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|Subject: Rick Warren's Trip To Syria - Now Politically Purpose Driven?|
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Date Posted: 03:26:01 11/21/06 Tue
Is he going to give the Middle East some "purpose" too? Beware of Rick Warren:
Warren's Purpose-Driven Syrian Trip Scorned
A trip to Syria by U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren has triggered criticism and questions from conservative Christians.
But Warren's visit -— which included a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad -— also reinforced his credentials as a rising force in a new generation of globe-trotting evangelists following famous predecessors including the Rev. Billy Graham.
The Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, part of a Christian radio network, called Warren a "mindless shill" for Syria and said he "owes an apology to Israel, to the American people and to the victims of Syrian-sponsored terror."
And Joseph Farah, writing in WorldNet Daily, said, "Rick Warren had no business traveling to Syria and being used for propaganda purposes by Bashar Assad, the terrorist-supporting president."
Conservative Christians have been among the toughest advocates in the United States for a hard-line against Islamic extremism. And Israel is strongly supported by a vast evangelical network, including some American churches that believe biblical prophecy calls for Jewish sovereignty over the entire Holy Land.
Warren, author of the popular book "The Purpose Driven Life," said he was not attempting to dabble in the hypersensitive world of Middle Eastern politics in the visit that ended last Sunday. Warren said he went to Syria as part of a three-nation trip of pastoral outreach and humanitarian efforts that began in Germany and wraps up in Rwanda on Saturday.
A spokesman for Warren said the founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., was in Syria to meet with and encourage the country’s key Christian leaders; dialogue with top Muslim leaders; and promote religious freedom.
Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, the leader of the coalition of Evangelical Churches of Syria and the pastor of the world’s oldest standing church dating back to 315 AD, and Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti, all met with Warren.
"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," Warren said in an official statement.
"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," Warren said.
Warren described the Nov. 10-12 visit to Syria as "neither official nor political."
"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.” and said he expressed "support for President Bush, our troops in Iraq and the war on terror."
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Warren's delegation supported Syria's role as regional leader and expressed concern about U.S. policies, including the war in Iraq.
"The trip seemed like a message that you cannot ignore Syria's role in the region," said Imad Fawzi Shueibi, a Damascus-based political analyst.
Warren responded to the criticism by saying in Christianity Today that his visit and remarks were misrepreesented.
"In hindsight, I wish we'd been better prepared for our visit to Syria," he told the magazine. "We would have handled some meetings differently, watched our words more closely, and been more aware of the agenda of their state press. We wanted to just slip in and out, but that's nearly impossible for me to do anymore. It's been a learning experience."
A long line of popes, and the Revs. Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, Jesse Jackson, William Sloane Coffin, Pat Robertson and Warren have projected themselves onto the international stage at one time or another.
Mark Noll, an expert in American evangelical trends at the University of Notre Dame, said Warren may be reaching a crossroads.
"There's a trend that religious figures -- once they get a certain level of visibility and fame -- seem to get pulled into politics," said Noll. "Warren is at this stage. The question is whether he is looking for new worlds to conquer."
Distributed by Internet Broadcasting Systems, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
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