Church Group to Discuss Guidelines for Conversion

Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko of the World Council of Churches talks to Rebecca Roberts about the creation of a code of conduct for Christian conversion and the work of missionaries. The WCC meets this week in Toulouse, France.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

When does Christian missionary work cross the line from earnest conversion attempts and become something offensive, denigrating to other religions?

Some 30 Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal and Evangelical representatives are grappling with that question at a meeting in France this weekend. They want to create what they call a Christian code of conduct on religious conversion.

Reverend Dr. Hans Ucko leads inter-religious dialogue for the World Council of Churches. He joins us now from Toulouse. Welcome to the program.

Reverend Dr. HANS UCKO (Program Secretary, World Council of Churches): Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: The dialogue began last year with the World Council of Churches in partnership with the Vatican. What is the Vatican's concern? What are Catholics worried about?

Rev. Dr. UCKO: I think we are both worried that some of the more zealous Christian missionizing crusades and proselytizing ruin, disturb and jeopardize inter-religious relations. And we feel this is difficult today where religions and religious people, more than anything else, need to find way of using their religious traditions for the betterment of the world and not for, kind of, antagonizing each other. That is one thing.

The second thing is that because this happens in some countries like in India that you have rather aggressive campaigns targeting Hindus, there is a risk that the state will legislate against conversion. This makes it a problem for the local Christians who are there because they would like to live their life without having to worry about, oops, now I'm having a school here. Is that maybe an attempt to convert people?

ROBERTS: So what might a code of conduct look like? What sort of standards would you be able to agree upon?

Rev. Dr. UCKO: Well, it could contain that we dissociate ourselves from any mission that targets children, vulnerable people. That there is no question of money involved, bribes, promises of higher education.

ROBERTS: As the kidnapped South Koreans in Afghanistan make in all too clear crossing the line of missionary work, it's not just bad manners, it can be dangerous. I mean, how does this, sort of, deal political context inform these conversations?

Rev. Dr. UCKO: We have been talking about it and there is a realization that although this group said that they were there for providing social help and services, there was a, kind of, desire to try to convert people from Islam. And we feel that this is not what should characterize Christians today. Instead, we should seek possibilities to work with Islam in a kind of a common(ph) witness against those uses of religion that only lead to conflict, death and destruction.

ROBERTS: How can you have that conversation about working together when people of certain religions beliefs feels that they have the only one true belief and that, in fact, other faiths (unintelligible) are just wrong?

Rev. Dr. UCKO: Well - this is a major problem, not only within Christianity but with also within Islam. But we may have to reconsider today what it means and whether these theologies that maybe were developed in times when we did not come across each other as frequently as we do now, whether these theologies of superiority really are theologies that witness to what we believe genuine and true Christianity is all about.

This is not easy and we should not make it so. There is a risk of simplifying it because we are touching upon the core of our religious traditions. And yet I think that today, we need to find another way of relating to each other that is not built on competition or of saying my way is the only way.

ROBERTS: Dr. Ucko, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Rev. Dr. UCKO: You are welcome.

ROBERTS: Reverend Dr. Hans Ucko leads inter-religious dialogue at the World Council of Churches. He speaks to us from Toulouse, France, where Christian leaders are meeting to develop a code of conduct on religious conversion.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.