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The last Rick Warren column

Last week, in the latest of a series of columns I have written about mega-church leader Rick Warren, I wondered out loud about mixed signals coming from Saddleback Church.

I was puzzled, because back in November, Warren had told me he was a proud member of the Council on Foreign Relations and had learned much about the Middle East at the organization’s briefings. Yet, when concerned individuals wrote to the church seeking to verify that Warren was a member of a group that for 86 years has attacked the idea of nation-states in favor of world government, they were routinely told the report was untrue.

In other words, I was a liar.

Once again, I sought clarification from the source. I wondered if Rick Warren had been mistaken about joining or had second thoughts. I wondered if an aide had just mixed up the facts. Had he merely attended as a visitor, been asked to join, but decided against membership?

I got my answer last week from Rick Warren. And because he politely asked me not to publish his e-mail, I will paraphrase his responses as much as possible.

Warren once again confirmed he is a member of the CFR. He said the organization wanted more evangelicals and he answered the call because Jesus calls believers to be salt and light in the world. He said his volunteer aide who answered e-mails on his behalf was mistaken.

He also went on to defend his remarks that began the whole controversy between us – that Syria is, indeed, a “moderate” country. He modified that claim only slightly by adding “in terms of treatment of Christians.” He also said his standard for that claim was a comparison of Syria to countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I responded to Warren by explaining I had no more desire to belabor this issue than he did. But, I explained, as a passionate advocate of freedom for all the people of the Middle East, I can’t ignore it when high-profile pastors undermine that pursuit of freedom.

I told him quite frankly that’s what he did.

I know he let down believers in Syria and Lebanon because I have heard from some of them directly. They feel betrayed by the American church that Rick Warren – mega-pastor – represents to them.

I also let him know that his standards for Christian free expression in other countries are far too low. If anti-Christian police states like Saudi Arabia and Iran represent the standard of measurement, Emperor Nero might also get a passing grade.

That’s a horrible standard given the consequences of converting to Christianity in those countries is death. I noticed that the statistics Warren used to defend Syria were all from the U.S. government – which is hardly in the business of protecting Christians. If it were, Christians would not now be fleeing Iraq for Syria. A better standard to use is Voice of the Martyrs, which works full-time chronicling the plight of the persecuted church, relieving the persecuted church and praying for the persecuted church.

Here are the facts about Syria: Christian evangelism is illegal in the country. It may not carry the death penalty, as it does in Saudi Arabia, but the consequences of actually witnessing and converting Muslims are dire.

I’m not a pastor or a Christian leader or a theologian or a biblical scholar, but shouldn’t that be the main criterion Christians use when evaluating whether there is Christian religious freedom in a given country?

In Syria, the philosophy is that if you were born into a Christian family, you can’t help yourself. But it is strictly forbidden to evangelize and spread your faith to Muslims. That a U.S. Christian leader considers such restrictions “moderate” demonstrates once again just how self-centered and out of touch the American church really is.

Syria is a police state – an anti-Christian, hegemonic, totalitarian, terrorist-supporting police state. As the grandson of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, I can tell you there is little to praise about the Bashar Assad regime and the way it victimizes its own people – Christian and Muslim alike. You also can’t separate what Syria does inside its borders from what it does in Lebanon – where it is still trying to annex the independent country through the subversion of its terrorist friends in Hezbollah, as well as Damascus’ own secret police.

My last word of advice to Rick Warren: “If you want to make Syria better for Christians, pressure its leaders by calling them on the horrors they perpetrate. Don’t excuse their evil deeds. That’s my two cents.”

In closing, I added: “I hope you will consider what I am saying earnestly and lovingly on behalf of the people I love in the Middle East.”

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