Editor’s note: The cover article of the East-West Church and Ministry Report 20 (Winter 2012), 1-3, summarized and critiqued a path-breaking new code of conduct for missionaries developed by the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church. The next issue of the East-West Church and Ministry Report 20 (Spring 2012), 3-6, carried multiple responses. The present issue publishes two additional responses.
Religious Discrimination Is Official
In Russia, religious discrimination is official, indeed mandatory, in view of the 1997 law, which replaced Gorbachev’s liberal law of 1990. Although the 1997 law pre-dates Putin and Medvedev, they fully endorse it. As far as I can judge, the signatory nations of the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, of which Russia is one, have made little or no effort to call Russia to account for its treaty obligations under the rubric of religious freedom.
Further, looking at the way in which this legislation proclaims the right of Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism alone to be classed as historic religions, one notes its inaccuracy: after all, Protestantism and Catholicism are also historic religions on Russian soil. Lutherans were presenting the 18th century. Catholics were widespread – if thinly – well before 1917 (witness the “Street of Tolerance” -newsy Prospect – in St Petersburg).I regard the Moscow Patriarchate’s contention that Russia is its “canonical territory” as entirely spurious.
I have one query about the [“Christian Witness”]document itself, which emanates from the highest sources in the Vatican, the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the World Evangelical Alliance. It is not clear whether the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) had any input into the WCC discussions on the subject. One suspects not, given the weakened MP presence in Geneva these days. In any case, as such a major player, one might have expected the MP to have been one of the bodies most fully represented in the discussions which produced this document. Did it take part? If so, did it produce a dissenting report or has it in any way endorsed it? We are not told.♦
Canon Michael Bourdeaux, Keston Institute, Oxford, England
Another Response to Missionary Code of Conduct
The new code of conduct for Christian witnesses indeed a historic document. It is the result of cooperation among a very broad range of confessions, yet it neither attempts to redefine the gospel nor restrict evangelism. Rather, it affirms both proclamation and demonstration of the gospel, and urges all to do so according to gospel principles of love, respect, and honesty. Churches, confessional bodies, and missions organizations would be wise to take an honest look at their practices in these areas. “Christian Witness” is a good start down a long road.
Further dialogue or clarification regarding missions in contexts that have a majority Christian faith would be helpful. The "EWC&M Report “article rightly said that respect, tolerance, and dialogue are extremely rare commodities, particularly in majority Orthodox countries. To what extent were Orthodox representatives involved in producing “Christian Witness”? It is the result of consultations organized by the WCC and the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, in collaboration with the WEA and had participation from the largest Christian families of faith. I wonder if this is in descending order of involvement, and perhaps, acceptance. Until there is public acceptance of “Christian Witness” at highland influential levels of Orthodox leadership, I doubt much will change in the former Soviet Union. Dialogue is also needed in order to arrive at mutual agreement on the meaning of terms. What one group calls “persuasion” another calls “coercion.” What some call “freedom” others call “freedom from divisive sects.” What one group calls “biblically mandated compassion” is viewed by another as “exploitative allurement.” And what some call “Christian” others call “patriotic”. Without greater understanding, I doubt much will change.♦
Preston Pearce, Southern Baptist International Mission Board, Prague