As someone involved in both mission and dialogue
with adherents of various religions I was pleased to see the Fall 2014 issue of
Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue (EIFD) address these twin topics. While Evangelicals
continue to explore many aspects of missiological thinking and practice, there
remains a tendency to keep “dialogue” at arms length, even though there is
increasing interest in our religious subculture around the topic. EIFD's recent
issue was a positive step forward in the conversation among Evangelicals in
that it not only addressed dialogue, but also brought this into conversation
with our passion for mission. I found the entire issue stimulating
and specific contributions continue to contribute to my own ongoing reflections
in this area.
As I read through the Fall 2014 issue I also
found myself wanting to add something to the conversation as a result of my own
experience in mission and dialogue. This includes the following items that I
try to keep in the forefront of my thinking.
Remember that others are "listening" to our conversation.
In the past Evangelicals engaged in theological
conversations behind closed doors and within the walls of our various
educational and denominational institutions. Now the situation has changed
dramatically. In our globalized world connected by the Internet, such
discussions among Evangelicals are not only participated in and observed by our
own, but also by other religious adherents. It is not uncommon to find various
religious and even irreligious sites on the web discussing their perspectives
on how Evangelicals engage others. As a result, I have found it a good rule of
thumb, whether participating in an online or offline discussion about people in
other religions, to always act as if they were in the room or online watching
in real time. This helps me maintain a constant state of awareness and
sensitivity regarding the way I discuss others, their beliefs and practices.
aware that for some people of other faiths, Evangelicals are viewed with
suspicion precisely because dialogue is seen as a “cover” for evangelism.
Over the years I have enjoyed relationships and
conversations with adherents from a number of different religious groups and
movements. One of those is Paganism. As a result many Pagans have become
familiar with my background in both missions and dialogue. This has led some to
express the opinion that my involvement in interreligious dialogue, or more
accurately, religious diplomacy, is nothing more
than a cover for evangelistic activity among them. According to this
perspective, my respectful conversations with Pagans are a ruse designed to
hide my real interests in seeing Pagans convert to Christianity. While I have
been transparent about my interests in being both persuasive and respectful, these
concerns raised by Pagans are echoed by adherents of other religious traditions
as well. Evangelicals should be sensitive of these concerns, and make these a
part of our intra- and inter-faith conversations as well.
Consider the ethical aspects of mission and dialogue.
In the process of doing my research I became
aware of the concerns of Padma Kuppa, a woman with the Hindu American
Foundation, who shared thoughts about what she labeled "predatory
proselytism"— allegations regarding the unethical evangelistic efforts of
Christians in India and other countries. We Evangelicals spend a great deal of
time thinking and writing about various aspects of mission, from history to
strategy, but spend very little time addressing the ethics involved. This
dawned on me as I looked more closely at the concerns of those like Kuppa, and
the only resource I could find that took up the topic was a volume by Elmer
Thiessen entitled, The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defense of
Proselytizing and Persuasion. Wanting to give
this issue more exposure and discussion, and not only among Evangelicals but
also in an interfaith context, the Sacred Tribes Journal 8/1
(Fall 2013) was devoted to this subject. The takeaway for
Evangelicals on this third point is that as we discuss mission and dialogue
among ourselves we should also give greater consideration to the ethical issues
I hope readers of Evangelical Interfaith
Dialogue find these ideas a helpful contribution to the conversations
facilitated by this fine publication.
John W. Morehead is the Director of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies.