Friday, December 29, 2006

A Back-Channel for P.E.A.C.E.

“I'm always happy to be a back channel for peace.”
Rick Warren, CNN, 12/15/06 [emphasis added]

“I will go anywhere in the world if I'm allowed to preach the gospel without hindrance. I'd go to Iran; I'd go to Syria; I'd go to North Korea. A lot of the criticisms have come from people who politicize the Christian faith. To them, politics is more important than winning people to Christ. In fact, I think one of the greatest damages to the church in the last 20 years has been the politicization of the church. I'm also tired of the church being known simply as a political tool and being co-opted by politicians.”
Rick Warren interview in Christianity Today, 12/27/06 [emphasis added]

This is curious. This terminology “back channel” isn’t something that people use in their everyday conversation. What does it mean when Rick Warren says he is a “back channel for peace”?

To answer this question start out at Wikipedia and look up the term back-channel. This term has specialized meanings in telecommunications, linguistics, diplomacy and business. The latter two meanings seem to be most relevant to Rick Warren’s usage of the term:

“In Diplomacy: A back channel in the language of diplomacy is an unofficial channel of communication between states or other political entities, used to supplement official channels, often for the purposes of discussing highly sensitive policy issues. See also Track II diplomacy.”

“In Business: In business, back-channeling is an inappropriate organizational practice that involves bypassing recognized or official communication processes, usually by sharing information anonymously up the reporting structure at least two levels, in order to create vulnerability at the level(s) skipped. It is a means by which lower-level members can manipulate perceived power differentials with a superior through a more senior accommodating manager in the organization. It is generally considered unethical and unhealthy for relationships within the organization.”

Why would Warren be seemingly working in secret when Jesus calls Christians to openly declare His Gospel?

Another definition comes from

Back channel - an alternative to the regular channels of communication that is used when agreements must be made secretly (especially in diplomacy or government); ‘they negotiated via a back channel.’”

This term “back channel” – most often associated with international diplomatic missions – raises some perplexing questions about precisely what Rick Warren was recently doing in Syria, what he was supposed to do in North Korea, and, of course, what he is currently doing in Africa with his Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan. Whatever does this "back-channeling" have to do with the spread of the Gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ? It is notable that Rick Warren characteristically refrains from presenting the Gospel message of salvation in his public appearances, other than perhaps a brief passing nod to it.

Perhaps relevant to this inquiry, note the transformation of the letter “P” in the acronym for P.E.A.C.E. Originally the term meant “Plant churches” – a solidly evangelistic idea that traditionally has to do with the spread of the Gospel message. But that letter soon began to have the additional meaning of “Partner with congregations.” Then it was expanded to the idea of partnering with other entities. Finally, a new meaning of the "P" in P.E.A.C.E. came out on the Fox channel’s Saddleback Christmas Eve service: “Provide hope.” This change may also reflect Rick Warren's emerging new role as an international ambassador for "peace."

Track II Diplomacy for P.E.A.C.E.?

To answer the questions about back-channeling requires following the links. Back channeling is connected to the idea of Track II diplomacy. According to Wikipedia:

“Track II diplomacy is a specific kind of informal diplomacy, in which non-officials (academic scholars, retired civil and military officials, public figures, and social activists) engage in dialogue, with the aim of conflict resolution, or confidence-building.[1] This sort of diplomacy is especially useful after events which can be interpreted in a number of different ways, both parties recognize this fact, and neither side wants to escalate or involve third parties for fear of the situation spiraling out of control. For example, a Chinese general recently commented that atomic bombs are not out of the question if the PRC and the United States should engage in low-level conflict over the Taiwan question. If the US immediately responded with heavy press coverage and speeches by major officials, the PRC would then be forced to take either of two stances: (1) admission that the general was incorrect, which would inflame the Chinese population and cause grassroots ire and anti-American feeling, or (2) claim that the general was correct, which would be deterimental to world peace and diplomatic relations. Instead, the US would engage in Track II diplomacy to try to understand whether the initial threat was as serious as it seemed to be. Dialogue would be deliberately invited in order to determine the stance of the PRC without creating a confrontational atmosphere.

“Although Track II diplomacy may seem less important than Track I (the work of actual diplomats at their embassies), it is many times far more important. Indeed its informal nature often reflects the fact that the issues in question are of deadly seriousness. In the above situation, the United States would at least ask that the other side clearly demonstrate their understanding that they were the ones to make the initial threat, even if no apology was eventually deemed necessary by either side.”

This definition raises many questions about the emerging new role of Rick Warren as a “back channel for peace” in world affairs. To do further research on Track II diplomacy follow the links. Follow the link at the bottom of the Track II diplomacy Wikipedia definition to: "Track II (Citizen) Diplomacy" posted at The Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base Project. There one can learn the answers to the question: “Who are Track Two Intermediaries and Diplomats?" This article should be read in its entirety, including its many interesting links. Below are a few key excerpts:

“The term ‘intermediary’ refers to people who become involved ‘in the middle’ of a conflict. They are not disputants, but rather people who try to work with the disputants to resolve the conflict or transform it to make it less destructive.…

“At the inter-group or international level, the term encompasses a number of different terms: ‘track two diplomacy,’ citizen diplomacy, ‘multi-track diplomacy’" supplemental diplomacy, pre-negotiation, consultation, interactive conflict resolution, back-channel diplomacy, facilitated joint brainstorming, coexistence work. While differing in emphasis, agenda, and theoretical approach, these initiatives share many common goals. They attempt to provide an environment that is low-key, non-judgmental, non-coercive, and safe, and to create a process in which participants feel free to share perceptions, fears and needs, and to explore ideas for resolution, free of the constraints of government positions. The process is designed to encourage the development of mutual understanding of differing perceptions and needs, the creation of new ideas, and strong problem-solving relationships.

“Normally, informal intermediaries are non-governmental actors, such as religious institutions, academics, former government officials, non-governmental organizations, humanitarian organizations, and think tanks, among others.…” [emphasis added]

This article further goes on to describe the functions of these “Informal Intermediaries” in the role of global peace. Note the graphic diagram in this article. It is fairly easy to place Rick Warren’s recent trip to Syria in this Track II diplomacy context. Particularly note the references to the international “peace” process. The focus here is on building relationships between two warring parties. This goal may seem commendable on the surface, but dig deeper into the articles on this website and one begins to learn some disturbing information about how this “peace” process is conducted. These descriptions place Track II diplomacy solidly in the arena of conflict resolution, common ground and the dialectic process.

Note the emphasis below on the assessment process to ensure that attitudes and relationships have been changed.

Contributions of Unofficial Interventions
Assessing the impact of unofficial intermediation in intractable conflicts is difficult. These initiatives are generally not designed to achieve the goals of traditional diplomacy; they are not designed to produce agreements, nor to affect major shifts in policy in the short term. Rather, they seek to affect more intangible factors of intractability, such as attitudes and relationships that are more difficult to measure, and whose contribution to change in the broader conflict environment is difficult to assess. Even when the impact of the interventions on participants' attitudes and relationships can be measured, the significance of these ‘micro’ level achievements for the larger conflict resolution process is often not clear.”…

Changed Perceptions of the Conflict

“Unofficial intermediation also addresses the psychological and social dimensions of the conflict. Participants identify underlying needs, values, and interests that are compatible and that can form the basis for a new definition of a common problem that the two sides share an interest in solving. As a result of deeper understanding of the other side's needs, they also develop a greater openness to abandoning previous non-negotiable positions.” [emphasis under subheadings added]

This “peace” process entails strengthening the voices of moderates” and, at the same time, building “social networks” as an “infrastructure for peace.” In this context, it becomes necessary to ameliorate the extremes. And, according to some definitions, fundamentalist Christians could be considered to be extremists. There is a link to an article “Dealing With Extremists” which raises some deeply disturbing issues. It should also be read in its entirety. Again, notice the emphasis on beliefs and attitudes:

Defining Extremism

“Extremism is a complex phenomenon, although its complexity is often hard to see. Most simply, it can be defined as activities (beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, strategies) of a person or group far removed from the ordinary.” [emphasis added]

Particularly note that those who hold end-time eschatological views are considered to be “extremists.” Note also that “extremists” are considered to be mentally ill:

“Extremism emerges from apocalyptic, eschatological (end-of-life) ideologies. Extremist activities are often committed and valued because they are consistent with broader myths or systems of meaning.…

“Extremism is a pathological illness. This perspective views extremism as a disease and a way of life where people look to violence to provide a feeling of aliveness. Greun (2003) writes, ‘The lack of identity associated with extremists is the result of self-destructive self-hatred that leads to feelings of revenge toward life itself, and a compulsion to kill one's own humanness.’[2] Thus extremism is seen as not a tactic, nor an ideology, but as a pathological illness, which feeds on the destruction of life.” [emphasis under subheadings added]

Notice also that those holding “extreme” beliefs are characterized as potentially violent. There is no provision for Christians who hold to fundamental beliefs, who non-violently (i.e., with non-resistance) peaceably live out their faith in conscience and conviction (“non-negotiables”).

Of relevance to this discussion is the section of this article that describes how to deal with extremists. These are strategies that many will recognize in the microcosm of problems they experienced while in purpose-driven churches. These strategies include: elimination, divide and conquer, isolation, intergroup cooperation against extremism, expanding the middle, covert negotiation chains, contradictory strategies, intragroup work, overt engagement, and Peace building.

That last link to Peace-building is also an interesting article. Perhaps readers will draw some further parallels. In these contexts, Rick Warren’s Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan begins to plug it into the notches of “back-channeling” and “Track II diplomacy” to the point where there are some exact fits. Perhaps all of this clarifies the new role of the churches as a “distribution network” across the globe. It may also provide a few answers to the many questions raised about what he was doing in Syria. This is not what evangelical Christianity has been about -- that is up until now. Despite Rick Warren's protestations in the second opening quotation about how the church shouldn't be a "political tool," this activity is "politicization" on a global scale.

This isn't about evangelism.

The Truth:

"Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:26-28)