Rick Warren’s recent observations on the circumstances Christians face in Syria is just another example of now naïve Christians can be. As the guest of the Syrian government, Warren undoubtedly saw only what the Baathist regime wanted him to see and hear from those the regime wanted him to hear.
Muslim governments do allow Christians and Jews to live within their borders. In some cases there is overt persecution, but more often than not the persecution is more difficult to see. One of the greatest obstacles believers face in Muslim countries is the general prohibition against “proselyting.” Christians can live among them but they can not overtly share their message. To do so results in arrest and incarceration! I know of an Egyptian Christian who returned to his country and was arrested for sharing his faith with another. Christians and Jews are often required to pay special taxes or face other, more stringent, restrictions.
My wife and I regularly visit believers in Asia. From all outward appearances, they seem free to worship and move about the country as they choose. As an observer visiting that country only briefly I would conclude the church is not persecuted and is free to do God’s work openly. As someone who has been there, I know that is not the case. There are limitations on what we can say, where we can go, and what we can do. Too many Americans in one location is a cause for concern. It is true that as long as the believers conform to the government they enjoy some freedom, but one never knows when that can be removed. In some instances where Christians object to governmental restrictions or call for greater freedom there are instances of overt persecution. Only the most naïve would say the church enjoys complete freedom to exist alongside Buddhism.
Our president recently visited Vietnam. While there he spent time in a church in personal worship. One would think Christians have freedom to worship under the communist government of Vietnam. That is not the case. Government officials confiscate Bibles, destroy church buildings, and warn believers not to evangelize. I’m sure the press corps accompanying Mr. Bush have the impression that freedom of religion prevails in Vietnam. Such is the naiveté of the press!
I greatly respect Rick Warren for his ministry in southern California. The Saddleback Church is a great church and has tremendous impact for the Gospel in southern California. At the same time, I think he has little experience with the world situation or how the godless rulers of various nations can present a pleasant face while ugliness lurks beneath the surface. And Christians are sometimes the world’s most naïve!
I know Rick Warren has a heart for those in need, but he needs to stick with what he knows and not pontificate on what he thinks he knows.