The Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of America’s most influential Christian leaders, has 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.
The effort, informally dubbed King’s Way, caps years of outreach between Warren and Muslims. Warren has broken Ramadan fasts at a Mission Viejo mosque, met Muslim leaders abroad and addressed 8,000 Muslims at a national convention in Washington D.C.
Saddleback worshippers have invited Muslims to Christmas dinner and played interfaith soccer at a picnic in Irvine attended by more than 300 people. (The game pitted pastors and imams against teens from both faiths. The teens won.)
The effort by a prominent Christian leader to bridge what polls show is a deep rift between Muslims and evangelical Christians culminated in December at a dinner at Saddleback attended by 300 Muslims and members of Saddleback’s congregation.
At the dinner, Abraham Meulenberg, a Saddleback pastor in charge of interfaith outreach, and Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at a mosque in Los Angeles, introduced King’s Way as “a path to end the 1,400 years of misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians.”
The men presented a document they co-authored outlining points of agreement between Islam and Christianity. The document affirms that Christians and Muslims believe in “one God” and share two central commandments: “love of God” and “love of neighbor.” The document also commits both faiths to three goals: Making friends with one another, building peace and working on shared social service projects. The document quotes side-by-side verses from the Bible and the Koran to illustrate its claims….The “rumor [about pluralism and Chrislam] is 100 percent false,” Warren wrote at Pastors.com, a website he founded that provides practical advice to church leaders. “My life and ministry are built on the truth that Jesus is the only way, and our inerrant Bible is our only true authority.”…
When Barakat discovered who Warren was, he invited his neighbor to learn more about Islam. “I was talking to him over the fence,” Barakat said. “I said, ‘Rick, why don’t you go to Syria with me? He said, ‘Sure, let’s talk about it. Let’s do it.’ ”
Warren traveled with Barakat to Syria in 2006, and Warren and his wife, Kay, began attending Iftar meals at the Mission Viejo mosque. Iftar is the evening meal Muslims eat after fasting all day during the holy month of Ramadan. Invitations followed to address Muslim conferences in Long Beach, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
“We understand that to some people in the religious community these events may be difficult to swallow,” said Yassir Fazaga, imam at the Mission Viejo mosque. “But I believe that we have to begin somewhere and just begin to reach out and be accessible to people when they ask about who we are.”