He might have responded magnanimously: “Farah and I have a difference of opinion on this. Here’s what I believe …” But he didn’t do that. Instead, he attacked me personally, which I don’t mind. I just point it out.
Here’s his response to the question: “This is a fellow (meaning me) who’s hooked his star to criticizing somebody. There’s so many over-the-top things about it. There are lots of churches in Damascus [Syria]. I asked one person. He said maybe two or three hundred in Damascus. Most of them are the traditional churches. There’s Syrian Orthodox and there’s Greek Orthodox. But I met with the head of the evangelicals. He said they’re getting ready to go into the building program because the Presbyterian church he leads?they’ve run out of space.
“I will go anywhere in the world if I’m allowed to preach the gospel without hindrance. I’d go to Iran; I’d go to Syria; I’d go to North Korea. A lot of the criticisms have come from people who politicize the Christian faith. To them, politics is more important than winning people to Christ. In fact, I think one of the greatest damages to the church in the last 20 years has been the politicization of the church. I’m also tired of the church being known simply as a political tool and being co-opted by politicians.”
Let me emphasize this: My problem with Rick Warren is not personal. My problem with Rick Warren is based on his public actions and private lies.
When he claimed he didn’t really praise Syria, as the official press agency claimed, I asked him if he had transcripts of his remarks or video to show what he really said. He claimed he didn’t record anything while there. When I showed him a video his church made in Syria in which he praised the country as “moderate,” he had it removed from YouTube. (You can still hear the audio version below.)
Listen to Rick Warren talk about Syria:
Then he showed video clips of his trip to his own congregation and explained they came from over 12 hours of recordings he made while in the Middle East and Africa. When members of his own church questioned him on the Syria trip, he claimed the whole controversy was begun by a few “bloggers” who believed the Syria state propaganda.
Privately I’m batting almost 1,000, but publicly I’m “hooking my star to criticizing somebody.” I wonder if Warren would say that about the Prophet Nathan, most famous for pointing out the sin in the life of King David.
It would be tempting to turn this into a personal feud between me and Warren. But there are much more important issues at stake.
It’s hard for me to believe that Rick Warren doesn’t understand that totalitarian governments like Syria’s persecute Christians even while sanctioning state-approved churches. The Nazis did it. The Soviet Union did it.
By praising Syria as a “moderate” country and by giving aid and comfort to murdering dictator Bashar Assad, Warren is not offending me. Instead, he is betraying our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria who are restricted by law from evangelizing Muslims. He is betraying our Christian brothers and sisters who are being persecuted by Assad in Lebanon.
For heaven’s sake, immediately following Warren’s goodwill mission, Assad assassinated Lebanese Christian leader Pierre Gemayel.
This isn’t about “politics.” This is about basic morality – right and wrong.
I never criticized Rick Warren for going anywhere to preach the Gospel. But, frankly, I’m unaware of any effort by him to preach the Gospel in Syria. Did he preach the Gospel to Assad? My criticism is about playing politics. He is accusing me of doing exactly what he himself is doing.
Warren falsely accuses me of caring more about politics than winning people to Christ. This is a malicious lie. It is because I care about evangelism, real evangelism – not selling books, not expanding my “ministry,” not having my sermons broadcast on television – that I criticize those who edify hateful, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish politicians like Assad.
Warren speaks of those Christians who have been co-opted by politicians. Isn’t that exactly what happened to Rick Warren when he praised the Syrian government and met with its president without confronting him on his evil deeds?
Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of faults – no question about that. I’m human, just like Warren. But being co-opted by politicians is not one of them. I don’t think even my worst enemies would say that about me.
My criticism of Warren has been focused like a laser beam on an inexcusable, immoral action he took in Syria. Since calling him on it, he has lied repeatedly, told different audiences what they want to hear, made excuses, uttered virtually unintelligible gibberish about his experiences in the Middle East.
It’s time for Rick Warren to come to grips with the facts. Praising Syria as a “moderate” country that protects the religious rights of Christians was a mistake, an error. Instead, he makes the matter worse, compounding his offense against the persecuted church and the Christian martyrs of the Middle East, by claiming spiritual and moral infallibility.