CAIRO - Overcoming decades of misunderstanding, Muslims and evangelical Christians in the Orange County in California are establishing new partnerships that focuses on the principles both faiths share.
"This is us serving our own community with Muslims here in Orange County," Tom Holladay, associate senior pastor at Saddleback church, told The Orange County Register."We realize we don't agree about everything and we're very open about that. ... You just recognize the differences and recognize the points where you can work together."
Spearheaded by Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of America's most influential Christian leaders, the effort was introduced to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims.
Partnering with Southern California mosques, Rev. Warren proposed a set of theological principles that include acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Dubbed the King's Way, the effort caps years of outreach between Warren and Muslims in which he broke Ramadan fasts at a Mission Viejo mosque, met Muslim leaders abroad and addressed 8,000 Muslims at ISNA convention in Washington D.C.First announced last December, 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 co-authored document outlined points of agreement between Islam and Christianity and affirmed 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, citing verses from the Bible and the Noble Qur'an.
Coming to a common word of understanding, representatives from both religions agreed that conversion trials increased antagonism between them.
"I think that many evangelicals feel a mandate to convert people to Christianity," Gwynne Guibord, an ordained Episcopal priest and co-founder of a Los Angeles outreach group that fosters relationships between churches and mosques nationwide, told the Register.
The Consultative Group was founded to respond to increasing antagonism between the two faiths, "we would not have made headway" if one side was trying to convert the other, she said.
Therefore, it became possible to include evangelicals in her group's work.
"I'm not aware of any other evangelical church reaching out to the Muslim community," Guibord said.
Turk, co-founder of the Christian-Muslim Consultative Group in 2006, agreed.
"We agreed we wouldn't try to evangelize each other," said Turk.
"We'd witness to each other but it would be out of 'Love Thy Neighbor,' not focused on conversion."
Turk said the relationship between Saddleback and Muslims, though still in its infancy, has already produced results.
"People (at the December dinner) were talking about the bonds they've formed and they were crying," he said.
The gathering helped in removing misconceptions both faiths shared about each other.
"We did a quiz at the Christmas dinner asking basic questions about Islam or Christianity with the scriptures, the Qur'an or the Bible. And both sides were missing it, Turk said.
It's an education for everyone."