A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Purpose-driven criticism: more on Rick Warren’s trip to Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 21, 2006

Pastor Rick Warren’s trip to Syria and the favorable comments he made about the state’s commitments to secularism and religious freedom, as well as Syria’s centrality to any meaningful peace in Iraq, continue to percolate through the United States’ religious press.

The latest piece comes from the Agape Press. It is mostly a summary of news and reactions first printed in earlier articles, but includes an exegesis of the official statement Warren released last week, in which he stands his ground regarding Syria’s position on religious freedom and secularism. Much of what he says is true, although Jews’ freedom of worship is largely theoretical, as most of Syria’s Jews left the country in the early 1990s, after the Madrid peace talks. This is the article:

Meeting with Syrians Done as a Favor, Says Rick Warren
Fred Jackson & Allie Martin

But His Comments on Syria’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Draw Criticism

Well-known Christian author Rick Warren says Syria offers more religious freedom than many other nations considered hostile to Christianity. His comments are included in an official statement he has released in connection with his controversial visit this week to that terrorist nation.

After Warren — pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life — met with Syrian officials and top Muslim leaders there, he was quoted by the official state-controlled Syrian news agency as praising Syria for the peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims in the country.

“Pastor 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,” reported the Syrian news agency. He was also reported to have conveyed to Syrian officials that “80 percent of Americans reject the U.S. administration’s policies and actions in Iraq.”

Shortly thereafter, in an e-mail to WorldNetDaily publisher Joseph Farah, the Southern California pastor denied making such statements and said he made the trip only as a favor to his Muslim next-door neighbor.

In his official statement released on Thursday afternoon (November 16), Warren says many Americans do not realize that both Christianity and Judaism are legal in Syria. Among other things, he says the Syrian government provides free electricity and water to all churches and allows Christians to create their own civil law instead of having to follow Muslim law.

The popular Christian author goes on to say that “the Syrian government has long had a bad reputation in America, but if one considers a positive action like welcoming in thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq, or the protection of freedom to worship for Christians and Jews in Syria, it should not be ignored.” Warren says in fact, when it comes to religious freedom, Syria is far more tolerant than places like Cuba and Iraq and other nations identified in the U.S. Commission Report on International Religious Freedom.

Warren made it clear in a letter to his congregation about his trip that while he may have praise for Syria’s handling of Christian refugees from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, in no way should that be interpreted as approval of everything the Syrian government does. “That’s nonsense!,” he is reported as telling his congregation. “Syria needs many reforms, but in terms of religious freedom, they are ahead of places like Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and many others.”

In his press release, Warren makes no mention of Syria being on the official U.S. list of terrorist nations, nor of Syria’s support of the Hezbollah terrorist group, one of Israel’s most deadly enemies.

A spokesman with the Washington, DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) says Pastor Warren should think twice before he allows himself to be used by terrorist-sponsoring nations — and that he should have known Syrian officials would misrepresent his comments.

“It’s not very difficult for most dictatorships who are very adroit at their own propaganda work to exploit someone who does not have experience in that area,” says IRD’s Mark Tooley. “If you’re meeting with the dictator of Syria and the foreign minister and the chief Islamic leader, you have to know that your visit is going to be used by that dictatorship in a certain way.”

Tooley also advises that “if you want to prevent that from happening or preempt it, at the very least you put a statement on your own website outlining what your own views are.”

Warren says he was advised by the U.S. State Department to expect Syria’s state-controlled media to issue press releases about his visit. But he says he believes it is a mistake “not to talk to nations considered hostile.” Isolation and silence, he says in his statement, has never solved conflict anywhere.

( http://www.crosswalk.com/news/religiontoday/1450295.html )

One of the curious results of the ongoing coverage of Warren’s visit is that I now find myself in the curious position of agreeing with Marianne Williamson, who I ordinarily find utterly loopy. She has an opinion peace in today’s Detroit News, which argues that spiritual leaders have at least as much ‘right’, and perhaps more responsibility, to work to bring peace and light to the world. While we differ on the question of whether Iran and Syria, as countries, are sources of darkness and terrorism, we are in full agreement that moral stature brings greater, not lesser, responsibilities in, and to, the world. Here is her piece:

Faith leaders deserve a shot at creating peace on earth

E vangelical leader Rick Warren has been criticized for meeting with the president of Syria, chastised into making sure we understand that he supports President Bush, the troops and the war on terrorism. It has been suggested he has fallen for a huge sin that sometimes tempts religious people: They get involved in politics. For shame! For shame!

Who exactly, then, has the “right” to be involved in politics? Just politicians? Lawyers? The media, perhaps? But “religious leaders”? How dare they!

Last time I read it, the U.S. Constitution didn’t say that when you take up the clergy, you give up your citizenship. It is hardly a violation of church and state for religious leaders to speak their minds about political issues. Quite the opposite: They’re the last people on earth who should ever, ever, ever be complacent or quieted by a worldly status quo. Today, the status quo is failing miserably in its ability to create peace on earth.

I don’t usually agree with right-wing Christians about politics. Gay marriage? I find it abhorrent to think the power of the U.S. government would be used to officially limit the rights of any group of Americans. Abortion rights? Abortion is a choice between a woman and her God, and the government shouldn’t even be in on that conversation. They could demand a time of reflection — and that would be OK, but not have the right to stop it.

But if Rick Warren wants to go to Syria and meet with its president, then God bless him. He should do whatever he wants to do. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won’t go there. And her behavior hardly makes me sleep better at night.

The problem here is not that religious people are messing with politics; the problem is that politicians are messing with religious people.

The point of religion is that it answers to a Higher Power; its loyalty is to God. Religious people might not always agree on what God is asking of us, but that is not the point. Spiritual leaders are leaders, too. Political leaders are not the only kind of leaders, nor should their voices be the only ones that affect the affairs of the world today.

What traditional politics is offering us is not working, and perhaps it is the religious people among us who should if anything be pointing that out.

Terrorism is a spiritual darkness; it is a mass psychosis. People who know how to lead groups in prayer and collective meditations, people who have expertise in healing hearts and minds and relationships, people who know about dismantling insane behavioral patterns — such as these have at least as much to offer in response to terrorism, as do people who know how to drop bombs.

Killing a terrorist does not of itself kill terrorism. If worldly might is our only response, then the problem is going to devour us.

If Rick Warren, or anyone else for that matter, has a better idea for how to handle Syria, Iran or any other nation — even if I don’t agree with it — unless it hurts someone, then I hope he or she shouts it from the rooftops. As they do, the false idol of politics as usual might actually fall away, and that would be fine.

As the saying goes, “War is far too serious a business to be left in the hands of politicians and generals.” Don’t go quiet, Rick. If anything, push back — and do not back down.

( http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061121/OPINION03/611210308/1008/OPINION01 )


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