CedarCreek Church’s Pastor Lee Powell addresses ‘vicious rumor’ of who worships which God

Lee Powell of Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg.
Lee Powell of Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg.

More than a week ago Senior Pastor Lee Powell of CedarCreek Church sent an email to the church’s “LEEmail” list with the subject line “Vicious Rumor Please Read.”

“It has been brought to my attention that some Creekers have unknowingly got caught up in a misinformation and smear campaign,” Pastor Powell wrote. The rumor was about best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, “accusing him of suggesting God and Allah are one in the same and that Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” Pastor Powell wrote.

Responding to the rumor, Pastor Powell stated, “Now do we love our Muslim neighbors? Of course. But are Allah and God one in the same? Absolutely not. And Rick Warren never said such a thing!” What Pastor Warren did say, Pastor Powell said later, was, “‘Have I agreed to do some ministry to the poor with Muslims? Yes, but do I believe that we worship the same God? No.”

Pastor Powell said it is because he and Pastor Warren believe that “Jesus is God. So if I believe Jesus is God, which I do, then Christians and Muslims and Jews do not worship the same God.”

Pastor Powell felt the need to respond to the rumor, he said, because “we’re doing a series called What on Earth Am I Here For, post-Easter [for] six weeks, it’s [Rick Warren’s] book, where [the publishers] send out the material for churches to do it, and if I’ve got a hundred people that are mad, well, they’ll spread, that will be cancer.”

Thoughts of the divine are more than dry theology because of a person’s relationship to God. It is not just the question of whether Yahweh, God, and Allah are different names for the same deity. Religious believers act in the world according to their feelings of God’s direction, which ranges from serving the needy to killing enemies based on religion.

There are major differences in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths, but Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace their lineage to Abraham in the biblical book of Genesis and share the same concept of a supreme being.

If one person’s God is loving and another person’s God is wrathful, can that be the same God? That’s the type of question that the Center for Religious Understanding at the University of Toledo addresses. Jeanine Diller, the center’s director, wrote in an email to The Blade that “Jews, Christians and Muslims all intend to talk about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and they all mean essentially the same thing by the word ‘God’ or ‘Allah’ – the perfect, sole Creator of the universe.”

But disagreements occur when they discuss more detailed issues such as whether Jesus is God or God spoke through Muhammad, she said.

“Perhaps this is why we see some tensions between Jews, Christians and Muslims: they are a family of religions that are historically and theologically linked, right down to worshiping the same God. And families fight. But families also love better than any other kind of group on earth,” Ms. Diller said.

A “family discussion” between a Christian and a Muslim will take place Sunday at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam, 722 E. Bancroft St., at 4 p.m. The mosque’s Imam Shamsuddin Waheed and the Rev. Ed Heilman, senior pastor of Park United Church of Christ, will address “Learning from Jesus: Benefiting from the Messiah,” on Islam’s and Christianity’s similarities and differences on Jesus.

Both clergy members were asked if Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

“I respect the right of my divergent and diverse Christian brothers,” Pastor Heilman said. “Not to mention Muslims, who also will say that God and Allah are not the same. There are some Muslims who say that the name Allah is a unique and special name, and is not just the generic name for God, and there are others who will say it is simply the Arabic name for God.”

“There is a quote where God tells the prophet [Muhammad] and therefore the Muslims... to say to the people of scripture— this is a title referencing the Jews and Christians — ‘Your God and our God is the same God, there’s only one God,” Imam Waheed said

Jewish scripture says the same thing. Rabbi Jonathan Bienenfeld of Congregation Etz Chayim, an Orthodox synagogue, said, “The Jewish view can basically be summed up with the verse that is most commonly known among all Jews. That is, ‘Hear, o Israel, God our lord God is one.’”

“When we say that God is one, we also mean that God is unified. God cannot be broken down into component parts, into a litany of different attributes or different ideas or different bodies, different philosophies, different spheres, different notions,” he said.

Those “component parts” lead to some holy disagreement. “There is a nuance to this,” Pastor Powell said. “Is the God of the Old Testament the same God, the father of Jesus? Yes. So do Jews in that sense worship the same God? Yes. But where Jews and Christians part company, they don’t believe in the messiah, who I believe is not only the messiah but God in the flesh.”

All three of the faiths acknowledge Jesus’ existence — but here they are not unified. For Jews, Jesus is a person, but for Christians he is God and for Muslims he is a prophet.

“We certainly have the sense that, historically speaking, [Jesus] was somebody who lived during the time of the Second Temple period and had some issues, perhaps, with the way that things were being run,” Rabbi Bienenfeld said.

“Jesus is a very honored figure within the Islamic religion,” Imam Waheed said. “He is mentioned by name, if I’m not mistaken, 25 times in the Qur’an, whereas Muhammad, prophet Muhammad, is only mentioned five times. He’s a very honored figure in our belief system, in our theology.”

Another element of the issue is how a person expresses her or his religion. Pastor Heilman said, “Why should we be surprised that conservative evangelicals are having integrity and being honest with themselves, saying ‘We believe that we’re the only people that have it right, and we would be lying to say differently?’ So I respect their honesty, but it doesn’t always work with the American political scene, where we’re trying to be one nation.”

The “one nation” means that in community, some things might be more important than theological positions. Rabbi Bienenfeld said, “I try not to get into ‘Do you have the same God, do you have a different God?’ I mean, at the end of the day we’re neighbors and we’re people, and we share so many of the same values. I don’t know what practical difference it really makes.”

“We’re all born as babies, and faith is a developmental issue,” Pastor Heilman said. “So people stop at different places along the way. Not everyone wants to spend the time and effort to either pursue the intellectual matters or the mysticism. [For some it’s] just live your life, food on my table, my family’s safe and happy--this is my faith, or not my faith, but it’s my family’s or my nation’s faith and that’s fine.

“We are in a situation,” Pastor Heilman said, “where it does not look good for us to be bickering with one another when there is important stuff to be done.”

Contact TK Barger at: tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.