A delegation of American evangelical Christians met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week in Riyadh. The group included some of President Trump’s top evangelical advisers, though they weren’t there in any official capacity. They’d come to talk about religious freedom with the young, self-styled reformer. But they found the trip overshadowed by the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The kingdom has acknowledged responsibility for the murder. The crown prince, known as MbS, says he did not authorize it. While the delegation knew it would be controversial to visit him in the wake of the crisis, they decided to go ahead with the trip, which was planned before the Khashoggi affair came to light.
“I think it would have been immoral not to accept this invitation, because of the potential implications of it in the long run,” Johnnie Moore, a delegate who serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told me. He’d come to advocate for the religious rights of the 1.4 million Christians who are estimated to live in Saudi Arabia, though reliable figures are difficult to find (legally, all citizens are required to be Muslim).
This wasn’t his first such trip: He and his fellow evangelical delegates had just visited the United Arab Emirates, and last year they traveled to Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Moore told me they aim to build bridges between Islamic and Christian communities across the Middle East as a means of “making sure our community is thought of and represented.”