Member Care Associates -- MC Resource Update

June 2016 -- Number 86

Member Care Update--June 2016
Expanding the global impact of member care

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Perspectives on Proselytizing
Issues, Insights, and Integrity for Christian Witness

pros·e·ly·tize  (prŏsə-lĭ-tīz)
1. To attempt to convert someone to one's own religious faith.
2. To attempt to persuade someone 
to join one's own political party or to espouse one's doctrine.

The Free Dictionary
1.  To induce someone to convert to one's faith
2.  To recruit someone to join one's party, institution, or cause


In this Update we present different materials related to proselytizing and faith-based work. Part one lists several core documents for respecting and safeguarding people’s religious and political views and practices (from the UN, humanitarian, and Christian sectors). Part two lists several materials for exploring and affirming the interface between faith, human rights, and humanitarian/development work. Part three concludes with some personal reflections on proselytizing. Please note that there are a variety of perspectives in these materials, some of which may not fit with one’s religious. political, or other convictions.

Perspectives on Proselytizing
Issues, Insights, and Integrity for Christian Witness
"In parts of Africa where bandits and warlords shoot or rape anything that moves, you often find that the only groups still operating are Doctors Without Borders and religious aid workers: crazy doctors and crazy Christians. In the town of Rutshuru in war-ravaged Congo, I found starving children, raped widows and shell-shocked survivors. And there was a determined Catholic nun from Poland, serenely running a church clinic…brave souls like her are increasingly representative of religious conservatives. We can disagree sharply with their politics, but to mock them underscores our own ignorance and prejudice.“ Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love. Nicholas Kristof,  New York Times (3 February 2008)
Some Core Docs for Guidance

1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) United Nations, Articles 18, 19
“18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

“19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Note: See also the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. (1981) United Nations, Article 1. “1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. 2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice. 3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
2. Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief (1994) IFRC, Principle 3. “Aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint. “Humanitarian aid will be given according to the need of individuals, families and communities. Notwithstanding the right of NGHAs to espouse particular political or religious opinions, we affirm that assistance will not be dependent on the adherence of the recipients to those opinions. We will not tie the promise, delivery or distribution of assistance to the embracing or acceptance of a particular political or religious creed."
Note: To review some comments on this principle and the other 9 principles: A Living Document? Code of Conduct... Disaster Relief (20 September 2004).
3. Interaction PVO Standards. InterAction's [Private Voluntary Organization] Standards define the financial, operational and ethical code of conduct for InterAction and its member agencies. These self-applied, high and objective standards…[are intended] to ensure and strengthen public confidence in the integrity, quality and effectiveness of member organizations and their programs…” (quote from the website). “7.1.5 A member's programs shall respect the dignity, values, history, religion, and culture of the people served. 7.1.6 A member's fundamental concern shall be the well-being of those affected; its programs shall assist those who are at risk without political, religious, gender, or other discrimination; and a high priority shall be given to strengthening the resiliency of the most vulnerable groups, typically women, children, minorities, the disabled, and the very poor.”
Note: See also the Interaction PVO Standards Interpretive Guidance and Member Guidelines (Section 7.1.5). “A member should: 1. Adhere to a policy and practice of non-discrimination at point-of-service. The promise, delivery or distribution of assistance should be given according to the need of individuals, families and communities and will never be preconditioned on faith, administered in a coercive manner, or tied to the embrace or acceptance of a particular political or religious creed; 2. Adhere to, through normal practice, systems and deeds, clear institutional policies that demonstrate respect for and sensitivity to the religious traditions of the individuals, families and communities served; 3. Use good judgment, based on local realities, in the printing of religious text or the display of other forms of messages or symbols on aid packages; 4. Establish guidelines for the appropriate usage and balance of religious messages and/or teachings in relief or development programs, to ensure that any message is non-coercive, culturally sensitive and respectful of the dignity, values, history, religion and culture of the people served."
4. Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct (2011) World Council of Churches, Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, World Evangelical Alliance (excerpt from the Prologue). “The purpose of this document is to encourage churches, church councils and mission agencies to reflect on their current practices and to use the recommendations in this document to prepare, where appropriate, their own guidelines for their witness and mission among those of different religions and among those who do not profess any particular religion. It is hoped that Christians across the world will study this document in the light of their own practices in witnessing to their faith in Christ, both by word and deed.”
Note: For some perspectives on this document, see the article Top Evangelical, Catholic, and Mainline Bodies Issue Evangelism RulesChris Norton, the Christianity Today (29 June 2011) “Missiologists applaud unity effort, but note what's missing and what will raise eyebrows.”
5. Proselytism Policy Statement  Micah Network (2007) (excerpts, 1-3)
“1. While longing to see people coming to a personal faith in Jesus Christ we reject manipulative or coercive proselytism as a way of propagating the Christian faith. 2. It is absolutely abhorrent to us to exploit people’s vulnerability in order to put pressure on them to convert to our religion. Conversions gained in this way are often superficial and bring no credit to the converts or the Christian faith in general. 3. There is a crucial difference between using aid in order to put pressure on needy people to convert and dispensing aid while hoping and praying that those who receive it come to believe in Jesus Christ.”
Note: Here are a few among many statements in the New Testament that shed light on both honoring God and respecting humans in Christian witness (NASB). “Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over or taking offense at Me (Matthew 11: 6). Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20). For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes…(Romans 1:16). If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10). Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:17-18). Honor all men; love the brotherhood; fear God, honor the king (I Peter 2:17).”

More Core Docs for Going Deeper

Faith-based Round Table, Ending Extreme Poverty, World Bank 2015

This section lists materials related to human rights/religious freedom, interfaith understanding/cooperation, and faith-based contributions/cooperation for human wellbeing. Of special interest for colleagues with member care responsibilities is the recent article, “Religiously-Based Prejudice and Self-Censorship: Perceptions and Experiences Among Christian Therapists and Educators” (2016), by Christopher Rosik, Nicle Teraoka, and James Moretto (Journal of Psychology and Christianity (35)1 52-67). For a copy, contact the lead author:
1. Human Rights and Religious Freedom
The Global Charter of Conscience: A Global Covenant concerning Faiths and Freedom of Conscience (2012)
3. Faith-Based Cooperation and Contributions
Building from Common Foundations: The World Health Organization and Faith-Based Organizations in Primary Care (2008) Geneva Global and World Health Organization

Development and Faith: When Mind, Heart, and Soul Work Together (2007) Katherine Marshall and Marisa van Saanen (published by the World Bank).
Faith and Religion in Humanitarian Action (webinar, 4 June 2015) Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP). Written summary  and audio/power point archive.

Faith-Based Health Care (7 July 2015) The Lancet

Faith, Secularization, and Humanitarian Engagement:  Finding the Place of Religion in the Support of Displaced Communities (2015). Alastair Ager and Joey Ager.

Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (website/resources).

Laudatuo Si: Caring for Our Common Home (2015) Pope Francis
Progressive Pentecostalism, Development, and Christian Development NGOs: A Challenge and an Opportunity (July 2015) Bryant Myers, International Bulletin of Mission Research

Some Myths about Faith-Based Humanitarian Aid.
(July 2004, pp. 48-51) Wilfred Mlay, Humanitarian Exchange 27 

Personal Reflections
Being Who You Are--Respecting Who Others Are

Do you think you are a proselytizer?
Do you know any people or organizations
that like to refer to themselves as proselytizers?
Would you like your family members to be “proselytized”
by persons with very different religious or political beliefs than yours?
The answer to all three of these questions is probably a!


The topic of proselytizing sparks a lot of debate and affect, especially as it usually has some very negative connotations, to say the least. The negative connotations are especially strong when the people who are (supposedly) being “proselytized” are in vulnerable places, such as those dependent on others for humanitarian-developmental assistance or protection. At its worse, the term is is often associated with forcing one’s beliefs on others, including through manipulation or exploitation.

Proselytizing, even in a more neutral sense (as per some of the definitions at the beginning of this Update), can be overused and misused. The term can be negatively applied almost carte blanche, for example, to label any person who initiates talking about his/her beliefs. It can also be used to describe Christian witness in general, or even member care workers themselves, who provide supportive resources to faith-based mission/aid personnel.


In our experience, proselytizing is thus both a buzz word (it pushes personal buttons, gets strong reactions)  and a fuzz word (its definition is not clear, it can be used for lots of things). The term is often derogatory, although frankly not always inaccurate, and sometimes well-deserved! However, we think it is best reserved to refer only to those who are trying to “induce” others—take advantage of, coerce, or force others—into changing their beliefs, cultures, and traditional values.

We note that preaching, teaching, and discipling all people/peoples are normative and mandated practices in the historic Christian faith. Is that proselytizing? In the positive sense, perhaps yes. But in the negative sense, definitely no. Yet it does depend on what is actually being done and how it is being done, of course. And the appropriateness of the what and the how, as this Update has presented, is open to a variety of perspectives.

The bottom line from us: be who you are and respect who others are. Don't be afraid of what others may say. Love people. Love God. Do good. Be good. "You must begin with you own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds." (Luke 6:45 The Message)

Member Care Associates

Member Care Associates 
s a non-profit organisation working internationally from the USA and Geneva. We provide and develop supportive resources for workers and organizations in mission, humanitarian, and development sectors. Our services include consultation, training, research, and publications.


Global Integration (GI)
GI is a framework for actively integrating our lives with global realities
by connecting relationally and contributing relevantly on behalf of human 
the major issues facing humanity, in light of our integrity and core values
(e.g., ethical,humanitarian, faith-based).

More MCA Resources 
Global Portal for Good Practice (website)
Reflections, Research, and Resources for Good Practice (weblog)
Global Mental Health: A Global Map for a Global Movement (website)
Global Integration: Common Ground-Common Good (updates, materials, webinars) 
Global Member Care: (volume one): The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice (2011)
(e-book version is available on Amazon)
Global Member Care (volume two): Crossing Sectors for Serving Humanity (2013)
(e-book version is available on Amazon)

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