Syria's state-controlled media is lavishingly boasting that California mega-church pastor Rick Warren, during his visit in Damascus, has endorsed the Syrian pespective on the Middle East. Not only that; Warren has reportedly promised to carry that state sponsor of terrorism's propaganda message back to the U.S.
Warren, pastor of the 30,000 member Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life (over 30 million copies sold), is increasingly drifting in a Religious Left direction.
The Syrian newspaper Umar Jaftali, which like all Syrian media is tightly manipulated by the Baathist dictatorship, editorialized on November 14:
Pastor Rick Warren, who yesterday met with [Syrian] President Al-Assad and Foreign Minister Al-Mu'allim, said: "Washington is wrong not to hold dialogue with Syria, which wants peace. I call on the Americans to visit Syria and meet its beautiful people. I will tell the Americans that their idea about Syria does not reflect the truth." This is what the American clergyman said after seeing the facts on the ground. It was not in his interest not to say the truth about what he himself and the accompanying Protestant delegation saw and felt.
The supposed quote from Warren reads like a news release from Assad's propaganda ministry. Perhaps, the translation into Arabic and back into English does not do Warren justice. We can hope.
But the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) provided four reports about the Warren visit. According to SANA, Warren's "American delegation stressed that the American administration is mistaken not to hold dialogue with Syria." Even more eggregiously, "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." Apparently, Warren gifted the Syrian dictator with a "memorial drawing" to "thank the Syrian people for their...efforts exerted for maintaining peace and harmony."
Needless to note, there was no mention by the Warren delegation, at least not as mentioned by SANA, about Syria's one-party police state, its political prisoners, its chambers of torture, its support for Hezballah terrorism in Lebanon, and its continued devotion to the destruction of Israel.
Another SANA report told of Warren's seemingly equally breathless visit with Syria's Baathist Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallim, with whom he "reviewed Syrian-American relations."
Apparently Warren afterwards gave SANA a written statement in which he told SANA exactly what it wanted to hear: "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," which is an example he urged that others should follow.
Warren assured SANA that, in SANA's words, he would "tell the Americans that the ideas which had been shaped about [Syria] didn’t reflect the truth and they have to come to Syria and see by themselves and realize her nice people and visit her wonderful and historical ruins."
Apparently making the grand circuit of Damascus, Warren also pow-wowed with Syria's Islamic Grand Mufti, about which SANA also generously reported. According to SANA, Warren said, in SANA's words, that there is "no peace in the region without Syria, noting that 80 percent of the American people rejected what the U.S. administration is doing in Iraq and considered the U.S. policy in the Mideast as wrong." Warren went on to share his "admiration" for Syria and its admirable "co-existence" between Christians and Syria.
The Grand Mufti urged Warren to share with the American people the "real" story about Syria, whose image has been "distorted" by the Bush administration. Reportedly, at least according to SANA, Warren obligingly promised to do just that.
In contrast to the lovefest between Warren and Syrian officials reported by SANA, human rights organizations portray a different "real story" about Syria. This story tells of a nation where only the ruling Baathist Party and its allies are permitted to win elections, where all news media are owned or controlled by the government, where indepedent labor unions are prohibited, where universities must proclaim Baathist Party policies, where clerics are appointed by the government, where the president by law must be Muslim, and where women's limited rights are governed by Islamic Shari'a law, even though the government is ostensibly secular.
Ten percent of Syria's population is Christian, having diminished greatly in recent decades. Compared to Saudi Arabia, where conversion away from Islam is punishable by death, Syria is tolerant. But Syria's constitution stipulates that Islam is the "main source for legislation." Christians cannot preach to non-Christians, and churches, like mosques, are tightly regulated by the government. No construction of a new Christian school has been permitted in 40 years, and all schools by law must have Muslim principals.
Will Warren share this news about Syria with America?
Next year, Warren is scheduled to visit North Korea at the invitation of its despotic Communist regime. It is reasonable to assume that the North Korean state-controlled media will issue reports about Warren's visit there that are remarkably similar to the Syria's dictatorship's boastful coverage of Warren's chit-chat with them.
It is sad story, repeated often. Big-name U.S. preachers, often otherwise sensible and orthodox in their faith, visit despotic regimes and naively curry favor with police state thugs. The preachers supinely believe that their cozy ties with the dictatorship will facilitate greater preaching access to the oppressed populations. But the end result more usually is a propaganda bonanza for the tyrants, and a population that is left to feel forgotten by the outside world.
Fortunately, the Deity whom these preachers proclaim, whatever the failures of His ostensible messengers, has not forgotten the imprisoned and the persecuted. For the oppressed He will contend, even while the celebrity preachers attend to the public relations considerations of the oppressors.