Rick Warren's Letter to Church comes as Reporter Releases Second Article

Two new explanations, more contradictions. In an effort to explain what lead up to the article published in the Orange County Register about the controversial King's Way agreement between Muslims and Christians, both Pastor Rick Warren and Orange County Register reporter Jim Hinch released two very different articles or statements that are sure to raise the level of confusion even higher. You want to believe that both can be true, that perhaps it's just two different perspectives on the same incident. But after reading these explanations, I am wondering how that is possible. We've included both statements here for you to consider.  First, yesterday Saddleback Church members received this response from the pastor:

 Dear Saddleback family,

A week ago a reporter published an article in the Orange County Register about Saddleback Church that contained many errors and false assumptions:

 • It erroneously stated that we have a partnership with a local Muslim mosque.

 That is false.

 • It erroneously reported that we had agreed to not evangelize with Muslims.

 That is false.

 • It erroneously reported that we believe Saddleback and Muslims worship the same God.

 That is false

 • It erroneously used a picture of our new PEACE Center as the example of a program of cooperation with Muslims.

That is false.

• It erroneously reported that our church had agreed to a theological document with Muslims.

That is false.

Usually, we try to ignore the false statements made by media, and especially irresponsible bloggers, because 1) Reacting to every false report would take up most of our time,  2) It is almost impossible to undo an error’s damage once it is on the Internet, 3) God knows the truth and he is the only one we must please, 4) It is Christlike to  remain silent in the face of  false accusations, 5) God blesses us even more every time we trust him with our defense,  and 6) We have far more important tasks to accomplish with our time.

When opponents publicly attacked and openly criticized Nehemiah for the work God had assigned him, Nehemiah responded wisely, saying “ I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and the work is too important for me to stop and respond to you. Why should the work stop while I leave it and meet with you?’" (Neh. 6:30)  When people have already decided to not like you, nothing you say will change their minds . . . not the truth, facts, proof, or logic. They only get more defensive and angry.  It’s a waste of your breath. We’ve seen this during the past week.

But because YOU value the truth, I agreed to do an interview to correct the errors of the article, and send it to you. Of course, anything I write to you also goes public. Once my interview was released, the “I-hate-Saddleback” bloggers refused to accept the facts, and they began looking for something else to attack or to claim that I had lied. Since I wasn’t asked in the interview about the fifth error (Has Saddleback signed a theological agreement?) the bloggers began looking for a loophole, or even a “cover-up.”

Of course Saddleback has NEVER agreed to any theological document with Muslims or else the elders and I would have seen it first! No agreement or document could possibly be approved without our consent!  But the first time our elders and I even heard of a document was from the article! So this week I tracked down the rumor and here’s what I found:

A member of Saddleback started a Bible study, called The King’s Way, with some of our Muslim friends. During the study they started writing down things that they noticed Muslims, Jews, and Christians might have in common: They noticed that all three claim to believe the Great Commandment (“Love God with all you heart and love your Neighbor as yourself”), all three accept the Old Testament as Scripture (and Muslims claim to accept the New Testament also) and all three are monotheistic (one God, not many). They presented these thoughts at the Bible study’s Christmas dinner in December. That’s it!  End of story!  It went no further. No document was signed. No agreement was made. No covenant was approved.  It was just two men sharing their observations at the Bible study dinner regarding what Muslims, Jews, and Christians have in common.

That’s a huge difference from the way it was reported. It was not a new partnership. It was not a theological covenant. It was not a new religion called “Chrislam.” The fact is, the Bible study discussion paper was never even seen by anyone on Saddleback’s Leadership Team (40 pastors,) Saddleback’s Pastor’s Management Team (14 pastors), Saddleback’s Trustees (6 business leaders), or Saddleback’s Elders (7 pastors).

Predictably, to defend himself after my interview corrected his errors, the Orange County Register reporter released a segment of the so-called “document” to the I-hate-Saddleback bloggers – giving them a supposed smoking gun. Unfortunately, he forgot to ask if any Saddleback pastors had actually signed or even seen this paper. We had not! But now we’ve heard that there will be a second article this Sunday in the Register giving a platform and legitimacy to attackers who didn’t know the facts either. So don’t be surprised if it’s wrong again.

If you missed reading my interview, click here to read it.

If you’d like to read what our Muslim friend said, click here to read it.

Let me be clear: This entire misunderstanding is neither the fault of Saddleback members nor our Muslim friends who accepted the invitation to study the Bible together. It’s the result of poor reporting and the willingness of irresponsible bloggers who hate us to automatically believe anything negative about our church. They shoot first, publish a report, then ask for clarification after they’ve done the damage, and finally, they never retract anything when proven wrong. When a national news agency contacted us this week, their conclusion was “There’s no real story here.” Duh!

This incident also highlights the gullibility of people who believe everything negative on the Internet without fact-checking and the willingness of Christians to pass on bad reports about others that they can’t confirm. When people WANT to believe the worst about you, they always pass on negative reports without validating them first. It’s a motivation issue.

“Only a fool believes everything he's told! A prudent man understands the need for proof.” (Proverbs 14:15)

That’s the rest of the story.  We will continue to ignore the irresponsible bloggers who just want to fight, but we will keep you informed when blatant lies are told about our church family. I love you all!

“ALL ACCESS”, OUR NEW SERIES, STARTS THIS WEEKEND!  I can’t wait for this powerful, fascinating, and life-changing study of what the Tabernacle teaches us about how we connect with God and his amazing grace to us!

PRAY FOR OUR SADDLEBACK SAN CLEMENTE MEMBERS. This weekend, they are having a special Decade of Destiny offering and making their two-year giving commitments in order to move in to our first permanent building there.


Rick Warren

Saddleback Church, Global PEACE Plan

Next this morning's article by Jim Hinch, on why he reported what he did:

Effort to reach out to Muslims stirs outcry


An outreach effort to Muslims initiated by Saddleback Church in Lake Forest has sparked a national uproar among evangelical Christians, with some accusing the Rev. Rick Warren, Saddleback's pastor, of betraying core Christian principles and Warren responding that his beliefs and intentions have been misrepresented.

Since an Orange County Register article published Feb. 26 detailed the outreach effort, evangelicals across the country have taken to blogs, social media and Christian news outlets to debate whether and how Christians should forge relationships with people of other faiths.

Longtime critics of Warren have published lengthy online accusations that the influential pastor, who delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration, has gone too far in seeking theological common ground with Muslims.

On Saturday, seeking to respond to this article, Saddleback sent its members a written statement from Warren that said negative reaction to Saddleback's work with Muslims is "the result of poor reporting and the willingness of irresponsible bloggers who hate us to automatically believe anything negative about our church."

Warren said in the statement: "When people have already decided to not like you, nothing you say will change their minds ... not the truth, facts, proof or logic. They only get more defensive and angry. ... We've seen this during the past week."

Chris Rosebrough, a religious studies graduate of Concordia University in Irvine who hosts an online Christian radio talk show in Indianapolis, said that response to Saddleback's outreach "has created a national, even an international uproar. ... Looking at the Christian blogosphere, this is the number one viral story."

Warren, through a spokesman, declined repeated requests by phone and e-mail to be interviewed both for this article and for the Register's Feb. 26 story.

Following publication of that article, Warren posted a comment on the Register's website saying the story contained "multiple errors." Warren's comment did not specify the errors.

In a series of phone conversations Feb. 27, David Chrzan, Warren's chief of staff, told this reporter and a Register editor that the story was factually correct except in its statement that Warren believes Christians and Muslims worship the same God. It would be more accurate to state that Christians and Muslims both believe in one God, Chrzan said.

Chrzan asked that the Register publish a correction to the story but later withdrew the request.

Four days later, Warren issued a written statement seeking to clarify both his views and the scope of the outreach effort.

"Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I've never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn't any kind of partnership or merger!" Warren wrote in the statement, which was posted on christianpost.com, a Christian news site.

Warren said he does not believe Muslims and Christians worship the same God. "We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don't," he wrote. "Our God is Jesus, not Allah."

Warren wrote that the outreach effort is not a partnership with Muslims but rather an informal expression of Saddleback's overall intention "to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths."

The goal of such relationships is to make the gospel known to all people, Warren wrote. "I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who's heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus."

On Friday, the Register emailed Chrzan a summary of this story's contents and invited him to respond or correct any factual inaccuracies. In a phone conversation with Chrzan on Friday, Register Editor Ken Brusic offered to print a response from Saddleback alongside this story. Chrzan did not reply to the reporter's email and declined Brusic's offer.

On Saturday, Saddleback emailed to church members a statement from Warren entitled "On Responding to False Accusations." The statement summarized what it called "many errors and false assumptions" in the Register's Feb. 26 story.

The statement said Saddleback has not entered into a partnership with any local mosque, has not agreed not to evangelize Muslims and has not entered into any theological agreement with Muslims.

In a Feb. 10 interview with the Register, Tom Holladay, associate senior pastor at Saddleback, described the outreach to Muslims as a multipronged effort that includes sharing meals at mosques during religious holidays and working together with Muslims on joint community service projects.

Holladay said the purpose of the effort was not to convert Muslims but rather "to work together to serve the community." Asked if the effort was done with Warren's knowledge and approval, Holladay replied, "Of course it has his approval."

The most controversial part of the outreach effort appears to be a document outlining areas of shared belief between Christianity and Islam co-authored by Abraham Meulenberg, a Saddleback pastor in charge of interfaith outreach, and Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at a mosque in Los Angeles.

The document, titled "King's Way" was unveiled at a December dinner at Saddleback attended by 300 Christians and Muslims, including Holladay.

A copy of the document was given to the Register on condition that it not be published in its entirety. The document states that Christians and Muslims "believe in one God" and that members of both faiths agree "there is only one God, the one and only divine being."

The document cites side-by-side quotations from the Bible and the Quran to illustrate its statements.

Critics, including Rosebrough and many of the more than 400 people who commented on the online edition of the Register article, say that any suggestion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God amounts to abandonment of orthodox Christianity.

Christians believe that God exists as a Trinity composed of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Muslims believe that Jesus was the Messiah and a prophet, but they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

Warren said in his statement Saturday that the King's Way document has been misrepresented and does not constitute an agreement or covenant between Saddleback and Muslims.

The document, Warren wrote, was the result of a Bible study during which Saddleback members and Muslims wrote down "things that they noticed Muslims, Jews and Christians might have in common." Those observations were presented at the Bible study's Christmas dinner in December, Warren said.

Warren said that neither he nor any of Saddleback's 61 pastors in leadership positions at the church had heard of the document before the Register's Feb. 26 story. Following the December dinner, the website for Turk's mosque published a blog post heralding the dinner as "a historic event" that "demonstrates the new theological position of Saddleback."

The post linked to a page at the online photo-sharing website Flickr that featured photos of the dinner, including one of Turk and Meulenberg addressing an audience beneath a projection on a screen that described King's Way as "a path to end the 1,400 years of misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians."

Following publication of the Register article, both the blog post and the Flickr page were taken down.

In a recent interview, Turk said he has received no negative response from the Muslim community to statements in the document.

In an earlier interview, Turk had emphasized that Muslims agreed to participate in the outreach effort because members of both faiths agreed "our purpose is not to convert one another but rather to work on ways to make the world a better place by breaking down walls of misunderstanding."

Shirin Taber, a Saddleback member who attended some initial meetings of the outreach effort, said intense reaction to the Register article might stem from lack of clarity at Saddleback about the outreach effort's purpose.

Taber, the daughter of a Christian mother and a Muslim father, said she ended up not joining the outreach effort because she "wasn't comfortable" with what she felt could be perceived by Muslims as a "two-faced approach" – forging relationships under the guise of friendship but later seeking to convert Muslims to Christianity.

"I would hate to see Muslims surprised by what it really is," she said.

David Mitchell, senior pastor at Calvary Church in Santa Ana, said he also was confused about the outreach effort's intentions after reading about it in online publications.

Told about the King's Way Agreement's claim that Christians and Muslims "believe in one God," Mitchell replied: "I would not sign my name to that or support that. It implies that Muslims and Christians have the same beliefs. ... To say Muslims and Christians believe in one God could lead to an incomplete or false view of the God of the Scriptures."

Warren in his March 2 written statement said Christians are obliged to reach out to all people regardless of their beliefs.

"I'm constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths. We don't wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. ... Before people trust Jesus they must trust you."