Christian leaders including the Vatican, have agreed on guidelines.
The Vatican and other Christian representatives have issued a series of recommendations for evangelization in multifaith societies, rejecting aggressive or coercive methods but defending the right to profess, propagate or change one’s religion.
The principles were outlined June 28 in a document titled, “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct,” issued jointly by the Pontifical Council for the Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance.
“Christian witness in a pluralistic world includes engaging in dialogue with people of different religions and cultures,” the document said. It added that while every Christian has the duty to witness to Christ, “conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit.”
“If Christians engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means, they betray the Gospel and may cause suffering to others,” it said.
The document was the product of five years of consultations by some 40 experts in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the head of the Vatican’s interreligious council, said defining the principles was “not easy” but that the final text was important and should now be studied by Christian communities around the world.
“It’s very important that religions, especially Christianity, appear not as a source of division but a source of solidarity and communion,” he told Vatican Radio. An essential point, he said, was that witnessing the Gospel cannot be an “aggressive campaign.”
The document strongly emphasized that exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach.