Syria’s Grand Mufti Sheik Badr al-Din Hassoun and Rick Warren
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren may have been unprepared for the Syrian media’s propaganda using his name during his recent visit and he may have
confused religious tolerance with religious freedom, but neither is an excuse for becoming “an enabler and defender of evil,” according to experts on
the Mideast and its persecution of non-Muslims.
“Rick Warren can do us all a favor and keep his remarks and opinions to himself. When you don’t stand up against and condemn evil, let alone
say misrepresented facts about an evil regime, you become an enabler and defender of evil, plain and simple,” Brigitte Gabriel told WND.
Gabriel, a Lebanese-American who wrote “Because They Hate,” and the founder of the The American Congress for Truth, was responding to
Warren’s recorded statement about Syria that: “It’s a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow any extremism
of any kind.”
Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of the best-selling “The Purpose-Driven Life,” told
WND when the comment first was reported that he had been misquoted, and further, he wasn’t a diplomat and probably wasn’t fully prepared for a situation in which he was used for propaganda.
But a video posted on YouTube showed Warren making the statement, and when WND linked to it, it suddenly disappeared.
Larry Ross, who acts as a spokesman for the church, told WND the video showing Warren making the statement was removed because Warren had heard there were “reports” about his Syrian visit, but not necessarily the reports from WND.
The Warren YouTube postings had been ongoing as kind of a travelogue to his congregation, Ross said. But when Warren arrived in Rwanda
from Damascus and found out there were concerns about his activities in Syria, he suggested that no video from Syria be posted. “Let’s not post one for Syria until we see where we’re at,” Warren had said, according to Ross.
But it already had been put up, so it was pulled down, only a few hours after it was put up, Ross said. “It was in the context of reports that they’d heard about, not specifically yours (WND’s),” he said. “It was obviously with the understanding or the awareness that there were some reports about the trip to Syria.”
But before it was removed, Bruce Delay, a talk-show host at KFAQ 1170 in Tulsa, Oklahoma,
downloaded the audio portion of Warren’s comments, and it can be heard here:
Listen to Rick Warren talk about Syria:
“What Rick Warren saw was ‘religious toleration.’ Not only is it a common mistake, it is the media norm to confuse the two,” said Ergun
Mehmet Caner, the president of the Liberty Theological Seminary at
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
“He was shown open churches, and worshiping people. He was not shown a single Muslim who converted to Christianity, he was shown
people who are ‘grandfathered in,” Caner continued. “If he would have seen a Muslim convert, the scene would be different, and tragic. He would
have seen one of my kinsmen … buried up to his waist in his burial cloth … and then stoned to death. Killed for the sole crime of finding faith in
“That is not religious freedom, and that is not tolerance. That is religious genocide,” said Caner, who has authored 14 books on
Christian apologetics and world religions, including “Unveiling Islam.”
And the country is anything but neutral on the international issues involving differences between Muslim, Jew and Christian. The U.S.
Congressional Research Service forwarded to the U.S. State Department earlier this year a massive report documenting that many believe it was
Syria’s decision to resupply Hezbollah with missiles and other materials that allowed Hezbollah to wage war with Israel over the summer.
That same report noted that Syria, which has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, has acquired an arsenal of chemical weapons
and surface-to-surface missiles, as well as research centers for conducting work on biological weapons “and may be interested in a nuclear
Nerve agents such as sarin already are stockpiled and scientists may be working on the more deadly VX, said the report.
Syria also has been listed – since 1979 – on the list of nations considered by the U.S. to be sponsoring terrorism, and while its direct credit for
individual terrorism acts has been limited in recent years, “Syria has continued to provide political and material support for Palestinian groups that
have committed terrorist acts, and allows them to maintain offices in Damascus,” the report said.
“Rick Warren’s comments about Syria are an insult and a slap on the face to every Christian who ever lived under that regime or suffered from
Syria’s evil dictatorship not only in Syria but also the Christian Lebanese,” said Gabriel.
“Rick Warren needs to speak to some of the Christians who fled Syria because of the oppression of the Syrian regime and are now here in
America. They can tell him about the Syrian troops storming their Christian schools when they were children and burning (the schools) because they were Christians. They can tell him about fearing for their lives, controlling their tongues, living with humiliation and trying to get out of the country in any way possible.”
She said it’s actually the fortunate and well-to-do who are able to leave Syria; others must stay. “They do not have any weapons to protect
themselves with, they are outnumbered by the oppressing Islamic majority and are under the mercy of radical tyrants who will not think twice about
killing people for any reason at any time,” she said.
Further, it was under Syrian control and protection that Muslims in Lebanon went on a killing spree against Christians, said Gabriel, who was
10 and living in Lebanon in 1975 when militant Muslims poured into her country and declared jihad against Lebanese Christians.
“To call Syria a moderate peaceful country where Christians and Jews live peacefully protected by the regime is nothing more than a
statement of his ignorance, lack of intelligence and lack of grasp and understanding of the Middle East conflict. There are Christians in Syrian
prisons now whose families do not know anything about them or if they are still alive or dead. My neighbor’s son was kidnapped over 25 years ago
and until today they do not know if he is dead or alive,” she said.
Caner said it’s a matter of definition.
“When a Muslim speaks of ‘religious freedom,’ what he actually means is ‘religious toleration.’ Not only are they NOT the same thing … the
difference is dangerous,” he said.
“Religious toleration only allows Christian expats to worship in a church, and even then it is greatly restricted. No churches are allowed to be
built, or modified. Christians in the country must allow their children (daughters) to marry Muslims, but no Muslim woman may marry a Christian
“The most extreme difference is simple – Christians must allow their children to convert to Islam, but if a Muslim converts, the penalty is
imprisonment, prosecution and even death,” said Caner, a Turkish immigrant who was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim.
According to SANA, Warren, who met with various religious and political leaders in Syria including President Bashar al-Assad, had “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.”
The reports also quoted Warren saying about four in five Americans reject the U.S. policies and actions in Iraq.
In his defense, Warren said he’d only made the trip to Syria at the request of his next-door neighbor. And he reported that Americans do not
realize that both Christianity and Judaism are legal in Syria, and 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.
Mark Tooley, of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said Warren
should consider what he’s doing.
“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,” he said.
An annual report on religious freedoms from the U.S. State Department, as WND reported
earlier, agreed with a few of Warren’s statements. The report said Syria’s constitution allows Christians and Jews, and the government does
provide utilities to churches.
But the report also said the government
encourages negative and even violent expressions of Islamic religious sentiment, and monitors Christians and Jews through surveillance and other
“Security services were constantly alert for any possible political threat to the State, and all groups, religious and nonreligious, were subject to
surveillance and monitoring by government security services,” the report said.
The government also imposes Muslim law in cases of child custody and inheritance, and if the government believes missionaries pose a threat
to the “relations among religious groups,” they are subject to terms of up to life in prison.
The comments attributed to Warren also contradicted documentation by the International Counter Terrorism organization.
That group reported “frequent use of the ‘terror weapon’ has been made by Syria against Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians” in an attempt “to impose Syrian hegemony over them and bring them into line with Syrian policy.”
In a report to his church wrapping up the trip, Warren said “in hindsight” he should have been better prepared, and watched words more closely
as he visited the nation listed by Open Doors USA as the 47th in the
world among nations that violate religious rights.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, said Syria is considered a “restricted” nation because although there are some freedoms, there is virtually no freedom for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a report that Christians in some parts of Syria report that the government has
“confiscated their property … without compensation and … Assyrian Christians also alleged that the Kurdish Democratic Party-dominated judiciary
routinely discriminated against non-Muslims.”
Saddleback Church, with 30,000 members, was begun by Warren and his wife in
1979 and now has more than 200 ministries in the Orange County area.
His popular book, which has sold millions of copies, focuses on worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. It tells readers
life is “not about you” and shows how God can enable each one to live for His purposes.
Warren is scheduled to preach in North Korea next year.
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