JERUSALEM—Sometimes friends disagree.

They can do it honorably, respectfully, but friends should speak their minds, especially when they don’t see eye to eye.

I consider Jordan’s King Abdullah II a friend of Christians.

And, if I may, a personal friend.

Indeed, His Majesty and his advisors have shown my family and me extraordinary kindness, as well as access.

In 2016, the king invited my wife and me to come visit him and his top advisors and get to know them for five days leading nearly up to Easter, the holiest day on the Christian calendar.

We had a two-hour private lunch together. Lynn and I attended a live-fire military exercise with him near Zarqa. He hosted me for a 2 ½ hour private dinner at his private palace.

 

Joel C. Rosenberg with Jordan’s King Abdullah II (Photo: ALL ARAB NEWS)

 

Respectful of our faith in Jesus Christ, His Majesty sent us (sometimes on his own helicopter) to visit important biblical sites throughout Jordan – the other half of the Holy Land – from Mount Nebo where Moses looked out over the Promised Land before passing away to the archaeological remains of the biblical village known in the gospels as “Bethany Beyond The Jordan,” and baptism site of Jesus on the east side of the Jordan River.

We discussed together the challenges facing the Christian minority in Jordan and I learned a great deal from His Majesty about how he takes great pains to both honor and protect Christians.

After that trip, I told CBN News that Jordan is “the most safe and secure country for Christians – aside from Israel – in the entire Middle East.”

I described the Hashemite Kingdom as a “country of refuge, in a country where nine of the 10 biblical ‘cities of refuge’ were located.”

As I describe in detail in my recent non-fiction book, “Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East,” His Majesty and I have seen each other several more times over the years, including at the royal palace in Amman in November 2018 when the king hosted a delegation of Evangelical Christians leaders that I brought to Jordan at his request.

In all of my conversations with King Abdullah, I have been deeply impressed that this moderate Muslim leader – a 43rd generation direct descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad – is so kind, sympathetic and respectful towards those who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, God, the crucified and resurrected Savior of the world, and the Messiah of whom the Hebrew prophets foretold.

Indeed, when Christians in Jordan have faced serious difficulties or challenges, I have always been able to take my concerns to the Royal Court and time after time they have been resolved in short order.

 

Delegation of Evangelical leaders led by Joel C. Rosenberg meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman (Photo: ALL ARAB NEWS)

 

WHAT EXACTLY DID KING ABDULLAH SAY?

Given this history, I was genuinely shocked by the king’s address to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly this week.

While most of the speech eloquently recited major themes he has long raised in the international community, he made headlines by describing Christians and our churches in Jerusalem as under attack.

“Today, the future of Jerusalem is an urgent concern,” he said. “The city is holy to billions of Muslims, Christians, and Jews around the world. Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides. The Holy City must not be a place for hatred and division.”

“As Custodians of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian Holy Sites, we are committed to protecting their historical and legal status quo and to their safety and future,” the king continued. “And as a Muslim leader, let me say clearly that we are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage, and the historic identity of the Christian people of our region. Nowhere is that more important than in Jerusalem.”

“Today, Christianity in the Holy City is under fire,” he argued. “The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened. This cannot continue. Christianity is vital to the past and present of our region and the Holy Land. It must remain an integral part of our future.”

What was particularly surprising was that the king made such a provocative statement yet provided no examples, no specifics, no anecdotes or statistics to clarify to what he was referring.

The news services that I founded – ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS – requested clarification from Jordanian officials, but they chose not to comment.

WHAT IS THE ACCURATE PICTURE OF CHRISTIANITY HERE?

With respect, the king is mistaken.

To be sure, some priests of historic Christian denominations have issued statements saying they are under frequent and sustained attack by radical and fringe Jewish groups.

But such “warnings” are so overblown that it’s hard not to think they are issued in a spirit of political attack against Israel, aimed to harm Israel’s reputation in the international community, particularly among Christians around the world.

Have there been occasional attacks on churches and Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel?

Yes.

Must Israeli authorities always be vigilant and remain pro-active in protecting its Christian minorities?

Absolutely.

But to declare that “Christianity in the Holy City is under attack” or that the rights of Christians anywhere in the Holy Land are “threatened” is simply not accurate.

I can personally testify as an Israeli Evangelical who lives in Jerusalem that religious freedom and safety here is second to none in the whole of the Middle East.

 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City (Photo: Shutterstock)

 

In contrast, Christians in the Arab Muslim world have been leaving in droves over the last century.

Why?

Because of repeated wars, rumors of war, terrorism, genocide, revolutions, instability, persecution, harassment, the lack of genuine religious freedom and the lack of enough educational and economic opportunity.

For example, as I reported in 2017 in my “State of the Epicenter” report for The Joshua Fund – a ministry my wife and I founded to strengthen and support the Church in Israel and the Arab world – “the total number of historic Christians (Syrian Orthodox, Catholic, etc.) living in Syria has dropped from 1.25 million just a few years ago to about 500,000 today.”

The situation has been even worse in Iraq.

“The total number of historic Christians (Catholic, Chaldean Orthodox, etc.) living in Iraq has dropped from about 1.5 million just a few years ago to between 200,000 and 300,000 in 2017,” I reported.

Palestinian Christians – those from historic denominations as well as Palestinian Evangelicals – have also been leaving the West Bank and Gaza, often for the greener pastures of the U.S. and Europe.

Wem as followers of Jesus here in Israel and around the world, need to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel and throughout the Arab Muslim world, and actively help them.

This is precisely one of the major reasons that Lynn and I founded The Joshua Fund back in 2006.

Yet, again, to be clear: the Christian community here in Israel is safer and freer than anywhere else in the Middle East or North Africa.

What’s more, the Christian community here is growing steadily.

In 1948, when the State of Israel was established, there were only 34,000 Christians in the land.

However, as of Christmas Eve in 2021, there were 182,000 Christians in Israel, according to a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

These include Protestant Evangelicals, Roman Catholics and various Orthodox Christian denominations.

Most are Arab Christians, but there many followers of Jesus from other ethnicities, as well.

This five-fold increase is an extraordinary testament to the freedom and opportunity Christians have here.

For example, “the proportion of women among the Christian students was higher than the women’s proportion among the total number of students in all degrees and particularly in advanced degrees: 64.1% and 53.2, respectively, of those studying for a PhD, and 72.9% and 63.8%, respectively, of those studying for a master’s degree,” noted the CBS report.

Polls show that 84% of Israeli Christian citizens say they are “satisfied with their life” here – this includes 24% who say they are “very satisfied” and 60% who are “satisfied.”

WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH MESSIANIC JUDAISM IN ISRAEL?

Due to the sensitivity inside the Israeli government – and the hostility in much of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox society – towards Jews who choose to follow Jesus (Yeshua) as Messiah, the number of Messianic Jews is not recorded in the government’s official statistics.

Nevertheless, the Messianic community is growing steadily, as well.

In 1948, there were only 23 known Jewish followers of Jesus in Israel, and there was not a single Messianic congregation (or church) here, according to research done by Erez Soref, president of the Israel College of the Bible.

Today, however, there are upwards of 30,000 Messianic Jews in Israel, and approximately 300 Messianic congregations.

“The growth has not been linear, but exponential,” says Soref. “Similarly, attitudes towards Messianic believers have also come a long way. Israeli Jews used to be mortified at the thought of a Jew who believed in Yeshua, but today almost everyone we talk to has heard of this growing movement of people.”

DO FOLLOWERS OF JESUS FACE CHALLENGES IN ISRAEL?

To be sure, Christians and Messianic Jews in Israel face a range of social, cultural, and religious challenges.

But not nearly as many as in the Arab Muslim world.

Arab Christians also face various frustrations with government bureaucracy because they are not Jews.

Messianic Jews also, at times, face obstacles in dealing with the government because they don’t fit the pattern of what some bureaucrats think a Jewish person “should be.”

Still, all Christians and Messianic Jews have full legal and political rights.

When believers here are mistreated, we can hire lawyers and press for our rights, or even take our cases to court – and when we do, we usually win.

Why?

Because followers of Jesus are not persecuted in Israel.

Not everyone in our society or government likes what we believe.

But we have full religious freedom to practice – and preach – our faith.

In light of all these facts, I hope that King Abdullah II and his advisors will take the time to re-examine the evidence and be more precise with their language in the future.

I know that His Majesty cares for the rights of all minorities, including followers of Jesus, and I am profoundly grateful for this.

All Christians should be.

The king has set an excellent example for protecting Christians in his country.

That’s one reason he won the Templeton Prize several years ago.

But as a friend, I must note that he and his team are not hearing the full story about Christianity on this side of the Jordan River.

Even with various challenges, Christianity and Messianic Judaism are flourishing here like never before in the past 2,000 years since Jesus Himself walked this beautiful land.

THE REMARKS BY HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH II AT THE UNITED NATIONS

The following is the full text of the speech that the king made on Tuesday:  

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Your Excellencies:

We meet today, in this General Assembly, as the alarm bells ring all around us.

Numerous crises batter our world; crises that are increasingly interlocked—regional conflicts with international impact, devastating climate change, pandemic disruptions, extremist violence, spiraling inflation, looming recession, and—for all too many around the world—the growing reality of hunger.

Developing countries have been hardest hit.

Is this the future we will leave to the generations yet to come?

We must deliver a different world—a world of expanded horizons, a more equitable world, sustainable economic growth, exciting new opportunities, more and better jobs, and the inclusive peace for prosperity, in which all people can thrive.

To reach these goals, our countries must unite behind effective, collaborative action. The question now is will we have the vision and determination to get the job done?

Consider the climate crisis. No country can heal our injured earth alone. We need global partnerships that can create real change. And Jordan is part of these efforts. We have been building strong partnerships to manage and sustain vital water resources. And we see more opportunities to work with partners to preserve precious world heritage sites and natural wonders—the unique Dead Sea, the sacred Jordan River, and the resilient coral reefs of the Gulf of Aqaba—which are all threatened by climate change.

Food security is another global priority. Hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry, and the numbers are rising. How can parents raise healthy children? How can students learn? How can workers do their best, when they are hungry and hopeless?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and now with the crisis in Ukraine, global supply chains have been disrupted. Many well-off countries experienced empty food shelves for the first time in living memory. They are discovering a truth that people in developing countries have known for a long time—for countries to thrive, affordable food must get to every family’s table. On a global level, this demands collective measures to ensure fair access to affordable food, and speed the movement of staples to countries in need.

My friends,

Sustainable, inclusive economic growth has too often been a victim of global crises, but it can also be a defense that strengthens us to endure the storms. In my region, we are looking to build integrated partnerships that tap the capabilities and resources of each of our countries for the benefit of all.

We see ‘regional resilience packs’ coming together to stimulate fresh opportunities and growth. Jordan has established multilateral partnerships with Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and others in the region to capitalize on these opportunities. Our country is a bridge for regional partnerships and cooperation, international crisis response, and humanitarian action.

Jordan has always been a source of regional stability, as well as a refuge for those in need. In this context, let me say a word about refugees and the communities which host them. In 2012, I came before the 67th General Assembly, and spoke for the first time about the Syrian refugee flow and its pressure on Jordan’s scarce resources. At that point, 200,000 Syrians had sought refuge in our small country. Today, 10 years later, we host more than 1.3 million.

Meeting the needs of these and other refugees is an international responsibility, and host countries look to the international community to honor its commitments.

My friends,

For decades, the Middle East has been synonymous with conflict and crisis.

But we are hopeful that a new-found spirit of collaboration can make our region an exemplar of resilience and integration.

Though politics may sometimes fail our world, one absolute remains—always put people first. To keep hope alive for all peoples means rising above politics to ensure every individual’s prosperity. Such efforts will be fruitless if they are exclusionary.

Inclusion of the Palestinian people in regional economic projects should be an integral part of our efforts.

In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, peace continues to be elusive.

Neither war nor diplomacy has held the answer to this historic tragedy.

It is the people themselves, not politics and politicians, who will have to come together and push their leaders to resolve this.

What would our world look like now if the conflict had been settled long ago? If walls had never gone up, and people had been allowed to build bridges of cooperation instead? What if extremists had never been able to exploit the injustices of occupation? How many generations of youth could have grown up in the optimism of peace and progress?

As we continue our efforts to achieve peace, we must not abandon refugees. This year, the General Assembly will vote on renewing UNRWA’s mandate. The international community should send a strong message of support for the rights of Palestinian refugees, ensuring that Palestinian refugee children have schools to go to, and access to appropriate medical care.

My dear friends,

A founding U.N. principle is the right to self-determination for all peoples.

The Palestinian people, with their resilient national identity, cannot be denied this right.

And the road forward is the two-state solution, in accordance with U.N. resolutions—a sovereign, viable, and independent Palestinian state, on the 4th of June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side-by-side with Israel in peace, security, and prosperity.

Today, the future of Jerusalem is an urgent concern.

The city is holy to billions of Muslims, Christians, and Jews around the world. Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides.

The Holy City must not be a place for hatred and division.

As Custodians of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian Holy Sites, we are committed to protecting their historical and legal status quo and to their safety and future. And as a Muslim leader, let me say clearly that we are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage, and the historic identity of the Christian people of our region. Nowhere is that more important than in Jerusalem.

Today, Christianity in the Holy City is under fire.

The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened.

This cannot continue.

Christianity is vital to the past and present of our region and the Holy Land.

It must remain an integral part of our future.

Distinguished Delegates,

We can weather the most serious crises if we join together.

Do let us, here in this General Assembly, honor our shared interest in a brighter future, a future of dignity and hope that brings new opportunities for all our peoples.

And let us not ignore the alarm bells ringing around us.

We must act.

Thank you.

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