Acting in Good Faith
In a pluralistic world, how can Christians best share the Gospel with people of other faith traditions? To begin, today’s evangelizers should understand the difference between proselytizing—attempting to convert individuals using coercion or force—and evangelization. Helpful guidelines can be found in a new document titled Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct, which was issued jointly on June 28 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance.
The result of five years’ work by more than 40 experts, Witness offers guiding principles for evangelization, stressing the need for respect and warning against the use of deception or coercion. The document states that Christians should avoid arrogance and condescension when in dialogue with people of other faiths and with one another, and they should recognize that the decision to change one’s religion is not an easy one. Those considering conversion should be offered sufficient time for reflection. In addition, the document states that Christians are called not only to recognize the good in all religions but to speak out against the actions of governments that deny religious freedom for people of any faith. All people must have the freedom to worship as they see fit.
The drafters have, perhaps, learned from their churches’ historical mistakes. Each Christian group has at times used coercion or rejected the religious freedoms of the others, said the Rev. James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. But these methods are never effective for evangelization. “It is the nature of faith that it be a free response,” Father Massa said. “A coerced faith is not faith.”
June 16 was I.B.M.’s 100th birthday. It celebrated with a four-page advertising supplement in some newspapers that led with the headline, “Nearly all the companies our grandparents admired have disappeared.” Bad luck and poor choices led to some failures. But in most cases the failure came about because leaders were unable both to manage for today and to build for tomorrow.
I.B.M.’s founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr., built a corporate culture on basic beliefs and values that outlived him. This culture did not simply redo what he had done; it institutionalized why the organization exists: “Getting to the essential truths of what makes you you.”
The church does not suffer the same questions of survival. We believe that the founder is still with us, of course, and we try to live and to teach his essential truths. Still, our leadership has to deal with frequent crises and with major cultural shifts. To succeed it can learn, as I.B.M. has done, to keep moving into the future with a patient eye on the long term. And it can learn another lesson: “It’s not just about what you create. It’s also about what you choose to leave behind. Every institution, by its nature, favors the ideas, products and services that made it successful. Leadership often requires shedding emotional attachment to that heritage.”
As church leadership confronts great loss of membership and great deficit of credibility, what can it leave behind? Clerical privilege? Latin sounds and structures? Denunciation and condemnation? Exclusion and control?
I.B.M. has learned that “a profitable idea can come from many sources.” Can the church accept that a prophetic idea, Gospel-inspired and Spirit-filled, can also be so born?
A Men’s World
A new book, Unwanted Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl (Public Affairs), has awakened the public to a social policy in China, India and other countries that has forced a radical shift in the world’s population balance: a decrease in live births of girls. Under China’s one-child laws, for example, there is pressure in favor of male children, who can become future breadwinners and have higher social status.
Since the late 1970s, 163 million female babies have been aborted by families seeking a male heir. If nature is allowed to take its course, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. Following human intervention, today India has 112 boys for every 100 girls. China has 121. Female empowerment, with the majority of women choosing to bear sons, has led to even more sex selection. An aimless population of young males is coming of age with not enough women available for each to marry. Societies in which men substantially outnumber women are unstable and violent. Unmarried men accumulate in the lower classes. Crime waves follow.
Does not this situation refute the absolutist feminist argument for abortion: that the only norm is the “mother’s choice”? By this norm, she and/or her family are free to kill the child merely for being a girl. How can society allow that? If women have the same rights as men and if social order requires a balanced sex ratio, the law should intervene to protect the child—both as a young woman and as a human being.