WCC, Vatican Release Joint Report on Religious Conversion

Freedom of religion is a ''non-negotiable'' human right for everyone everywhere, but people of faith must also seek a cure for the ''obsession of converting others,'' states a joint report from the Vatican and World Council of Churches.

Nearly 30 participants from Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds joined the landmark discussions on religious conversion.

"All should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others,” stated the report from the May 12-16 meeting in Lariano, Italy.

Conflicts over religious conversion has led to the deaths of hundreds of missionaries and Christian converts in countries like Pakistan and Iran, where Islamic law outlaws and carries strict sentences for leaving Islam.

Earlier this month, five suspected terrorists were arrested for the alleged murder of three Christian school-girls in Poso, Indonesia, late last year. The heads of the three girls were found in plastic bags near a church and a police station, with a warning written on them that another 100 Christian teenagers would be killed, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines religious conversion as a human right.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion of belief,” the Declaration states.

The joint WCC-Vatican report affirmed this universal right to convert.

"Freedom of religion is a fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable right of every human being in every country in the world," the report stated. "Freedom of religion connotes the freedom, without any obstruction, to practice one's own faith, freedom to propagate the teachings of one's faith to people of one's own and other faiths, and also the freedom to embrace another faith out of one's own free choice.”

However, the statement distinguished between “conversion” and forceful proselytism.

The “right to invite others to an understanding” of one’s own faith “should not be exercised by violating other’s rights and religious sensibilities,” the report stated.

There is a “non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith,” the report continued.

Acknowledging that “errors have been perpetrated and injustice committed by the adherents of every faith” over the prickly issue, the report called on every community to “conduct honest self-critical examination” of its historical records and doctrines.

Upon conducting such “self-criticism and repentance,” the communities should adopt reforms to ensure a healthier approach to conversion. Such reforms include: discouraging and rejecting “unethical means,” avoiding taking advantage of “vulnerable” people like children and disabled persons, and doing humanitarian work “without any ulterior motives.”