THE complexities and challenges of sharing the Christian faith with adherents of other religions have been explored in a new release by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI).
Acting in God’s Love: Christian witness in a multi-religious world was published earlier this month to encourage discussion in churches about how to approach evangelism and witness to people of other faiths. It includes a series of real-life case studies.
The CTBI report notes that it is important to recognise that changing one’s religion to Christianity is a momentous decision, and can cause pain to loved ones, and bring ostracism from the convert’s former community. “When we encourage others to join us, are we prepared to take responsibility for the resulting life-changes this may bring?” it asks.
Evangelism should take place first in a context of respectful and trusting relationships between faith groups. Co-operation for the common good is a useful way of reminding both churches and those they wish approach that conversion is not the only item on the agenda.
The report praises stories of how Christians in one town stood by their Muslim neighbours when they were the subject of a prolonged far-right protest campaign led by the English Defence League. The Muslims’ only offence was to ask to use a former Scout hut for prayers.
Acting in God’s Love does not shy away from the difficulties posed by interfaith evangelism. It includes case studies about mixed-faith marriages, a priest who was asked to bless the house of a Sikh family, and whether or not to refer to God as Allah when speaking with Muslims.
The very act of desiring conversion can sometimes be seen as unacceptable, the report warns.
One cleric writes anonymously of his or her fears about addressing caste discrimination among the Hindu community in the parish, concerned that Hindu parishioners would regard it as a racist attack, particularly given the colonial history of the Church in India.
And a Fresh Expression in Liverpool agonises over whether to baptise a young gay Iranian refugee in their community, fearing that he wanted to become a Christian simply to bolster his asylum claim.
When engaging in interfaith dialogue, Christians must listen carefully to understand others’ beliefs properly , and “acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good in them”, the report concludes. “Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions.”