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Major Christian groups reach accord on proselytizing.

WASHINGTON. Christian missionaries should renounce all "deception and coercive means" of winning converts, according to an agreement released June 28 by a broad coalition of evangelicals, the World Council of Churches and the Vatican.

The document, "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct" represents the latest attempt to assuage sometimes violent tensions over proselytizing in non-Christian societies.

The World Council of Churches, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the World Evangelical Alliance together "represent over 90 percent of the world's total Christian population," according to a statement from the evangelical alliance, which hailed the accord as the "first document of its kind in the history of the church."

The document calls on individual Christian churches to develop guidelines for proselytizing "among those of different religions and among those who do not profess any particular religion."

Christian missionaries are to "reject all forms of violence ... including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts," the document says.

Instead, they should "acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good" in other religions, and make any criticisms "in a spirit of mutual respect."

The document also calls on missionaries to respect the "full personal freedom" of their converts by allowing them "sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation" before they adopt a new faith.

Noting the importance of faith healing in many ministries, the document instructs missionaries to ensure the "vulnerability of people and their need for healing are not exploited." Likewise, the document denounces proselytizing with the use of "financial incentives and rewards."

Though not a full-throated apology for such practices, the injunctions are "tantamount to an admission that they have been going on," said Jesuit Fr. Daniel A. Madigan, an expert on Muslim-Christian relations at Georgetown University in Washington.

While the document recommends sensitivity in missionary work, it also affirms religious freedom as a fundamental human right, "including the right to publicly profess, practice, propagate and change one's religion."

--Religion News Service

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Title Annotation:IN THE BEGINNIG
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 8, 2011
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