Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren showed a brief video clip of his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad to his mega-congregation after telling WND no recording was done on his controversial trip to the terrorist-sponsoring nation.
Some members of Saddleback Church say they are distressed by this as well as Warren’s comments that Syria is a “moderate” country.
WND broke the story that Warren, during a recent trip to Syria, had described its policies and influence as “moderate,” even though the U.S. lists it as a terror-sponsoring state and several Mideast experts confirmed there still is active and aggressive persecution of Christians and Jews in the Muslim state.
The statements originally were reported by the Syrian Arab News Agency, a state-controlled press known for using visitors for propaganda. Warren initially denied praising the Syrian regime for providing religious freedom, but a church video posted – and then quickly removed – from YouTube confirmed he made very similar comments during the trip.
Since then, WND has been seeking access to the original video, a request to which the church hasn’t responded, but it was able to obtain from an outside source an audio recording of the commentary.
Listen to Rick Warren talk about Syria:
“Syria is a place that has had Muslims and Christians living together for 1400 years,” he says. “So it’s a lot more peaceful honestly than a lot of other places because Christians were here first. In fact, you know, Saul of Tarsus, Saul was a Syrian, and St. Paul, on this road to Damascus, had his conversion experience, and so Christians have been here the longest, and they get along with the Muslims and the Muslims get along with them and there’s a lot of, a lot less tension than in other places. It’s a moderate country and the official government role and position is to not allow extremism of any kind.”
Warren emailed Joseph Farah, editor of WND, Nov. 16, denying he made comments as reported by the Syrian news agency. Farah asked Warren in a return email if he made any notes or recordings in Syria that would show the true intent and purpose of his meetings there.
“We did not tape anything because if (sic) was a courtesy call, like I do in every country,” Warren responded.
Just moments after receiving this reply, Farah found the YouTube video and asked Warren about it. Moments later, the video was removed from YouTube by Saddleback Church.
But what raised concerns, according to one church member who contacted WND was the anomalous response from Warren.
He said Warren’s policy is not to respond to or react to controversies of any type. The procedure in the church is to ignore those issues, the member said.
“In this situation, I, along with most of the members, got a couple of e-mails about the Syria situation, about his side of it,” the church member, who insisted on anonymity, told WND in an exclusive interview.
“He’s never done that before. He’s never sent out something that’s clarifying a story. He just lets it fall on its own. To clarify this one so strongly, and send out e-mails to all the members a couple of times (is unusual).”
He also was disturbed that the video was posted on YouTube, then removed, and hasn’t been available since. Those videos are routinely used by church leaders when they travel the world, as a kind of travelogue to keep members informed about events and plans, he said.
“To see it pulled after it gets put up, that doesn’t spell straightforward truthfulness for me and that’s not what I’m used to seeing at my church,” he said.
He also noted that during Sunday’s worship, a three-minute collage of video highlights from Warren’s trip to Germany, Syria and Rwanda was shown, and it was announced that the segment was excerpted from 16 hours of video taken on the trip.
That conflicted with Warren’s earlier statement to WND that there wasn’t any recording in Syria, although church spokesman A. Larry Ross said that may have been no more than a misunderstanding.
“It pains to share this information with you as I have held Rick Warren in great respect for many years. He is a man of God and I am not sure why he has been so evasive over this recent issue,” the member said.
The member said Saddleback’s comments about the video recording also didn’t connect, because the Sunday video clip appeared to show Warren with Assad.
“The highlight reel appeared to show Rick visiting with the president of Syria…but it was a short clip and no audio was included,” he said. “I have been very troubled that Rick told you that there were no recordings. If he has nothing to hide, then I do not understand why he doesn’t just release the video of his meeting with the president of Syria.”
Previous videos of the missions trips taken by church leadership have been “very moving,” the member said.
The member said there also have been hints of other issues, too, especially with the organization’s developing PEACE plan. The member said that the “P” originally was explained as standing for “planting churches,” but of late that has been referred to as “partnering” with other churches.
“We’ve gotten word from people on the staff that the “P” was changed, and it’s called partnering with other churches or religious groups,” he said.
“If this is an outreach for Christian churches, why would we partner with Muslims?
That type of criticism also has been leveled against Warren for his current AIDS conference at Saddleback.
He declined a request from a list of dozens of other Christian organization leaders around the nation to withdraw an invitation to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a staunch supporter of abortion on demand – even partial-birth abortions – to speak at the conference.
Troy Newman of the front-lines anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue said Obama had lost the moral credibility about speaking on issues of life or death because of his advocacy for abortion.
“There are some things that just cannot be excused with a disclaimer, and support for abortion is one of them,” he said.
“I continue to pray for him (Warren) and I hope that the full truth will come out so he can either repent or be vindicated,” the member said.
Ross told WND that at Warren’s meeting with Assad, officials would not allow the church team to film or tape anything. There were only a couple of short photo opportunities before and after the meeting, and the Saddleback photographer participated along with others, including a photographer from Al-Jazeera, Ross said.
But no other information was available from the church about the comments or the video, after WND left several messages requesting help.
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