Why did you meet with Bashar Assad in Syria?

Rick Warren is an evangelical leader, best-selling author, and founding and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California. Along with his wife, Kay, Warren founded Saddleback in 1980 with just a single family to fill the pews. Today the church has a 120-acre campus, 22,000 weekly attendees, and has provided spiritual guidance and source material to over 400,000 ministers worldwide.

He also leads the Purpose Driven Network of churches, a global coalition of congregations in 162 countries. More than 400,000 ministers and priests have been trained worldwide, and almost 157,000 church leaders subscribe to the Ministry ToolBox, his weekly newsletter. His previous book, The Purpose Driven Church is listed in “100 Christian Books That Changed the 20th Century.” Forbes magazine called it "the best book on entrepreneurship, management, and leadership in print.”

Warren received his BA from California Baptist College, his MA from the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, and his Doctor of Ministry from the Fuller Theological Seminary. Warren has recently taken on several issues previously ignore by the evangelical community; he is the most prominent signatory of the "Evangelical Climate Initiative," and is the co-founder and co-director (with his wife) of The Global PEACE Fund, which fights poverty, disease, and illiteracy.  Warren has spoken at the United Nations, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the African Union, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

  • Transcript


Question: Why did you meet with Bashar Assad in Syria?


Rick Warren: I’ve often been asked about why I went to Syria. And I really went to Syria for two reasons.

First, I have a neighbor who’s Syrian – my next door neighbor. And he said, “I’d like you to come to Syria and meet my family.” And there are over 6,000 biblical sites in Syria. So I thought, “This will be great! I’d love to go see Syria.”

The second thing is, I went there to see if I could work with the churches there to do what’s called the Peace Plan, which is our global Peace Plan – P-E-A-C-E. We never go into detail on this.

It’s P; I mean “Promote Reconciliation”.

E is “Equip Leaders”.

A is “Assist the Poor”.

C is “Care for the Sick”.

And E is “Educate the Next Generation”.

And we’ve been testing the prototype of this peace plan for four years – promoting reconciliation, equipping leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, educating the next generation.

In the last four years, I’ve sent out over 7,500 of my members on their own. It’s like a peace corps in many ways – only it’s church-based – going out to 68 countries. These people spend their own money and time to do this. So when I went to Syria, I went to get information on could we do it with churches there.

When I was there, a couple things happened. The president of the country heard I was in the country. He said, “Oh! Rick Warren’s in the country. I’d like to meet him.” So he invited me.

What was I supposed to do? Say no? I didn’t go to see him. It certainly wasn’t a political trip, and I certainly wasn’t a diplomat or a delegate. I’m a pastor. And I just happened to be in the country and got a request from the office of the president, “Would you come meet me?”

So I went and met him, went to whatever their office is. And we talked and basically talked about education, talked about the Peace Plan, talked about student exchange. You certainly don’t have to agree with everybody to talk. And that’s that whole thing of treating with civility.

So then what happened was it got controversial because the Syrian government put out a statement that basically said, “Rick Warren backs the government,” blah, blah, blah. Well I didn’t say that at all.

And the first guy who reported it said, “Oh, now you’ve said all this stuff.”

And I wrote him an e-mail and said, “No, I didn’t say that.”

And he said, “Well I look forward to seeing the videotape of that thing.” In other words, he didn’t believe me. “I’m going to check the videotape and see what you said.” I said there is no videotape.

The next thing he does is he goes on YouTube and finds a tape of me walking around being taped by a home movie camera in a market by a home movie guy who had put a movie up on YouTube. So he goes, “Oh see? You did have a tape.” And he called me a liar.

Well I wasn’t lying. The fact is it wasn’t taped. A video camera of me walking around with a bunch of pastors in a market is not the same thing as a videotape of a camera of a meeting with the president.

And what they did was at the meeting of the president at the end, they do – you do this with every president I’ve ever met with – you have a photo op. And they bring the press in and they take a picture.

And he saw that picture of me standing there, and he goes, “Oh, you must have a video, so you lied about it.”

No I didn’t lie about it. You didn’t do your due diligence.


Recorded on: December 11, 2007