'I always remind westerners that Jesus could have looked more like an Emirati than an American Evangelical,' says Rev Andy Thompson
Religious leaders of the UAE in United States to spread message of peace
A UAE delegation has travelled to Washington with a message of peace.
A reverend and a pastor, who lead services in Abu Dhabi churches, will tell the world about the religious freedom enjoyed by their congregations in a Muslim country.
The delegation, which also comprises officials from anti-radicalisation organisations such as the Muslim Council of Elders and the Hedayah centre, will take part in the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference organised by the US State Department this week.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host the event, which will discuss challenges to religious freedom, identify means to address discrimination against religious groups, and promote greater respect for religious freedom for all.
“I am representing the Christians living in the UAE,” said Rev Andy Thompson, head of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi. “I think what is best for me is to tell a good news story from the Middle East.”
Mr Thompson said there were preconceived ideas of what it meant to be a Christian living in the Middle East.
“I can be an unofficial ambassador to explain that Christians are not persecuted in the UAE,” he said. “The media in the West picture a very negative perception of the Islamic community. I will do anything I can to counter that.”
The UAE has a Christian community of about one million people, making it the second largest religious group after Muslims. Mr Thompson said the country was unique in bringing different sects together under the same churches.
“We are always mixing together. It is a great advantage that the UAE government gave us,” he said.
The diversity in churches cannot be found anywhere else, he said, including in the UK, his home country.
Mr Thompson, who has spent more than half of his life in the Middle East, is also an author. One of his books, Jesus of Arabia, explains the teachings of Christ through the culture of the Arabian Gulf.
“I always remind westerners that Jesus could have looked more like an Emirati than an American Evangelical,” he said.
Jeramie Rinne, senior pastor at the Evangelical Community Church in Abu Dhabi, also hopes to correct western misconceptions of the Middle East.
“I hope to act as an ambassador from my new home back to my home country, the US, to tell them about the remarkable freedom of worship that exist in the UAE for Christians and other religious communities,” Mr Rinne said.
“Americans are always pleasantly surprised when they hear that the UAE’s Rulers not only allow public worship but even provide places for Christians to worship. The UAE’s story of tolerance and pluralism needs to be told more broadly.”
Mr Rinne hopes that all the governments taking part in the conference will come away with a strong idea of what needs to be done to promote greater religious freedom in their countries.
“I believe this is one of the most high-profile gatherings of world leaders to consider the cause of religious freedom and speak out against religious persecution,” he said.
Mr Rinne has been involved in several multi-faith gatherings in the UAE.
“Perhaps the most memorable was when UAE government flew the Minister of Tolerance and a large group of Christian ministers to Sir Bani Yas Island to view the ruins of a Christian monastery that predates Islam,” he said.
“I was amazed to learn that when the monastery was discovered, Sheikh Zayed celebrated and protected the site as testimony to the UAE’s history of tolerance and religious pluralism.
The delegation also includes Dr Ali Al Nuaimi, chairman of the UAE’s Muslim Council of Elders, Maqsoud Kruse, executive director of the Hedayah Centre and Dr Yousif Alobaidli, director general of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, among others.