Genuine Christian mission should renounce proselytism, Edinburgh conference told

By staff writers
June 7, 2010

"Good" and "bad" evangelism came under the spotlight when a diverse group of Christians met to discuss the legacy of the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference 100 years later in the capital of Scotland.

Antonios Kireopoulos, the Associate General Secretary dealing with faith and order issues and interfaith relations for the National Council of Churches USA, alluded to, "what I like to call good - or appropriate – evangelism, and bad - or inappropriate - proselytism".

"Proselytism gets a lot of attention these days when used in the context of missionary efforts in Muslim countries," Kireopoulos said.

It is most harmful, he added, when rather than seeking, "to make Christians from among people of other faiths, instead [it] strives to make Christians from among people that are already Christians," and suffering under political difficulties.

There was also criticism of manipulative and oppressive forms of verbal proclamation in the name of Christianity.

In 1982 a wide range of churches, including evangelicals, came together through the World Council of Churches to produce an 'Ecumenical Affirmation on Evangelism', which distinguished between presentations of the Christian message which respect those addressed and involve mutuality and listening, and forms of 'evangelism' which are inherently imperialistic.

The distinction was re-affirmed at the 1987 WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism Conference in San Antonio, Texas, USA. This gathering adopted the theme "Mission in Christ's Way" - to emphasise forms of mission that follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and other forms that obstruct a true understanding of who he is.

The WCC has subsequently adopted a commitment on 'Common Witness' which explicitly renounces 'poaching' in the name of preaching the Christian message.

At the same time, Church leaders in Africa resent the way certain people in the West and North tell them how to deal with the issue of giving full spiritual and political rights to gay men and lesbians, a South African churches' leader has said.

The issue of dignity for LGBT people is a world challenge, "a problem for Asia, Europe and America, and not just an African problem," Tinyiko Maluleke, the Pretoria-based president of the South African Council of Churches, said in Edinburgh, where he was attending a world conference on Christian mission.

Maluleke was speaking after a media conference at which he said that mistakes committed by Christian missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries must be undone in the 21st century.

There are disagreements on sexuality among churches across the globe - but affirmative messages have come from some Anglicans and others in South Africa, like Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who say that anti-gay activists in the Western churches are seeking to impose or impute their negative views on Africans by implying or stating that homosexuality is a 'Western problem'.

The official Edinburgh 2010 website can be found here:


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