In an ‘interview’ published by Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and one of America’s most prominent Christian leaders, has categorically denied an Orange County Register report that he had ‘embarked on an effort to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims by partnering with Southern California mosques and proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.’
Well, in the interest of fairness I decided to email Jim Hinch (Writter of the Orange County report). Remember, he is a veteran freelance reporter; not some “angry watchblogger.” I asked Jim if there’s any way I could get a copy of that King’s Way piece at the source of this confusion. I explained that without seeing it there wasn’t much more I can say.
The Lord be praised, Jim Hinch has given me permission to publish the following, which further explains his thinking in his report. It also includes a bit of the King’s Way document. I read it the same way as Jim Hinch:
You can decide for yourself the discrepancy between Warren's denial and what is contained in the document in question.
1. The primary source for this story was a five-page document jointly drafted by Abraham Meulenberg, a Saddleback pastor in charge of interfaith outreach, and Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, a mosque in Los Angeles. The document was unveiled at a December, 2011 dinner at Saddleback Church attended by approximately 300 Saddleback members and members of Southern California’s Muslim community. At the dinner a Powerpoint presentation described the document, and the King’s Way outreach effort which inspired the document, as “a path to end the 1,400 years of misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians.” The document, which was given to me by a source for this story on condition it not be published in its entirety, outlines several areas of theological agreement between Christians and Muslims and commits members of both faiths to three goals: becoming friends; making peace; and sharing “the blessings of God with others.” Here is how the document describes the points of theological agreement:
I. WHO: we believe in
The Register story based the phrases “same God” and “one God” on the phrasing in this document, which states that Christians and Muslims believe in one God.
2. Rick Warren initially posted a comment to the article claiming that the article contained “multiple errors.” That comment was later deleted, I presume by Warren. After seeing that comment I reached out to Warren’s director of communications. On Monday, Feb. 27 a Saddleback representative called and told me that while the Register story was factually accurate, folks at Saddleback would prefer that the opening paragraph read “Muslims and Christians believe that God is one.” Following a discussion with a Register editor Saddleback decided to withdraw its request for a clarification. At no time has anyone at Saddleback said to me or to anyone else at the Register that the story contains factual inaccuracies.
3. Warren states in his white paper that “no one even talked to me about that article!” I made numerous attempts to contact Warren, both by phone and by e-mail, before the story was published. I was eventually told by Warren’s director of communications that Warren was too busy with other projects to speak with me or to e-mail a response to the story’s main claims, which I had e-mailed to the communications director. Instead I was put in touch with Tom Holladay, an associate senior pastor at Saddleback. I ran all of the story’s claims by Holladay and he affirmed all of them, including the language of the King’s Way document and the fact that King’s Way was an effort to build bridges of friendship and cooperation, not an attempt to evangelize. During my conversation with Holladay I asked whether the King’s Way effort, including the December dinner and the theological document, was done with Rick Warren’s approval. “Of course it has his approval,” Holladay replied. It is neither fair nor accurate to claim that this story was published without attempting to solicit Rick Warren’s response.
4. Warren claims in his white paper that it is “flat-out wrong” that either he or members of Saddleback have promised not to evangelize the Muslims they are working with in the King’s Way effort. As I stated above, that was not what I was told by Tom Holladay. Also, every one of the Muslim sources I talked to for this story emphasized that both sides promised not to evangelize one another. Indeed Muslims told me that the promise not to evangelize was one of the things that enabled them to overcome their wariness toward evangelicals and build bonds of friendship. Again, no source for this story, including at Saddleback, ever told me that the intent of the King’s Way effort was to evangelize Muslims.
This story, obviously, has generated a great deal of passionate response. I respect Rick Warren’s desire to make his views and intentions clear. However I do not believe it is fair to question the accuracy of the Register’s story or the way it was reported. I have had several conversations with people at Saddleback following the publication of the story, including with the church’s director of communications. Everyone I have talked to from the church has told me that the story is entirely factually accurate but they wish certain phrases had been worded differently. However, since those phrases stem directly from a printed document whose authenticity no one has questioned, everyone agrees that there is nothing in the story to correct.