Vatican working with World Council of Churches on proselytism rules

The Vatican has teamed up with the World Council of Churches to draw up "a code of conduct" for converting people of other religious beliefs to Christianity.

Catholic News Service reports that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue together with the Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue of the World Council of Churches (WCC) planned a series of meetings aimed at assessing the nature of religious conversions.

They also plan to create "a code of conduct" for Christian churches to follow when spreading the Gospel to people of other faiths. The three-year joint project is titled "Interreligious Reflection on Conversion: From Controversy to a Shared Code of Conduct."

Msgr Felix Machado, Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that in some countries, especially where Christianity is a minority religion, an individual's conversion from the dominant faith tradition to Christianity "is sometimes mistakenly called proselytism."

"We want to maintain our right to convert people, but it should be done according to church teachings," he said.

Proselytism often describes the use of unscrupulous methods of persuasion - such as psychological pressure, spiritual threats or material enticements - to win converts.

However, according to Catholic teaching, evangelisation entails proclaiming the Gospel "in a manner that respects human dignity," the Monsignor said.

Two of the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 - the Declaration on Religious Freedom ("Dignitatis Humanae") and the Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity ("Ad Gentes") - emphasised that no one should be forced to act contrary to his or her beliefs or be forced to accept the Christian faith.

However, these guidelines in spreading the Gospel are not part of the practice of every Christian denomination.

Msgr Machado said some Christian organisations can be very aggressive in their attempts to convert people of another faith, which can result in making people suspicious of all Christians as having a hidden agenda to proselytise.

"We want to convert people; we don't hide that," the Monsignor said, but the question of "how it's done" needs clarification.

Without that clarification, evangelisation might be mistaken for proselytism and that "hinders interreligious dialogue and mission work," he said.

The Vatican and the WCC, whose membership includes more than 340 Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican churches and communities in more than 120 countries, have invited 30 participants from several religious traditions to take part in the first meeting.

Participants will represent Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and traditional African religions, as well as Catholic and other Christian denominations.

The idea for the joint study project arose out of the religious tensions in India, where Christians are often "falsely accused" by Hindus of proselytising, Msgr Machado said.

WCC, Vatican to create guidelines on evangelization, proselytism (Catholic News Service 10/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
World Council of Churches | Vatican and WCC to pursue common code of conduct on religious conversion (10/5/06) | Office on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue

World Council of Churches and Vatican to agree code on religious conversion (Ekklesia 10/5/06)
Vatican, Churches Work on Conversion Plan (The Guardian/Associated Press 10/5/06)

11 May 2006