Among the many odd elements of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. Embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem is that it comes precipitously in advance of Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to region. The purpose of the trip was to show solidarity with the plight of Christians in the Middle East, yet Christian leaders—including the Coptic Pope—are refusing to meet with Pence. What those leaders understand, which the Trump administration seems not to, is that Christians in the Middle East have lived and will continue to live in societies where Muslim majorities determine political and social outcomes, and those outcomes become less tolerant when religious minorities are perceived to be the exclusive beneficiaries of U.S. policy.
In October, speaking at an annual solidarity dinner for the advocacy organization In Defense of Christians, Pence committed the Trump administration to “work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private [organizations] to help those who are persecuted for their faith.” This was wonderful news. Faith-based organizations are some of the best and most active means by which Americans reach out into the world.
The problem is that the Trump administration—and Republicans in Congress like Ted Cruz—seem when it comes to Muslim countries to want to help only Christians and minority groups. Such a blatant religious bias is actually harmful to Christians, Jews, and other minorities living in the Middle East. They live amid Muslims who are also suffering persecution and violence. Muslims are, in fact, the main targets and victims of terrorism in the Middle East. Fostering commonality among sectarian communities on the basis of that sad legacy can help advance America’s goal for the region, which is to foster capable and tolerant multi-sectarian states.