Christians seek guidelines for missionary work

Published: Friday, January 19, 2007, 13:37 [IST]
 

PARIS, Jan 19 (Reuters) Christians are told to make disciples of all nations, but some missionaries have done this so aggressively in recent years that churches now want a code of conduct to spread their faith without antagonising any others.

A missionary boom in developing countries, often by United States evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants, has brought Christianity into some local conflicts with majority populations that follow faiths such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Overzealous preachers stand accused of linking humanitarian aid with baptism and insulting local faiths. Some local Christian minorities, who lived in peace before the boom, now feel a backlash as suspicion mounts against all Christians.

Representatives from the main families of the world's largest faith met in Geneva last week to discuss guidelines to curb aggressive evangelists and reassure other religions that Christian activists are not simply out to steal their sheep.

''Due to increased proselytism in some parts of the Christian family, the fibre of living together is jeopardised,'' said the Rev. Hans Ucko, a Swedish Lutheran in charge of interreligious dialogue at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC).

Christian leaders at the meeting, part of a three-year effort aiming to produce a code of conduct by 2009, sought a balance that would let them continue spreading their faith without discrediting it and antagonising other religions.

The meeting brought together an unusually broad spectrum of Christianity, from Roman Catholics and the WCC -- which groups mainline Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox -- to the World Evangelical Alliance and Pentecostal leaders.

AID EVANGELISATION Tensions over missionary work have flared up over the past decade or so in several regions, most notably in Africa, South Asia and in the Muslim world, as globalisation opened up new avenues for religions to spread their views.

''India and Sri Lanka are two countries that have become very sensitive to this issue,'' said Monsignor Felix Machado, the Vatican's representative in the discussion.

Hindu nationalists in India have passed anti-conversion laws in some states to stop what they say are missionaries bribing poor people to get baptised. In Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalists have campaigned -- so far in vain -- for similar laws.

''Aid evangelisation'' -- helping disaster victims if they become Christian -- frayed nerves in post-tsunami Indonesia to the point that Jakarta blocked a US evangelical group from placing orphaned Muslim children into a Christian-run home.

The post-tsunami aid rush to Indonesia showed not only Christians help the poor with a possible double agenda. Radical Islamic groups also turned up in mostly Muslim Aceh province.

FIRE AND BRIMSTONE SERMONS Catholics and mainline Protestants have long accused well-financed evangelical and Pentecostal missionaries of angering majority faiths in the developing world.

By discussing the issue for the first time, both sides saw this problem was less pressing than the tensions created by fire and brimstone sermons broadcast over satellite television, said Thomas Schirrmacher of the World Evangelical Alliance.

''The main problem is the international, almost exclusively American media,'' he said. ''They are not linked to local churches and have no idea what effect their broadcasts have.

''I was in India when Pat Robertson said all Muslims should leave the United States,'' he said, referring to a prominent US televangelist. ''The Hindus said they agreed that Muslims should leave India too -- and take the Christians with them.'' A spokeswoman for Robertson said ''The 700 Club,'' where Robertson has made his most controversial comments about Islam, was only a small part of his satellite broadcasting and most of it was ''both culturally sensitive and relevant.'' REUTERS SSC KP0922

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