Following the murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, a delegation of American evangelical Christians visited Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to Al Jazeera, to express their solidarity with the journalist's killer.
The delegation was led on Thursday by communications strategist Joel Rosenberg and included former US congresswoman Michele Bachmann, according to an emailed statement from the group, as well as heads of American evangelical organisations, some with ties to Israel.
"It was an historic moment for the Saudi crown prince to openly welcome evangelical Christian leaders to the palace. We were encouraged by the candour of the two-hour conversation with him today," the statement said.
During the trip, the group met with other Saudi officials as well during a rare act of religious openness for the kingdom, Al Jazeera noted.
Bachmann told the Christian Broadcasting Network that the visit was more than just a publicity stunt:
"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.
And Rosenberg encouraged Americans to pray for Saudi leadership, along with that of other countries.
"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."
The group reportedly spoke with the crown prince about the recent killing of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, the details of which have yet to fully emerge.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has insisted the journalist’s death was not on his orders and involved no one in the royal family, saying it was a rogue band of Saudi agents that killed Khashoggi. To date, Saudi Arabia has arrested 18 suspects in connection with the murder.
The American evangelical group said its planned visit to the kingdom was arranged well in advance of Khashoggi’s death, and Rosenberg told CBN that while he understands why some might criticize the decision to keep the meeting, he believes it was the right course of action.
"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."