At On Faith this week, “the question” is whether religious groups proselytizing overseas amounts to “religious freedom” or to “coercion.” Among others, theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite argues that the age of global missions needs to stop:
[R]eligious proselytism in a rapidly globalizing world is an even more dangerous religious idea than in centuries past. Globalization, fueled by the speed of the Internet, is creating widespread anxiety and a sense of cultural threat around the world. Religion, especially, but not only, conservative religion, offers itself as a refuge from the destabilizing and even dehumanizing effects of globalization. Proselytizing in a globalizing world shakes the foundations of security that religion offers and it has a profoundly unsettling effect. Since increased anxiety often manifests itself in aggression and even violence, religious proselytizing is an ever more dangerous religious idea, and a bad one at that.
My own Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ, has given up proselytizing in favor of respect and partnership with other people of faith around the world. But even if various religious bodies do wish to continue their conversion efforts, communication of respect and truthful, inviting approaches to others are more appropriate in the unstable world in which we now all live.
Secularist Susan Jacoby, on the other hand, says “proselytize away, just not on my tax nickel”:
I have a lot of respect for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for refusing to accept faith-based government funds and paying for its own missionary activities. I figure that young Mormon missionaries who draw Paris for their time of service to their faith must at least be providing conversation for the astonished French families who greet their unexpected knocks at the door. And who knows, perhaps some of the Mormons stay from the path and find that wine and cafe filtre can be part of a, well, blessed life.
Read more at On Faith.