Christians move closer on conversion code of conduct

Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and other Christian theologians will meet in Toulouse, France today as part of a move to adopt a common code of conduct among churches on how each community seeks and accepts converts.

The Washington Post reports that the Geneva-based WCC, working with the Vatican on the issue, said the meeting should bring the year-long process of agreeing a conversion rule-book nearer to completion by its target date of 2009.

"Evangelical and Pentecostal representatives will be taking part in the dialogue for the first time, and we see this as a good sign for the eventual success of this project," said WCC spokesman Juan Michel.

The two strongly proselytising sects, which have made heavy inroads into membership of other Christian groupings especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, stood aloof when the effort was launched at a meeting near Rome in May last year.

But this time senior figures from both - German-based philosopher Thomas Schirrmacher of a group called WEA and Bishop Tony Richie of the Church of God in the United States - will attend, although in their personal rather than institutional capacity.

"We have always wanted this process to be inclusive and open, so that all religious partners from Christian faiths and others can make a contribution towards the shaping of the code," said Michel.

The first meeting was attended - alongside the Christians - by representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Yoruba faiths. They issued a joint statement saying freedom of religion was "a non-negotiable right of every human being."

The Toulouse gathering this week at the city's Catholic Institute will bring together some 30 Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and other theologians and church representatives, said the WCC.

"Conversion is a controversial issue not only in inter-religious relations, but in intra-Christian relations as well," said Hans Ucko, the WCC's main official for dialogue between faiths.

"In Latin America, it is a source of tension between the Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement, while in other regions Orthodox churches often feel 'targeted' by some Protestant missionary groups," added Ucko.

WCC officials say the code should help ease relations with other faiths, especially with Islamic leaders who regard individual Muslims who convert as apostates. In some countries, these face the death penalty if they do not recant.

Christians Move Towards Code on Seeking Converts (Washington Post, 6/8/07)
Theologians to Discuss Common Code on Religious Conversion (Media Release, World Council of Churches, 6/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
World Council of Churches
Catholic Institute Toulouse (French)

8 Aug 2007