Among the Intellectualoids

Christian Disobedience

NPR asks: When does Christian missionary work "become offensive"?

By 8.24.07

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At regular intervals, if you're a believing Christian, you read or hear things from established, mainstream churches that just make your jaw drop. One such was broadcast August 12 on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition. In "Church Group to Discuss Guidelines for Conversion," program host Rebecca Roberts discussed the question, "When does Christian missionary work cross the line from earnest conversion attempts and become something offensive, denigrating to other religions?"

The World Council of Churches, Roberts reported, including "some 30 Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical representatives[, is] grappling with that question at a meeting in France this weekend."

The WCC wants to create "what they call a Christian code of conduct on religious conversion."

THE REVEREND DR. HANS UCKO, who sounds like a Swede, told Roberts that such a "code of conduct" for Christian missionaries would "dissociate ourselves from anything that targeted children" or other "vulnerable" people. Under the proposed code, evangelizers could not offer rides, money, or promises of higher education.

The Rev. Doc., who heads a committee for inter-religious dialogue at the WCC, worries that such activities could "ruin, disturb, and jeopardize inter-religious relations." He cited India, where, he said, "we have some aggressive campaigns targeting Hindus. There is a risk that the state will legislate against conversions. This makes a problem for local Christians who are there, who might worry that, oops, I'm opening a school, is this a conversion?"

IT IS NOT HINDUS DR. UCKO and his committee are really worried about, of course. It is Muslims. What about the Korean Christian group kidnapped en masse by the Taliban in Afghanistan -- with two of them shot to death, and more killings threatened?

That must have been the Koreans' fault, Dr. Ucko allows.

"We have been looking into this," he said. "Although this group said they were there for health and social services, there was a kind of a desire to convert people from Islam. This is not what should characterize Christians today. We should see opportunities to work with Islam."

ROBERTS ASKED, REASONABLY, what people who believed theirs was the only true faith were supposed to do under such a code.

Ucko conceded that "This is a major problem, not only with Christianity, but with Islam." So what do you do about it? "We may have to reconsider today...whether these theologies, which originated in times when we did not come across one another, whether these are theologies that are really what we believe."

Have to watch out, though, not to oversimplify this updating of religion, "because it gets to the core of our religious tradition."

No fooling.

In the Great Commission, Jesus, in what the gospels of Matthew and Mark say were his last words, commanded, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." The first great evangelist, Paul, said, in Romans, Chapter 10, "And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?"

Sorry, Dr. Ucko, it may be infra dig and all that, but Christians have never shut up. And we have been coming across people other than ourselves from the first century onward. Muslims came across other people rather aggressively from the seventh century forward, coming across as far north as Vienna.

TWO SUNDAYS AGO, AT OUR CHURCH, we welcomed back a whole gang of our teenagers, all of them wearing black T-shirts emblazoned "Hurricane Katrina Relief." They had spent two weeks in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

There, they violated the WCC's proposed Christian Code of Conduct every way possible. They spoke of their faith to other teenagers. They gave people rides. They passed out money and food. And they built and repaired houses.

They did not ask first whether the people they helped were Christian believers or not. They just helped, and bore witness.

I guess it's a good thing Pass Christian isn't Muslim.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.