Monday, November 27, 2006

Purpose-driven peace in the Middle East

Dr. Rick Warren, one of the leading American evangelical leaders and author of The Purpose Driven Life (according to Larry King citing Publishers Weekly, “the best-selling hard cover non-fiction book in American history”), visited Syria, and has nice things to say about it.  From a press release:

“Dr. Warren’s visit to Syria was neither official nor political, but rather came out of a promise to his Muslim neighbor in California.  While discussing over their backyard fence Warren’s frequent international travel, the neighbor asked him to visit his home country of Syria, with its many sites sacred to Christians and church history that date back 2,000 years.

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. Every Christian with whom Dr. Warren’s team met - including those in the city of Malula, where they represent two-thirds of the population - expressed gratitude for the government’s protection of their right to worship.

‘Let there be no doubt about our support for President Bush, our troops in Iraq and the war on terror,’ he told the Mufti. When asked if American opinion had turned against the Iraq war.  Warren replied, ‘Yes -The New York Times reported that 80 percent of Americans indicated in Election Day exit polls they now oppose keeping troops in Iraq.’ Later, Dr. Warren’s team was told by a Syrian official that it would be a mistake for American troops to immediately pull out.

          Because Dr. Warren often meets with presidents of nations he visits, his neighbor also arranged a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Dr. Warren sought counsel in advance from Syrian experts in Washington, and was told that Syria’s state-controlled media would likely distribute press releases after the meeting, which they did.

‘The Syrian government has long had a bad reputation in America, but if one considers a positive action like welcoming in thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq, or the protection of freedom to worship for Christians and Jews in Syria, it should not be ignored,’ Dr. Warren said from Rwanda.  He further explained that in terms of religious freedom, Syria is far more tolerant than places like Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and nations identified in the U.S. Commission Report on International Religious Freedom. ‘Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in Syria for more than a thousand years, often with mosques and churches built next to each other,’ he added. ‘What can we learn from them?

‘I believe it is a mistake to not talk to nations considered hostile - isolation and silence has never solved conflict anywhere, whether between spouses or between nations,’ Dr. Warren concluded.  He further shared his experience in Rwanda, a country that is experiencing peace after years of conflict by emphasizing reconciliation instead of retaliation. He noted that, as a pastor, he always urges couples in conflict to keep talking to each other - no matter how angry they are.  As long as they keep talking, there is hope for a resolution; but if they refuse to even talk, divorce is inevitable.”

Predictably, the wing-nuts have gone ape-shit over this (but the Syrians are happy).  Warren appears to be a half-decent guy:  unlike his Christian evangelical brethren, he hates war and poverty, and, also unlike his Christian evangelical brethren, he isn’t a gay, drug-addicted embezzler.  Perhaps more importantly, he is very close to Rupert Murdoch, and Warren’s sane statements on Syria may be seen as part of the new American view of the Middle East.