“Christian Witness in a Multireligious World: Recommendations for Conduct” is notable, like most such statements, both for what it says, and what it does not say.  It names things that are too often missing in the behavior of Christians engaged in evangelism, and misses other matters alltogether.

The statement was issued on June 28th, by the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church, and the World Evangelical Alliance.   Download from http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/2011pdfs/ChristianWitness_recommendations.pdf

The agreement of this collection of institutions on much of anything is notable, and their joint statement of principles for the conduct of evangelism is an accomplishment.  Much of the credit for this should go to the Rev. Dr. Hans Ucko, who got the project going, and made the overture to the WEA, when he was the staff person in charge of inter-religious relations at the WCC.  There was an interreligious group, known as “the Thinking Together group”, in which I participated, that also made significant input into the process and the document.

Why is it important?  First of all, because it addresses what is so often missing when Christians dive into evangelism among neighbors of other faiths:  guidelines for behavior.  Without such guidelines regarding what a church or a group will and will not do, there is next to no chance of integrity in the enterprise.

Secondly, this statement names some behavior that should be PRESENT as Christians live and give witness (live out and explain their faith, and the meaning of Jesus) in multi-religious situations:  1)”they are called to live lives of love and to love their neighbour as themselves”; 2) they should “conduct themselves with integrity, charity, compassion and humility, and … overcome all arrogance, condescension and disparagement”; 3) they should “commit themselves to work with all people in mutual respect, promoting together justice, peace and the common good. Interreligious cooperation is an essential dimension of such commitment”.

More, the piece goes on to mention kinds of behavior that should be ABSENT in Christian witness:  1) “exploitation of stuations of poverty and need” or of “the vulnerability of people and their need for healing”; 2) “all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness”; 3) any kind of false representation of their own, or another religious tradition; and 4) approaches that do not allow time for reflection or the full personal freedom of those on the receiving end of evangelism.

There is much more to point out in this statement, which I hope you will read.  But let me just stop there for now.  If just these principles were actually observed in practice, I would not be, as I presently am, so often embarrassed and ashamed of the way many Christians reach out to people of other faiths!  Too often this sort of principled behavior is missing in action.

The humility and love that is called for between creatures made in God’s image is so often absent: listening is replaced by talking,  compassion replaced by the offer of solutions or “truth”, friendship replaced by subtle pressure or manipulation.  And, in so many situations today, the picture of “Christian outreach” is precisely a picture of exploitation and of abuse of power, if only by the injection from the outside of money (even in amounts that seem small to us) into only one part of a community. (And yes, Christians have company- it is very possible to see the same principles missing in the equivalent of evangelism practised by other religious traditions.)

 Thank God this is not always the case.  The building of long-term, careful and caring relationships among Christians and men and women of other religions does go on, and, with respect, care, trust and friendship the sharing of our faiths does take place as a part of a life together.

But what of the goal of Christian “witness”?  What of  real mutuality in our relationships with others?  I don’t think that this statement says enough about these things.  There is some deeper questioning missing.

God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll get to that in part 3, and last, of this piece!  Stay tuned.  And chime in!