When Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California was quoted by the official government-sponsored news agency in Syria as praising the government there, he was not the first Christian leader to be cited in an endorsement of President Bashar al-Assad.
The comments by Warren, which also were documented on a videotape posted briefly in the Internet, came as he visited that Middle East nation, and arrived first from SANA, the Syrian Arab News Agency.
Warren reported Christianity and Judaism both are legal, and Christians enjoy some privileges even Muslims don’t receive within a governmental structure that formally allows for faith in Christ and adherence to the Torah.
According to SANA, Warren said “many Americans don’t realize that both Christianity and Judaism are legal in Syria. In addition, the government provides free electricity and water to all churches; allows pastors to purchase a car tax-free (a tax break not given to Muslim imams); appoints pastors as Christian judges to handle Christian cases; and allows Christians to create their own civil law instead of having to follow Muslim law.”
The agency also reported:
- “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.”
- “Syria wants peace, and Muslims and Christians live in this country jointly and peacefully since more than a thousand years, and this is not new for Syria.”
- Warren told Syria’s Islamic grand mufti there could be no peace in the region without Syria and 80 percent of Americans reject the U.S. administration’s policies and actions in Iraq.
An audio recording of his Syrian video also can be heard here:
Listen to Rick Warren talk about Syria:
Others, however, noted in editorials that his praise for the Syrian regime either was misdirected or improper.
And mission program directors who take on responsibility for some of the needs of believers in Syria also noted that anti-Christian nations like Syria often use propaganda.
Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International, told WND that Christians are fleeing Iraq to go to Syria because of the threat on violence in Iraq, but they then find that Syria’s persecution of Christians is “ruthless.”
He confirmed that the government in Syria uses a lot of “window dressing” such as formal recognitions of Easter and Christmas and the like, to give the impression of an open and tolerant atmosphere.
However, that’s common from a lot of the “brutal regimes” whose agendas include the destruction of Christians. For example, North Korea offers tours of “Christian” churches operating within its borders.
“The treatment on the ground is far different,” Jacobson said. “If you’re a Christian, you don’t talk about it. If you try to share your faith, distribute Christian literature, distribute a Bible – something any religion should be allowed to do – you’re going to get arrested and asked to leave the country. You can’t do that there.”
In this year’s announcement about Easter, SANA noted the “Christian sects” who celebrate Easter with “prayers, masses and preaches.”
It continued saying the Patriarch of Antioch and East of the Roman Catholics Gregorius III Laham spoke about the “sublime values of Easter and the divine message conveyed by Christ for salvation.”
Then the agency continued: “All sermons spoke about the national meanings of Evacuation Day, which coincides with celebrations of Easter, commending strife and sacrifices of our people to free the home from the foreign occupation. They called for strengthening the national unity and unifying our ranks to back the ongoing process of development and modernization in Syria under the leadership of president Bashar al-Assad, preserve our country’s independence and progress and to face all possible pressures and schemes.
“In this respect and on directive from president Bashar al-Assad, the Minister of the Presidential Affairs Dr. Ghassan Laham conveyed the President’s heartfelt congratulation to the spiritual leaders of the Christian sects on the occasion of the Easter, wishing them success in their work,” the Syrian government agency said.
“The spiritual leaders of the Christian sects expressed gratitude to President Assad for his kind congratulations, wishing His Excellency success in leading the country,” it continued.
And during meetings between government leaders and “spiritual leaders,” those spiritual leaders “hailed the national unity and coexistence which Syria enjoys,” the agency said.
Likewise when Christmas arrived, SANA issued another statement:
“President Bashar al-Assad on Monday participated in Christmas celebrations and exchanged congratulations with Christian clergymen and people at the Patriarchate of Syriac Orthodox in old Damascus,” the statement said.
There were several religious leaders noted, and then the statement: “Patriarch Hazim expressed gratitude for President Assad’s participation in celebrations, saying ‘this proves that presidency is not a rule presidency, but it is a paternity presidency.’
“President Assad congratulated the attendants of Christmas Day, stressing that ‘Arabism is not a race; it is a strong belonging to Christianity, Islam, Judaism and to all races existed in the region,’” the statement said.
“‘There is a developed world but unfortunately this world is not civilized … it talks about the clash of civilizations … through this meeting I hope that we can transfer a civilized message to it,’ the President noted, pointing out to Syria’s strength which is represented by her national unity,” the government statement said.
“‘Let us destroy the extremism wall and protect the whole world from extremism and fanaticism,’ President Assad said. He concluded that Islamic-Christian fraternity has become a self-evidence fact in Syria long time ago, ‘let us transfer this message to the whole world … so after hundreds of years some-one may say: let us join Syria’s generations and protect Islam and Christianity as well.’” it concluded.
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