began with a “listening session” with Jason Greenblatt, Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, and a group of high-profile American Evangelical leaders. Greenblatt is one of the chief architects of the Mideast peace plan with Jared Kushner and David Friedman. While I’m not at liberty to share what Greenblatt told us, I was encouraged by the conversation and by the Administration’s desire to answer Evangelicals’ questions and address our concerns. (see this article, “White House working to reassure Evangelicals on Middle East peace plan,” for more.)
- Next, I had a private lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and one of his senior advisors. The VP and I have been friends for many years, going back to his days as a Member of Congress. This was our first opportunity to sit down and debrief on the Evangelical Delegations I led to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last Fall, and I was glad to be able to share with him what my colleagues and I saw and heard and how this may factor into the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
- When lunch was over, the Vice President asked me if I had ever met President Trump. I said no. “Come with me,” he said. The next thing I knew, the VP led me into the Oval Office and introduced me to America’s Commander-in-Chief. The President then invited me to sit down with him and the VP around the Resolute Desk, joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
- It was a fascinating meeting. The President couldn’t have been more warm and gracious, even when I shared with him that I had been a “Never Trumper” until the Thursday before the 2016 election, and then explained why I did vote for him in the end. I’m guessing “Never Trumper” is not a term used much in the Oval Office. But I felt I needed to be honest with him about my background. I explained that I hadn’t been convinced during the campaign that he would keep his word regarding all the promises he made to pursue conservative policies. But I was glad to be able to add that I have been deeply grateful that he has, in fact, kept his word on so many matters. I thanked him for being the most pro-life and pro-Israel president in the history of the United States, for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, for scrapping the insane Iran nuclear deal, for leading tough negotiations with the North Koreans to persuade them to denuclearize, for pushing NATO to spend more money on their own defense, for unleashing the power of the American economy, and a number of other areas.
- My favorite moment was when the President said, “Now, did I get this right? Mike [the VP] tells me you’re an Evangelical Christian. Is that right?” Yes, sir, I said, it is. “But a name like Joel Rosenberg, isn’t that Jewish?” I almost laughed. That is my favorite question in the world, and it was fun to share with him that yes, I am Jewish on my father’s side, Gentile on my mother’s side, and I believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world. “That must be a little confusing to your Israeli friends,” he laughed. “It is, sir, and to my Arab friends, too,” I replied. “But it’s always the beginning of an interesting conversation.”
- I will share more about our meeting later. But as it ended, I said, “Mr. President, you have more time and can get many more things done. But history will always remember you for protecting innocent, unborn children, and for moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. As an Evangelical and an Israeli, I want to thank you for both of these. And I want you to know that I pray for you and your family every single day.” He seemed genuinely touched by this and expressed his gratitude and gave me a firm handshake.
- The Vice President and I then walked back to his office, where we continued our discussions of trendlines in the Middle East and the forthcoming peace plan.
- Those of you who have followed me over the years know that I don’t agree with President Trump on everything, that I’m uncomfortable with some of his language and Tweets, and that I’ve felt the need to publicly criticize him on various issues since he took office. Thus, some of you are going to be very angry that I met with him at all, and spoke encouraging words to him.
- To such critics I would just ask a few things:
- 1) The Bible commands us to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God [and] honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17; see also Romans 13:7) Part of honoring leaders means agreeing to meet and sit down and get to know one another. Part of honoring them means listening to them and answering their questions. Part of it means having the character to thank them for what they are doing right, and to encourage them to keep doing what is right.
- 2) The Bible also commands us to love one another. The Apostle Paul teaches us that “love is patient, love is kind…it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs….It always protects, always trusts, always hopes….” (I Corinthians 13:4-7) There is a time and place for confrontation, for speaking the truth in love. But love also means showing grace and mercy, for being kind, for expressing appreciation and gratitude for what a leader is doing right, and for building a personal bond of trust with the hopes of meeting again in the future and perhaps even beginning a friendship that would allow a deeper, fuller conversation on a range of issues.
- 3) The Bible commands us to “pray for kings and others in power, so we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God.” (I Timothy 2:2) Regardless of your political views, please join me in praying daily for President Trump, Vice President Pence, their families and their advisors, in all they do, and especially as they put the finishing touches on this Middle East peace plan and unveil it to allies and skeptics alike, sometime after the April 9th elections in Israel.
- Last thought: I give the administration a great deal of credit for reaching out not only to Evangelicals but to Jewish and Arab leaders, among others, soliciting their input and wise counsel. I have no illusions that the road ahead is going to be easy. It won’t be. Indeed, I don’t currently have much hope that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas really wants to come back to the negotiating table and make peace. But I am very hopeful that a number of Sunni Gulf Arab leaders are ready to make major steps towards peace with Israel. So, like so many others, I can’t wait to see what is actually in this long-awaited plan.
(photo credit: Official White House photos; Oval Office shot by Shealah Craighead)