A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

The purpose-driven rebuttal: Rick Warren on SANA

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 17, 2006

It appears that SANA’s reports on Pastor Rick Warren’s visit to Syria did find an audience – among the American Protestant community. Their response has been overwhelmingly negative, prompting Warren to send a letter to his parishioners explaining the reasons for and realities of his trip.

Spero News, a news service new to me (Spero means “I hope” in Latin and the service’s focus appears to be Christian religious and moral concerns around the world), has the story:

Rick Warren denies making statements to Syria news

Warren criticizes bloggers for trusting the state-run Syrian media

The state-run Syrian news agency reported that Protestant Pastor Rick Warren disagrees with US policy in the Mideast and Iraq and that he believes the American administration is mistaken not to hold dialogue with Syria. Rick Warren is pastor of 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Orange County, California.

During Warren’s visit to Syria on Sunday, the news agency also said Warren believes there was no peace in the region without Syria, and he noted that 80 percent of the American people rejected what the US Administration is doing in Iraq.

The news agency also mentioned Rick Warren as part of an “American delegation” and photographed him sitting beside Syrian President al-Assad. The agency also said Warren “hailed the religious coexistence, tolerance and stability that the Syrian society is enjoying due to the wise leadership of President al-Assad, asserting that he will convey the true image about Syria to the American people.” It reported that Warren also gave the President a drawing as “a gift to the Syrian people for their generosity and hospitality, thanking their efforts exerted for maintaining peace and harmony.”

In a statement, Christian radio network, VCY America, a frequent critic of mega churches, said Warren “has no business involving himself in any role that appears to be representative of the United States. His promise to Syria to present a brighter view of that nation to America and Saddleback members demonstrates his willingness to serve as a mindless shill for a nation that embraces terror as a legitimate way of solving problems.”

The United States has listed Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979 but said the Syrian Government has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986. In September, the US lauded Syrian forces for foiling an attack by extremists on its embassy in Damascus. The US State Department added, though, that preliminary findings of a UN investigation into the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri have indicated a strong likelihood of official Syrian involvement.

In an article in the conservative Evangelical magazine WorldNetDaily, Joseph Farah reacted to Warren’s visit in his column. “If I were a betting man,” he wrote, “I would wager that Warren will come home and allege he was widely misquoted. He probably was. I hope he was. But here’s the problem: When you place yourself in the position of being used – and you are used – whose fault is it?”

Warren said he was aware of Syria’s possible stagecraft before his visit. In a statement, Warren said he notified friends at the US State Department in advance of his visit with the Syrian president and sought advice. “They told us that Syria would likely offer press releases after the meeting – which they did,” Warren said.

In a letter to his church members, Warren denied making the alleged statements and criticized bloggers for believing the Syrian media. “As we left, the Syrian news agency issued some press releases that sounded like I was a politician negotiating the Iraq war by praising the Syrian President, and everything else in Syria,” Warren wrote. “Of course, that’s ridiculous, but it created a stir among bloggers who tend to editorialize before verifying the truth. Does it seem ironic to you that people who distrust Syria are now trusting Syrian press releases?”

But Farah claims that in a video posted on YouTube, which was removed but witnessed by several bloggers, that Warren says Syria “does not allow extremism of any kind.”

Some bloggers, though, have come to Warren’s side. Dany Carlton, owner of jacklewis.net, said statements by totalitarian governments are not news. “I remember when Billy Graham visited the Soviet Union He was peppered with questions from their state controlled news agency, and while Graham himself was prevented from speaking to the American press during his visit, the Soviet propaganda machine fed stories about how wonderful Graham claimed the Soviet Union was.”

In his letter to his members, Warren lamented on parts of his visit. “In hindsight,” he wrote, “I wish we’d been better prepared for our visit to Syria. We would have handled some meetings differently, watched our words more closely, and been more aware of the agenda of their state press. We wanted to just slip in and out but that’s nearly impossible for me to do anymore. It’s been a learning experience.”

(http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?id=6603)

In my opinion, these people take state-run media statements a bit too seriously. EVERY foreign visitor is described as “hailing” or “praising” the government and its leadership, and “slamming” whatever issue, spatting neighbor, or world super-power has most recently aroused that government’s ire.

I have not seen the YouTube video; however, it seems a perfectly accurate statement to me. Extremism is a loaded word, thrown about far too incautiously these days. Syria’s regime is repressive, but secular. Extremists pose as grave a danger to the Syrian government and its citizens as they do to other countries, whether in the Middle East or here at home.

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4 Responses to “The purpose-driven rebuttal: Rick Warren on SANA”

  1. commenting on my own post, I would like to add this update, from the Associated Press:

    Pastor’s trip to Syria draws criticism

    By BRIAN MURPHY AP Religion Writer
    © 2006 The Associated Press

    ATHENS, Greece — A trip to Syria that U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren says was inspired by a backyard chat with a Muslim neighbor has triggered criticism and questions that highlight the potential risks when preaching meets international politics.

    But Warren’s visit _ which included a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad _ also reinforced his credentials as a rising force in a new generation of globe-trotting evangelists following famous predecessors including the Rev. Billy Graham.

    Warren, who shot to superstardom with his blockbuster book “The Purpose Driven Life,” said he was not attempting to dabble in the hypersensitive world of Middle Eastern politics in the visit that ended last Sunday. Warren said he went to Syria as part of a three-nation trip of pastoral outreach and humanitarian efforts that began in Germany and wraps up in Rwanda on Saturday.

    His statement, however, came too late to curb disapproval of his trip as word of it spread via the Internet.

    Warren has been criticized by some evangelicals for holding talks with a nation long accused of abetting terrorism that is also one of Israel’s fiercest foes.

    Conservative Christians have been among the toughest advocates in the United States for a hard-line against Islamic extremism. And Israel is strongly supported by a vast evangelical network, including some American churches that believe biblical prophecy calls for Jewish sovereignty over the entire Holy Land.

    The Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, part of a Christian radio network, called Warren a “mindless shill” for Syria and said he “owes an apology to Israel, to the American people and to the victims of Syrian-sponsored terror.”

    The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Warren’s delegation supported Syria’s role as regional leader and expressed concern about U.S. policies, including the war in Iraq.

    “The trip seemed like a message that you cannot ignore Syria’s role in the region,” said Imad Fawzi Shueibi, a Damascus-based political analyst.

    Warren could not be reached in Rwanda for direct comment.

    But a statement issued for Warren, who founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., described the Nov. 10-12 visit to Syria as “neither official nor political” and said he expressed “support for President Bush, our troops in Iraq and the war on terror.”

    Warren, however, consulted with “Syrian experts” in the U.S. government before the trip, said his U.S.-based spokesman, Larry Ross. No other details of the discussions were available. Warren’s visit comes at a time when the Bush administration is under pressure to reach out to Syria and Iran to create greater stability in the Mideast, particularly Iraq.

    Warren said in the statement that the trip was initiated after his Syrian-born neighbor urged him to visit his homeland during a discussion “over their backyard fence.”

    Warren’s meetings in Syria included representatives from Syria’s Christian minority, professors and the nation’s grand mufti, Ahmad Bader Hassoun.

    “I believe it is a mistake to not talk to nations considered hostile _ isolation and silence has never solved conflict anywhere, whether between spouses or between nations,” Warren said in the statement Ross released Thursday.

    In July, Warren postponed a planned visit to North Korea, which is under huge international pressures to suspend its nuclear weapons program. But he is still invited to preach in March at the first outdoor Christian event in North Korea since 1945, Ross said.

    Straddling the worlds of faith and diplomacy is nothing new for religious leaders. In 1977, Graham preached in communist Hungary, the first of his pioneering forays in the Soviet bloc. Pope John Paul II, the globe-trotting pontiff who experienced totalitarianism firsthand in his native Poland, is credited with helping bring about the end of communism with his travels abroad.

    Warren cited Graham and John Paul as models in an interview about his planned trip to North Korea with the PBS show “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” earlier this year.

    “People say, `Well, you’re being a pawn. You’re being used,’ and things like that. The truth is I want to get the Good News out,” Warren said. “My reasoning is: why not? There are people in North Korea that have not heard for 60 years there is a God.”

    Mark Noll, an expert in American evangelical trends at the University of Notre Dame, said Warren may be reaching a crossroads.

    His ministry and writings have only faint political undertones. But he may be drawn into a political arena by the weight of his own celebrity.

    “There’s a trend that religious figures _ once they get a certain level of visibility and fame _ seem to get pulled into politics,” said Noll. “Warren is at this stage. The question is whether he is looking for new worlds to conquer.”

    (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/world/4343095.html)

    It looks like the story is growing, though perhaps only in the mountain-from-a-molehill sense.

  2. intlxpatr said

    “His ministry and writings have only faint political undertones.” His ministry has changed lives. His common sense could help change the world. What’s wrong with visiting, what’s wrong with person-to-person communication. Who does it challenge?

    Not everyone favors change, even positive change. I remember a French woman telling us that although Germany had not attacked recently “40 years is not such a long time”. That was before the borders opened and German-French exchanges became common and welcomed. It’s a whole new world. Anything is possible.

  3. old opinions die very hard. My friend B is from southern France. his aunt married a German man several years ago. B’s grandpere will allow the man in his house, but when his son-in-law’s mother came for Christmas one year, the grandfather refused to host. he was willing to meet his daughter’s mother-in-law (some other family member agreed to host Christmas), and, B said, in the end quite liked her – but he was not willing to have her as his guest.

    Americans with interests in Syria seem to fall sharply into two camps, based on their feelings on how (or whether) to deal with the regime. Those who want to engage Syria, to work with the regime in hopes of bringing change, would likely applaud Warren for choosing to ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness’, as my father’s grandmother used to say. Those who see engagement as capitulation or collaboration with the enemy are often equally harsh in their condemnations of those who take a different view.

  4. intlxpatr said

    I love it – light a candle rather than curse the darkness. I had forgotten that one. You’ve lighted up my day, Little Diamond.

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