Three organizations, representing about 90 percent of world Christianity, launched on June 28 a global code of conduct for proselytizing in a bid to reduce tensions between different religious convictions.
"Today represents an historic moment in our shared Christian witness. This is the first time that a document has been issued by the World Council of Churches (WCC) together with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Pontifical Council for the Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See," said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
The three groups represent nearly two billion Christians, according to a WCC spokesman. The text, "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct," is the result of five years of extensive consultations and negotiations.
Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, said the document addresses four areas of primary concern: Christian unity, human rights, a positive outlook on mission and evangelism and religious freedom.
It also, he said, calls on all Christians "to re-examine their own practices in light of their life and teachings of Jesus and it shows us that part of our fidelity to the gospel entails speaking out and working for justice and freedom of all people, in every place."
Tunnicliffe also said the document is a major achievement in the political sphere as it shows to governments, "that Christians are not only able to work together, but that together we are an even stronger voice on behalf of those who suffer oppression and persecution."
The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, when asked what was the key message of the text with regards to proselytizing, said, "Our task is to be a witness of our Christian faith, but not to impose it or not provoke anybody in the way we present it." He added, "we need to present the Christian message by the Christian attitude of mutual respect for every human being."
The list of principles also calls on Christians, particularly within interreligious contexts, to reject all forms of violence and strongly advocates freedom of religion and belief, including the right to publicly profess, practice and change one's religion.
Tveit reminded delegates that Christian missionaries have not always engaged in missionary activities that were in conformity with Christian principles.
Similarly, Tauran noted, "our shared history has taught us [that] a lack of prudence and respect for others, leading to inappropriate means of proclamation of Good News, unavoidably brings interreligious tensions, even violence and the loss of human life."
He also said that, "in spite of our divisions, we Christians have the duty to proclaim our faith without any compromise," but also observed the message has to be proclaimed but never imposed.
Another key principle says Christians are to acknowledge that changing one's religion, "is a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process of personal freedom."
The code of conduct is available here.