several years now the tension has been rising between Christian
missionaries, mission and evangelistic organizations, and the
governments and peoples of countries like India, as has been noted
by organizations like the Institute for Global Engagement. At issue is
the problem of unethical forms of evangelism, or proselytism, and it is
not limited to Christian-Hindu interaction in India. Examples can be found elsewhere, including the United States. In an article in Hinduism Today, Padma Kuppa of the Hindu American Foundation defines predatory proselytism by way of inclusion of various elements: a quid pro quo of
material enticement for conversion, misrepresentation and denigration
of the religion of the other, and the intentional promotion of religious
hatred and violence. In an essay
at Patheos, Kuppa adds an asymmetry of power as another defining
element. Evangelicals have spent some time addressing these issues, as
for example in Elmer John Thiessen’s volume The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defense of Proselytizing and Persuasion
(IVP Academic, 2011), but much of the concern and reflection has been
related to restrictions on Christian freedom to evangelize rather than
on the ethical issues related to predatory proselytism, both in overseas
missionary contexts as well as within America’s pluralistic public
Call for Submissions
The editor of Sacred Tribes Journal
believes that this topic is an important one, and is planning on
exploring various facets of it either in a special theme issue of the
journal, or through a book if a publisher can be found. It is hoped that
a collection of essays can be compiled from a variety of perspectives
and disciplines that will address this issue. Submissions are not
limited to Evangelical contributors and perspectives, but may also
include those who have articulated the concerns of predatory proselytism
on the receiving end of these practices. Issues discussed in papers may
include the following:
• Perceptions and concerns of Hindus, Muslims, Pagans and others related to predatory proselytism.
• Religious, ethnic, and nationalist concerns about conversion and identity theft.
• Definitional and praxis issues that distinguish between ethical evangelism and predatory proselytism.
Asymmetry of power issues related to evangelism, particularly between
Christians and minority religions in an American Christendom context.
Considerations related to finding a “middle way” or balance between the
twin religious freedoms for proclamation and persuasion as well as
freedoms related to a lack of interest in hearing such messages.
• How the issues of predatory proselytism should be factored into interreligious dialogue, as well as missions and evangelism.
Abstracts should be sent for review to John Morehead (
email@example.com). The deadline for abstract submissions is June 15, 2013.
I think its also worth looking at the flip side of the coin. I've been in conversations with militant Hindus who deny any conversion as legitimate and even call for forced conversion of Christian converts back to Hinduism. In their book, any act of charity to non-Christians is "inducement". Predatory proselytism then becomes a pejorative to hurl at any Christian witnessing, even to open enquirers.
Thanks for your thoughts, Matt. I have had some conversations with Pagans who feel that any form of evangelism is out of bounds, does not respect the individual, and is not appropriate in interfaith work. Peter Dybing even equated it with criminal acts in a Facebook exchange lately. So the idea of persuasion among religions needs to be on the table, and I agree that a case can be made for ethical evangelism. My concern is that Evangelicals in particular give much more thought to unethical evangelism. We don't, and tend to spend more time and energy with concerns over religious freedoms, usually ours. That's fine too, but the ethics of evangelism needs to be on our agenda, particularly in the post-Christendom world.
The issue is not that some Pagans feel that "any form of evangelism is out of bounds", but rather that some Pagans have come to mistrust all Christian missionaries. Any honest appraisal of the way in which Christianity has grown over the last 2000 years shows that there is good reason for this mistrust. That is to say, Christianity has always and everywhere grown by way of "zero-sum" conversions that leave no room for other religions.
I challenge you to find any case in which any Pagan has ever questioned the right of Christians to publicly "profess and by argument to maintain" their religious beliefs. Questioning the motives and methods of Christian missionaries should not be confused with rejecting freedom of speech and religion.
It is unfortunately true that that there have been some cases where Hindus have crossed this line, and I have written about some incidents like this in my blog. But if one compares the long histories of Christianity and Hinduism, one finds that there is literally no comparison when it comes to questions of religious tolerance and diversity. India is a place where Jews, Zoroastrians, and "heretical" Christians have found safe sanctuary. And India's largest religious minority, Muslims, enjoy far more freedom to practice their own religion as they themselves choose to do so, than they do in any Muslim majority country, where the practice of Islam is strictly regulated by Imams and also directly by the state.
Thank you for stopping by, Platonicus.
While some Pagans may be open to Christian efforts at persuasion, some clearly are not, just as I indicated in my prior comments. There is not doubt where Dybing comes down on the matter.
By this I do not mean that some Pagans don't believe that Christians can publicly profess and argue for their beliefs i the public square, but apparently for some such as Dybing, it is inappropriate to do so in regards to personal interactions with Pagans. There's an example that meets your challenge. See my exchange with him on Facebook in response to David Dashifen Kees' essay on FRD at Patheos.
For the record: I support both opportunities for religious persuasion by all religious traditions, ethical forms of persuasion, and civility in pluralism. I most certainly do not believe in the eradication of all other belief systems or their adherents.
Am glad to see this project. One of the most difficult aspects of what I call Aggroevangelism when dealing with Christians is a particular school of thought that is not universal, but still prevalent enough to be a problem.
I'm familiar with Fundamentalist churches who teach that all nonbelievers are possessed by demons, and therefore can't be trusted or allowed to decide for themselves what to believe or to know what's good for them. The victim may be seen as having no right to be left alone even if they request it. Some will even teach that any show of anger or upset from the victim is a sign that they are winning and the demon is fighting back, and they should keep hammering at it.
They instruct that it's the proselytizer's duty to take on the "demon" in spiritual warfare and that giving up the fight demonstrates a lack of faith.
I have also heard clergy and other authority figures misuse Matthew 5:11 as a justification for provocational and harassing behavior.
I'm not sure there's any constructive way to deal with a mentality that feels it has a deity-given mandate to behave this way, other than continually reinforcing a social climate where unwanted aggressive religious representation is simply unacceptable.
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