The Reverend John Hubers is a member of a delegation of ten leaders of the Reformed Church of America who've been travelling through Egypt, Lebanon, "Israel/Palestine" and Syria for the ostensible purpose of furthering dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The Syrian regime didn't hesitate to use the delegation's visit with President Assad to further its own propaganda interests.
Members of the delegation expressed strong condemnation of the Israeli aggression on the Syrian lands, and their gratitude of the atmosphere of religious tolerance in Syria.
Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA, in the interest of clarifying the accuracy of this report, initiated a dialogue with Rev. Hubers. The result is a rather astonishing demonstration of naivetÃ©, mendacity or a bizarre combination of both.
In his first response, Rev. Hubers replied that the report was inaccurate.
This report is not accurate. We did meet with the president but studiously avoided all politcal matters. We spoke only of Christian Muslim relations nothing more.
But the next day, he felt a need to "clarify" that statement.
I should clarify on one point as I responded to this at midnight and needed to be brief.
Our whole conversation with the president was framed in the context of the need for continued dialogue between Muslims and Christians not only in Syria, but in the west, as well as the best means of preventing the kind of conflict which has divided our communities for far too long. This was expanded to speak of other conflicts in the area which bedevil relations between countries in the region. In this context the issue of the Israeli raid on Syria was raised. Our general secretary speaking less in behalf of our denomination than as an expression of his own personal convictions, noted with President Assad that this kind of military action is not helpful to the process of peace making that we all seek; that, in fact, it only adds to the cycle of violence which makes conciliation so difficult to achieve.
My brief response to you noted that our conversation with the president centered on Christian/Muslim relations. This remains true as this was the purpose of our visit. It was in this context that the issue of the Iraeli raid came up. I write this to you so that we can be clear about this as this kind of email communication can often cloud rather than clarify the issues.
Yes, indeed. Well, that's some "clarification." Complete with gratuitous "cycle of violence" reference. We begin to see where this is heading. So today, Rev. Hubers felt compelled to further "clarify" the real content of the meeting in question. Perhaps because he had already published it on his website.
Just to give you a better idea of what actually transpired in our visit I share with you a diary entry I sent to interested parties back in the States. This was written before your question arose so you will get the sense of what our visit was about:
[ . . .]
Having followed Syrian politics in recent years I knew something about the president, noting that he had recently succeeded his father who died several years ago. What I wasn't prepared for was his evident humility, good humor, and perceptive grasp of not only world politics (which would be expected) but church history, as well. He began by giving us a brief history of Christianity in Syria, noting that Jesus taught in the area of Syria now occupied by Israel (the Golan Heights). What he wanted us to know is that Christianity had been and continues to be a vital part of Syria's story both before and after the rise of Islam. "Pluralism has always been an important part of who we are," he said.
[ . . . ] He was clearly grieved that our current administration seemed to be less interested in dialogue than dictating to other countries its terms with no room for compromise--"you're either with us or against us!" "This is something new," he said. "Previous administrations were much more statesman--like in their dealings with other nations."
[ . . . ]
We were with president Assad for nearly an hour and a half and could have been there longer as he obviously enjoyed our visit, finding it particularly timely given moves by our Congress to impose punishing sanctions on his country. People in this part of the world look to religious leaders as important players in political matters. We left hoping that the trust he is putting in the Christian community in the West to help facilitate the dialogue that is needed to help resolve conflict would materialize. We assured him that we would do what we could.
So it's not quite so evident to me now that the discussion of political matters was "studiously avoided." But just to hammer the point home, Rev. Hubers felt the need to close with this admonition to Dr. Lerner:
One final note: I visit your website from time to time and understand your purpose to be making sure the Middle Eastern media reflects and accurate and balanced perspective. I am hoping that this desire for accuracy also extends to letting those who visit your website to understand that Arab leaders such as president Assad are interested even eager to enter into a positive dialogue with Christians. If accuracy is your aim you need to be sure to include this in your website, as well.
Well, President Assad is certainly interested in just about anything that might pull his ass out of the fire and spare him the fate of his former neighbor and fellow tyrant, Mr. Hussein. Anything, that is, except terminating his support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But in the interest of accuracy and balance, and just in case there's any doubt whatsoever about where Rev. Hubers is coming from and whose agenda he's pushing here, take a gander at his account of the "Israeli" part of his tour. It's enlightening.
[ . . . ]
How has Bethlehem been reduced to this? Some would blame the intifada that sparked the situation. But this is just a symptom of the larger curse of the occupation. We would learn later in a talk by the deputy mayor of Bethlehem (who is a relative of the Palestinian Christian principal of our mission school in Bahrain under whom my wife and I taught in the late '70s) that the expanding settlement activity of the Israeli government had been slowly encircling Bethlehem even before the intifada gave the Israelis an excuse to tighten the clamps.
[ . . . ]
The deputy mayor of Bethlehem told the story with maps showing the course of the snaking wall the Israelis are building in the West Bank, which when it is finished will effectively cut Bethlehem off from Jerusalem for good. Other Palestinian villages will be completely enclosed, as one already is. "Cantonization" is one term they use. More apropos is the comparison many are making to the bantustans (homeland reserves) created by apartheid in South Africa.
One can only guess at the Israelis' intentions. They claim it is for security. When you look at the map, another, more sinister, pattern emerges: an attempt to make life so difficult for Palestinians that they will leave, as many Christians have already done. To create the wall means "shaving" the area around it, which is a tame expression for a process that involves razing people's homes and destroying their olive groves and farms and livelihoods--a form of intimidation and humiliation that allows the Israelis to annex as much land as they can, creating "facts on the ground" so when it comes time to negotiate a peace settlement the Palestinians will have nothing left to negotiate. Check out this website www.arij.org, to see exactly what this involves. (Maps are provided by a former professor now heading up a fact-finding group known as the Applied Research Institute. He laid this out for us in a PowerPoint presentation.)
Ah, "bantustans." "Apartheid." And the Applied Research Institute. Rev. Hubers has learned his script well. (Here, by the way, is a rather different explanation of the Christian exodus from the Middle East. And here is yet another.)
So, in the interest of true interfaith dialogue right here at home, here's my question: is this really the officially sanctioned position of the Reformed Church of America?