The Evangelical Alliance, which claims to represent one million Christians in the UK, has responded to comments about its activities in last week's Channel 4 TV programme, which examined evidence of the “violence and intimidation facing Muslims who convert to Christianity in Britain”.
In the programme, Dispatches reporter Antony Barnett talked with former Muslims who said they were living under the threat of reprisals from their former communities, including a family driven out of their home and a convert whose brother was beaten close to death.
The investigation uncovered a network of churches supporting converts from Islam who have to worship under a veil of secrecy. It also examined US-backed missionaries allegedly employing underhand tactics to target Muslims, something condemned by mainline churches.
The programme estimated there are as many as 3,000 Muslims currently living in Britain who have converted to Christianity .
The Evangelical Alliance was mentioned in the programme for its recently published report ‘All Together for Asylum Justice’. Concern has been expressed that some Christian social action is motivated by, or entails, an attempt to proselytise behind the scenes - something the EA denies.
The World Council of Churches and global church leaders have made a strong distinction between legitimate evangelism, which is open, respectful and dialogical, and manipulative proselytism. There has been a recent agreement among historic churches on 'the ethics of conversion'.
The Evangelical Alliance says its asylum report looked specifically at the issue of conversion and persecution of asylum seekers. It added that the Alliance is committed to ensuring that asylum seekers are not sent back to countries where they could suffer serious religious persecution.
“The report is clear that the Alliance is only interested in genuine cases of conversion. Genuineness can only be assured with a review of Home Office questioning, which we currently believe to be inconsistent and often poorly informed,” a media statement released by the EA declares.
In the documentary the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, said that all people should uphold civil liberties and the right for people to believe what they want to believe. He condemned manipulative proselytism as a distortion of Christian practice.
Dr David Muir, public policy Director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “As the Bishop of Rochester made clear; religion is a matter of choice. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are two sides of the same coin.”