Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Tuesday (Sept. 10) with a delegation of American evangelical Christians in the Red Sea city of Jiddah as the kingdom works to forge closer ties with an influential electoral base in the U.S. that could be crucial to the 2020 elections.
The visit comes the same week two U.S. senators met with the crown prince in the first such visit by members of Congress in more than a year.
The prince continues to face fierce bipartisan criticism in the U.S. over the murder of Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey last year, despite denials by the kingdom that the prince had any involvement.
Salman’s meeting with prominent Christian figures marks only the second such visit by American evangelicals to the kingdom, which is trying to shake off its reputation for religious intolerance and human rights abuses.
For the crown prince and other Arab leaders, meetings such as this offer an opportunity to strengthen ties with the Trump administration through his evangelical base of supporters.
For the evangelical visitors, it is an opportunity for interreligious dialogue and to push for greater Arab support for the state of Israel.
Many U.S. evangelicals support Israel as a core part of their faith. Most believe that before Jesus can return and rule, Jews must return to the Holy Land and rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, also the site of Islam’s sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
The Saudi government published photos of the meeting, which was attended by leading American Christian Zionist leaders, including dual U.S.-Israeli national Joel Rosenberg.
The nine-person delegation also included the Rev. Johnnie Moore, a co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory council; A. Larry Ross, a former longtime spokesman for one of America’s most well-known evangelicals, Billy Graham; and Pastor Skip Heitzig, whose Calvary Albuquerque church in New Mexico has over 15,000 congregants.
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Source: Religion News Service