Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a rare meeting with American evangelical Christians on last week, as Muslim kingdom seeks to open up more to the world and repair an image of religious intolerance.
The group, led by New York Times best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg, arrived in Riyadh from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), following similar historic meetings with government and religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, earlier in the week.
A visit by such prominent non-Muslim leaders, who estimate they represent about 60 million people, is a rare act of religious openness for Saudi Arabia, which hosts the holiest sites in Islam and bans the practice of other religions.
Some of the figures’ support for Israel, which the kingdom does not recognize, is also striking.
But increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fueled speculation that shared interests may push Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together against what they regard as a common Iranian threat.
Prince Mohammed, who in recent years has loosened strict social rules and arrested Saudi clerics deemed extremists, said in April that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land.
A month earlier, Saudi Arabia opened its air space for the first time to a commercial flight to Israel.
Several members of the delegation, which met with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in the United Arab Emirates earlier in the week, have also advised U.S. President Donald Trump on faith issues.
Following the meeting in Riyadh, the delegation issued a joint statement:
“We were pleased by the invitation extended to us more than two months ago by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was an historic moment for the Saudi Crown Prince to openly welcome Evangelical Christian leaders to the Palace. We were encouraged by the candor of the two-hour conversation with him today. We discussed his ‘Vision 2030’ plan, the region, Islam and Christianity. Without question, this is a season of tremendous change in the Middle East, and therefore we have been grateful for the opportunity to meet in-person with key Arab leaders to understand their goals and to ask direct questions. We look forward to building upon these relationships and continuing the dialogue.”
During the visit, the delegation also met with the Saudi Foreign Minister; the Minister of Education; the Minister of Islamic Affairs; the Secretary General of “Etidal,” The Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology; and the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League.
Members of the delegation to Saudi Arabia hosted by Rosenberg included former U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann; Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters (NRB); Michael Little, former president and COO of The Christian Broadcasting Network; Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Team; Rev. Johnnie Moore, president of The Congress of Christian Leaders; Pastor Skip Heaitzig, senior pastor of Calvary Albuquerque in New Mexico; and Wayne Pederson, former chairman and CEO of the NRB.
–Brian Nixon, ASSIST News