Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling Purpose Driven Life, vehemently denied reports today from the Syrian Arab News Agency that quoted him as saying there would be “no peace in the region without Syria,” and “80 percent of the American people rejected what the U.S. Administration is doing in Iraq and considered the U.S. policy in the Mideast as wrong.”
Another article reports that Warren, who met with President Bashar al-Assad earlier in the week, “hailed the religious coexistence, tolerance and stability that the Syrian society is enjoying,” a message that the pastor promised to “convey” to the American people.
Responding by email to WorldNetDaily editor Joseph Farah, Warren stated: “I said nothing of the sort.” Both WorldNetDaily and ICR had been unable to receive a response from Saddleback Church or Warren’s publicity firm, A. Larry Ross Communications, in Dallas. In a scathing commentary on Pastor Warren’s meetings with Assad and Muslim leaders in Syria, Farah wrote:
Rick Warren had no business traveling to Syria and being used for propaganda purposes by Bashar Assad, the terrorist-supporting president. There are only two possibilities to explain what happened:
• He made the outrageous statements attributed to him by the Syrians, for which he should be ostracized—maybe even tried for treason, in my opinion.
• He didn't make the statements, or was misquoted—in which case he has placed himself in the predictable position of being a "useful idiot" for the Islamofascist regime in Damascus.
Take your pick. Neither option is very attractive.
In a letter to the 30,000 members of Saddleback Church explaining his alleged statements in the press, Warren described his reasons for visiting Syria:
The simple truth is that I was invited by my neighbor! We were talking over his backyard fence a couple months ago when my Muslim neighbor, Yassar, said, "Rick, you visit so many countries, I want to show you mine." I was touched by this invitation from my friend and promised, "The next time I'm traveling that direction, I'll visit your home with you." It was a favor for a friend, not a political statement.
As far as his discussions with President Assad, Warren said he took advice from Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, who advised him, “Thank the Syrian president for protecting the freedom of Christians and Jews to worship there.”
Many take exception to the pastor’s description of religious freedom in Syria because of the country’s overt support for terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO, and many others.
Interestingly, Warren stated in his letter: “Every Christian I met with expressed gratitude to the government for protecting their right to worship. Honestly, that shocked me."
Shocking is right. I’m not sure every Christian in America—where we enjoy tremendous freedoms—could say the same about our own government, where school children are banned from praying and Bible reading, among other injustices.
Is there something here we should be learning from Syria—a nation the U.S. government has listed as a sponsor of terror since 1979—or could it be that Christians in Syria know better than to speak ill of their government, especially to foreign visitors?
Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs said in an interview with ICR that he would be interested to know if Warren spoke with former Muslims who had become Christians in Syria. Often in Islamic nations, he added, "freedom of religion" means freedom to become Muslim. Converting to Christianity is simply not allowed. The Voice of the Martyrs lists Syria as a restricted nation for Christians. Visas for missionary work are still not granted.
One wonders if Pastor Warren’s discussions with President Assad about peace included a presentation of the Gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, as promoted in the author’s new P.E.A.C.E. Plan. The opportunity for an evangelical leader to meet with the head of a terror regime is rare.
So far, Warren has not suggested any personal evangelistic efforts were made to President Assad and other leaders with whom he met, or that similar visits were made to the political or religious leaders of Israel, the victim of on-going terrorism perpetrated by regimes like Syria.
Warren has been invited to North Korea in 2007.