ABU DHABI, UAE – Now might not be the best time to visit Saudi Arabia, but a delegation of US evangelical leaders felt it was a risk worth taking. They met with controversial Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and other Saudi leaders. It was filled with both political controversy and spiritual opportunity.
The visit came following a global firestorm over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but the planning began a long time ago.
US evangelical delegation meeting with His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, in Saudi Arabia.
The meeting between evangelical leaders in the US and Mohammed Bin Salman had been in the works for months, but it came to pass when the delegation made a visit here to the United Arab Emirates.
"There’s a lot of people who would say this is the wrong time to go to Saudi Arabia and meet with the leadership there," author Joel Rosenberg told CBN News. "I understand that criticism, but I disagree."
Joel Rosenberg lead a delegation to meet His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, in Saudi Arabia.
While realizing the potential for controversy, the group felt the opportunity to help Christians there was more important.
"Given the fact that we care about the people of Saudi Arabia, Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula, the desire to see more freedom of worship, even Christian churches being allowed to be built, this all seemed important to us to do," Rosenberg said.
"When people ask, 'why would you go, why would you meet', I mean as a Christian called to be a peacemaker, as an advocate for freedom of worship, as an advocate for tolerance and peaceful coexistence, my answer is how can I not?" Rev. Johnnie Moore said.
The delegation went not with a political agenda but with a Christian mission.
When I think of Saudi Arabia, I think of that verse, 'We are ambassadors for Christ. That’s Who we are representing, not the United States of America. We’re representing the Lord Jesus Christ,' National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry Johnson said.
Pastor Skip Heitzig said, "it's an opportunity."
"You know in the Bible, (there are) people like Esther, who was in a royal court. Daniel approached several kings and filled several key positions. God used them to speak to people in authority, kings, and the Bible says we are to pray for them."
This is the latest in a series of meetings with Sunni Arab leaders, including Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and UAD Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The meetings are part of a long-term agenda.
"We aren’t here for a short-term purpose. We are not here for a photo op. We could care less about that. We’re here to build long-term relations and to benefit our brothers and sisters that are here in this region," former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said.
Rosenberg encouraged Christians to pray.
"We’re under no illusions about the challenges that are in Saudi Arabia and that remain. But I think it’s respectful to go and listen to leaders who have the opportunity to make life better for Christians and Muslims and potentially for Israel as well and who are against the crazies in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. I’d ask people to pray. Pray for the (Jordanian) king. Prayer for the crown prince. Pray for the people of Saudi Arabia. And I think it’s the right thing to do."
Joint statement by the US Evangelical delegation: “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.”