BELLFLOWER, Calif. An American and Arab pastor have joined forces in a bid to stop religious hatred in a troubled world.
Garry Ansdell, senior pastor of Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, Calif. and Ameal Haddad, co-founded Ambassadors for Peace after 9/11 to help stop the "unbridled religious hatred" that is causing destruction around the globe.
"We have drafted a 'Religious Rights Resolution' because we believe that Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindusin fact, everybodyhas the right to share their faith without fear of reprisal and that anybody, from any religion, should be able to openly share their faith and convert if they so choose," said Ansdell, whose church is affiliated with Calvary Chapel.
"That's radical thinking for many and this resolution says, 'Let's deal with the truth.' For instance, Muslims believe that we, as Christians, are infidels and we believe, according to the Bible, that 'Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father but by Him.'
"But this document, which is like the Bill of Rights, talks about freedom of religion so that people from all faiths can talk openly without fear of reprisal."
The pair collaborated on the project after meeting in Bellflower, where the Jordan-born Haddad was visiting. Haddad, had been pastoring a church in Canada, where Ansdell was born.
"As pastors, we both had the same heart," Ansdell said. "We felt that the answer for some of the problemsespecially 9/11wasn't an ecumenical answer, but that of real, direct confrontation, with open freedom and dialog. So our friendship developed from there. When 9/11 happened, we met together and talked about the real difficulties of finding a peaceful answer that wasn't mechanical but was spiritual; that really dealt with the root of the issue; and that was a freedom of speecha real freedom of religion."
Selling the concept of the document to other Christian leaders required quelling several significant barriers.
"The first obstacle is for pastors to understand that this not ecumenical; this is about defining the differences between us, defining them in a civil manner where you can communicate with other religions and they can communicate with you their burdens and their passions," Ansdell said.
"Then we can look at it from an individual place; not from some imam or other leader is telling them what to do or telling us what to do. We can sit down together to see what the Bible says and also what the Quran says, and then have an open dialog. Once they understand that, then it works well."
Haddad said it boils down to basic religious rights.
"What we are saying is that everybody should be able to believe what he or she believes," Haddad said. "The only thing we focus on is that people should have the right to dialog with each other; to discuss and debate. Everyone has the right, also, to proclaim his or her faith because sometimes we see it as a one sided issue. We often feel that one religion has the right to make converts, to preach, but the others don't. So, that's where we stand."
Ansdell said there has also been support from Muslims, including a Southern California mosque, whose leaders signed the declaration. The pair has also been invited to speak at numerous mosques.
"There are a lot of Muslims that just want to raise their families and they believe that jihad is a social reform not a militant reform," he said. "And even if they don't, if they sign it, it opens the door for dialog. Even if it's for a short time in history and before the Lord comes back, we'll take that time, if we can get it."
Hope in Syria
Their reach has extended to the Middle East, including Syria, where the pair visited Syria. While in country, they met with Dr. Ahmad Bader Eddin Hassoun, the country's grand mufti.
"He was most cordial and facilitating, Haddad said. "We were very grateful for his help, and it wasn't long before we landed in Damascus, the oldest city in the world that has never ceased to exist.
"He showed a rare, deep understanding and acceptance to the concept/resolution of Ambassadors for Peace. He made a number of amazing comments that are reassuring and encouraging focusing on the brotherhood and sanctity of mankind."
During their meeting, Ansdell and Haddad presented the mufti with a pocket watch to symbolize that "the time has come for religious freedom, which leads to peaceful coexistence between followers of different religions who live on common ground."
While there, the pastors also met with Albert Cameo, head of the Jewish community in Damascus and Aleppo.
"According to Mr. Albert, the Jewish community (in Syria) is very safe, and enjoys the absolute freedom; they operate their own schools, and practice their worship and religious rituals without any pressure or obstacles. Mr. Cameo expressed appreciation to the level of religious freedom they have, and was very supportive of all, as stated in the document of Ambassadors for Peace."For more information about the resolution, visit www.am4peace.com.
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