WEA Participates in Ecumenical Discussions on Conversion

The World Evangelical Alliance was represented at a gathering convened by the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church to discuss conversion between religions. Those representing the event which took place in Toulouse, France in 8-12 August were John Langlois (Channel Islands), Richard Howell (India) and Thomas Schirrmacher (Germany). There were also representatives of Pentecostal churches present at the consultation which was intended to „to produce a code of conduct on religious conversion commonly agreed among Christians by 2010”. A press release for the consultation stated that an initial meeting ‘affirmed freedom of religion as a „non-negotiable” human right valid for everyone everywhere and at the same time stressed that the „obsession of converting others” needs to be cured.’ The Toulouse gathering was the second phase of a three-year joint study process, which unlike the previous meeting, was an intra-Christian discussion consisting of a high-level theological consultation entitled ‘Towards an ethical approach to conversion: Christian witness in a multi-religious’.
The WEA general secretary Rev. Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe “gave his full approval” to the organization’s involvement in the process so far sponsored by the WCC and the Vatican. According to WEA executive council member John Langlois, who reported positively on the consultation, the code of conduct should express “repentance for past wrongdoings so as to make clear that the superiority mentality in regard to other religions has been overcome.” For Rev. Dr Tony Richie from the Church of God, a Pentecostal US-based denomination, the code of conduct is not about “whether” Christians evangelize, but “how” they do it. He advocated a “dialogical evangelism,” ecumenically oriented and marked by an ethical approach.
Among the issues identified by the participants as elements upon which the code of conduct should be based are: common understandings of conversion, witness, mission and evangelism, and concern for human dignity; a distinction between aggressive proselytizing and evangelism; the balance between the mandate to evangelize and the right to choose one’s religion. “Although these are very preliminary findings, the fact that representatives from all these walks of Christian life have been able to meet and discuss such a complex issue, starting to build a consensus, is in itself a success,” said Rev. Dr Hans Ucko, WCC’s programme executive for interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
Its promoters expect the code of conduct to fulfil several goals: be an advocacy tool in discussions with governments considering anti-conversion laws, to help to advance the cause of religious freedom, address other religions’ concerns about Christian proselytism and inspire them to consider their own codes of conduct, and also help to ease intra-Christian tensions. None of the partners involved intend – nor have the means – to impose the code of conduct on their constituencies, but they all trust that it will be able to “impact hearts and minds” and allow for “moral and peer pressure.”
The next step in this study project jointly undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the WCC’s programme on inter-religious dialogue will be a meeting in 2008 in which the code of conduct will be drafted, building upon the findings of the Toulouse consultation. Launched in May 2006 in Lariano/Velletri, near Rome, the project bears the name: „An interreligious reflection on conversion: From controversy to a shared code of conduct”.
(WEA Theological News On-Line, Issue 54, September 2007)

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  1. This is very up-to-date info. I’ll share it on Facebook.

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