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Stranger in a Strange Land

Greatly love the intellect


Who are They, anyway, those loathsome spiritual predators? How do you recognize Them? In an essay in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Vol. 36, Nos. 1-2 [Winter-Spring 1999], pp. 43-65), "New Myths for Old: Proselytism and Transition in Post-Communist Europe," Jonathan Luxmoore and Jolanta Babiuch-Luxmoore cite the following definitions:

As for proselytism, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, grouping inter alia the largest Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican communities, defined it in 1961 as "a corruption of Christian witness," which used "cajolery, bribery, undue pressure, or intimidation, subtly or openly, to bring about seeming conversion." Similarly, the Roman Catholic Church defined proselytism after Vatican II as "a manner of behaving contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, which makes use of dishonest methods to attract [persons] to a community—for example, by exploiting their ignorance and poverty."

"In short," the authors conclude, "all mainstream Christian churches appear to agree on the negative implications of the concept." More recently, in 1991, the WCC and the Vatican issued a joint statement on proselytism largely echoing the sentiments of these earlier statements.

Alas, these definitions of proselytism are worthless, since in practice the term is applied indiscriminately to all sorts of evangelism. Consider, for example, a recent column by Father Ted Stylianopoulos, an Orthodox priest, on Beliefnet (—check out this site if you haven't yet visited it). The column begins irenically, responding to a question from an evangelical Protestant as to whether evangelicals are considered to be Christians by Orthodox believers. Father Ted says yes, and reports with approval on ecumenical contacts between the two groups. But then he shifts gears:

It hasn't always been this way in the past. Evangelical Protestants have sent, and are still supporting, ...

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