Issue of Proselytism Challenges Christian-Muslim Consultation

by the World Council of Churches

From "Sheila MESA" <> - 21 Oct 1999

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World Council of Churches
Press Update
21 October 1999


cf. WCC Press Release of 12 October 1999

The search for common principles and definitions marked a World Council of Churches consultation on "Religious Freedom, Community Rights and Individual Rights: A Christian-Muslim Perspective", held in Hartford, Connecticut, USA, 14-16 October 1999.

The 35 international participants considered the issue of religious freedom from a regional perspective as well as in relation to existing universal standards such as international law regarding human rights.

The issue of proselytism remained a source of tension among the participants. Appreciation was expressed by both Christians and Muslims at the consultation for the WCC's historical distinction between proselytism and witness. Previous WCC documents have made that distinction regarding the motivation for and methods of evangelism within the Christian community. Yet, as noted by Dr Robert Traer of the International Association for Religious Freedom, there is no such distinction in international law. The need to build a common understanding of such concepts as proselytism, mission, tolerance, respect, citizenship, and freedom was identified as a key goal for further dialogue.

The political use and misuse of the issue of religious freedom was also identified through discussion of regional contexts involving the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Rev. Elga Sarapung noted that only five religions are officially recognized in Indonesia, although other religious traditions are practised in the country, leading her to ask, "Who says what is a religion?" Religious pluralism, especially as experienced in the African context within families, however, was seen as a source of hope. "While we discuss this at the political level," Dr Anne Kubai, from Kenya said, "families continue to live together. We need to close the gap between the community and family levels."

Some of the other issues discussed in the consultation and identified for further work include:

* The relationship of religion and culture
* Education and religious illiteracy
* Religious freedom issues arising from migration
* The need to develop theological resources and language which convey respect for others.

Dr Tarek Mitri, from the WCC Inter-religious Relations and Dialogue team and the organizer of the consultation emphasized the importance of such ongoing dialogue. "The WCC's solidarity with Christians worldwide and its dialogue with Muslims are not contradictory efforts. They are, rather, mutually necessary." Professor Tariq Ramadan also emphasized that such consultations are helpful in raising issues that need to be discussed within each faith community. "There is no common discourse between Christians and Muslims without dialogue among Christians and among Muslims," he stated.

The participants noted that the question of religious freedom is not simply an academic issue. As one participant emphasized, "The starting point for this discussion and the need for common action is very real human suffering."

The official report of the consultation will be released in mid-November.

Contact: Sara Speicher, Communication Officer, Tel: (+41.22) 791.6398

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of 337 churches, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41.22) 791.61.53 / 791.64.21
Fax: (41.22) 798.13.46

P.O. Box 2100
CH-1211 Geneva 2


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