Experts and Academics Debate Opposition to Evangelism

News May 2001

May 30, 2001. Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA. [IRLA News]

Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen (R), president of Andrews University, welcomes conference participants

Religious freedom experts meeting in the academic setting of Andrews University debated the increasing opposition to evangelism around the world. Under the title "Proselytism and Religious Freedom," the group examined the restriction of religious liberty by those who rejected activities by other religious groups.

The May 30 meeting was co-sponsored by Andrews University's International Centre on Government and Religion and the International Religious Liberty Association.

"In some areas, a majority religion claims territorial exclusivity so that any other religious group is seen as proselytizing, not evangelizing, and an activity to be countered," commented IRLA secretary general John Graz in his opening address. "In other instances, witnessing and evangelism are seen as acts of aggression. It is in this context of challenge that the IRLA defends religious freedom and the right to witness, but not the negative aspects of proselytism. For this reason we have developed guidelines in respect to proselytism, 'Guidelines for the Responsible Dissemination of Religion or Belief.'"

The conference noted that religious difference and hostility to evangelism is becoming a major factor in many conflicts. The use of totalitarian control and religious oppression is becoming more frequent, the right to believe, practice and disseminate religion is violated, and minority religions denied the opportunity to share their beliefs.

Conference in progress with additional student participation

"We oppose improper proselytism that uses wrong or false methods to gain converts, but we totally support the fundamental right to evangelism and witness," asserted Bert Beach, IRLA vice-president. "Denial of the right to witness offends the basic principles of religious freedom, and also denies the right to be informed about religion."

Gary Ross, director of the International Centre on Government and Religion, spoke of the importance of religious liberty as demonstrated by the Centre's establishment at an educational institution. "We contend for religious freedom in countless public arenas and we are resolute about this fundamental right-we are mobilized on its behalf."

Also participating in the conference were religious liberty experts from a wide range of faith traditions: Cole Durham, J Reuben Clark Law School; Lee Boothby, International Commission for Freedom of Conscience; Roger Greenway, Calvin Seminary; Walter Sawatsky, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary; Ted Ward, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. [Jonathan Gallagher]