(CNN) American evangelicals, especially those close to President Donald Trump, hailed his announcement on Wednesday that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But other religious leaders, including Pope Francis and Christians living in Israel, expressed dire concerns that the move would incite unrest in the volatile region.
“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room. “After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Trump also described the move as keeping a campaign promise that other presidents had failed to fulfill.
Johnnie Moore, the de facto spokesman for Trump’s informal group of evangelical advisers, said Jerusalem’s status was a key part of the President’s outreach to evangelical voters.
“This issue was — to many — second only to concerns about the judiciary among the President’s core evangelical supporters. President Trump has — yet again — demonstrated to his evangelical supporters that he will do what he says he will do,” Moore said.
Paula White, a Florida megachurch pastor who is close to Trump, likewise said the President has fulfilled a campaign promise.
“Once again, President Trump has shown the world what I have always known — he is a leader who is willing to do what is right however loud the voices are of the skeptics and the critics. Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.”
According to a recent survey, a plurality of American evangelicals — 45% — said the Bible is the biggest influence on their opinion about Israel. Just 41% of evangelicals said Jews not only have a “biblical right” to the land of Israel but also a responsibility to share the land with Palestinian Arabs.
“Jerusalem has been the object of the affection of both Jews and Christians down through history and the touchstone of prophecy. But most importantly, God gave Jerusalem — and the rest of the Holy Land — to the Jewish people,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board.
Other religious leaders, however, worried that Trump’s announcement could spark unrest and even violence in the volatile Middle East.
“I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days and, at the same time, I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations,” Francis said on Wednesday during his general audience at the Vatican.
“I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
Leaders of Christian communities in Jerusalem issued even more dire warnings about Trump’s decision.
“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division,” 13 patriarchs and leaders of Christian Orthodox communities wrote in an open letter to Trump on Wednesday.
“Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm.”
The announcement divided American Jewish groups. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and American Jewish Committee hailed Trump’s move, calling it a long-delayed recognition of Israel’s own determination that Jerusalem is the nation’s capital.
But Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism said that while his group supports moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it is concerned about the timing of the announcement and the lack of a comprehensive peace process to address the larger disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.
American Muslims expressed nearly universal dismay at the move.
“In an already volatile region, Mr. Trump’s action will be akin to dousing gasoline on a burning fire,” said Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame. “The US will also sign itself into irrelevance in Mideast matters. Without a two-state solution the very future of Israel might be in jeopardy.”