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aid and conversion

Posted by sujatha 
aid and conversion
May 13, 2009 01:49PM
the subject of christian missionaries working in india has been a highly controversial and sensitive issue in india.personally, i have nothing against any religion but i feel it is not ethically right to want people to convert in return for economic benefits.i just feel it is blackmail.
one can always do good without expecting anything in return - many people do it and i think that is how it should be.
Re: aid and conversion
May 15, 2009 02:18PM
I believe it is inaccurate and misleading to say that all missionaries require a conversion in return for aid. I know many, many missionaries who have sacrificed themselves wholeheartedly to love, serve, and assist the poorest, most rejected and dejected of communities. In fact, one of my good friends at the moment is in Vietnam helping provide free medical care to a very remote region, and has chosen to sacrifice a substantial amount of personal finances and time to be there. They never require that a single person convert before giving medical attention. They are simply motivated by the desire to help, love, and reaffirm that these people are people of value, dignity and worth - forgotten by some but not abandoned by God. They never once ask for a conversion or require them to listen to indoctrination in order to receive aid. In fact, oftentimes they don't even get a "Thank you" from their patients. But if they are ever asked "Why are you here, helping us when no one else cares?" then yes, they do share what compels them to love the unloved, to serve complete strangers and to sacrifice the comforts of family and home. I agree that abuses and improper motives and methods do happen, but to discount the whole of the work and the lives of people like Mother Theresa (who was, yes, Christian) is to harmfully generalize, devalue, and misstate the heart of their work and the labor of their lives.
CSmith
Re: aid and conversion
May 15, 2009 06:55PM
Brad & Brenda are NOT reflective of all Christian missionaries.

Brad Salyer's method of aid and conversion is highly flawed and is the growing exception rather than the rule. I personally know missionaries in Mozambique who are not manipulative or coercive. Instead, they work in the community and simply live their lives as an example of Christ's love.

I recently completed the Perspectives certificate course which prepares protestants for missionary work and it repeatedly admonishes against coercing people. That's not biblical nor is it ethical. Both Brad and Brenda are trying to "convert" others rather than allowing God to work through them. They are two individuals who took it upon themselves to do this work, but were obviously not trained before they went out into the field. They need to be particularly careful not to cause the ostracizing of the Muslim believers within their communities. There's a reason she's been there 17 years and had only one person come to Christ. Although they both seem to have good intentions, they need to take advantage of the copious knowledge and resources available so that they move forward in a beneficial and culturally respectful manner.
Re: aid and conversion
May 20, 2009 06:51AM
I am in a huge dilemma now.

At one end of the spectrum I look at Brenda, who has pretty much devoted her life to helping the interior communities of Mozambique. There's also Brad who pretty blatantly states why he is doing what he is doing and I somewhat get a little uneasy.

Look, from a objective perspective maybe I wouldnt mind what theyre doing since the areas they work in 1)need critical aid (or so I am assuming looking at the video) and 2)no one else is willing to go there. One can also argue at the same time that the missionaries aren't forcing the inhabitants to convert.

But thst viewpoint is somehow misleading, for they aren't really being given the choice. Pardon my pessimistic way of thinking but perhaps this can fuel a future communal conflict?

At the same time again, I am also fascinated by the fact that the inhabitants have remained muslims thus showing that free will does exist there.
Re: aid and conversion
May 28, 2009 11:11AM
There are several misconceptions and possible misconceptions I would like to address:

1. That Christian Missionaries offer aid on the condition that recipients convert to Christianity
2. That the motivation behind faith-based aid is lacking in true compassion and altruism and is more so seen as opportunistic
3. That the desire and motivation behind spreading the Christian faith has ulterior motives and is somewhere along the lines of selfish, programmatic, and conniving.

1. As mentioned prior, aid is not given with the condition that recipients must convert to Christianity. The interview provided in the video is misinterpreted when Brad requests for an opportunity to share the gospel in exchange for building a well. Most likely, Brad would have built the well regardless.

2. This is featured in the video interviews when one of the interviewees said she could not accept living a Christian life while people in Africa were starving and dying of disease.

3. Most Missionaries are not out to enhance and increase whatever local church or organization from which they come. The spreading of the gospel message and the desire to spread the gospel message, in general, is similar to the desire to share with friends a great experience you had at a great restaurant, movie, foreign country, or any other life experience.
Re: aid and conversion
June 17, 2009 09:09AM
I think Aid should definitely be religion free. Not on personal level but representation level. I mean aid should not have any crosses or any symbol or scripture written on it. No representations and a variety of different religions from the aid team would make the people in need feel much more comfortable.

One of the most important issues that might arise is that the people in need might dislike this from deep inside.
But as they would be forced to seek aid they would surely take what is given even if a bit bitter. This might create distance even larger than there already is. Also let’s not forget that the Aid workers might be influenced by the other religion (but this is less likely as for lack of education from the aid seekers) as this is a free world, what if all the Aid workers decided to change their religion... OK that's a little bit far fetched but what about just one conversion, wouldn't thins create un-necessary heat?

People in General would like to help others mainly for religious purposes as simple and complicated as they might be.
When Aid is combined with a certain Religion, I think that would discourage other people following other religions from joining the team as Aid workers. That is because it would be in the name of something they don't believe in or even worse, might be conflicting.
This would limit the probable potential.

Finally, I believe people should be given the opportunity of being part of a neutral organization weather it is aid from the seeker's or aid work's view.
Masumi
Re: aid and conversion
August 20, 2009 10:45PM
It seems sometimes that when people try to assess religion based aid programs, they forget that religion is only one aspect of the work and that no matter what, this is foreign aid. In that light, no matter what they do, intentions aside, they have to be incredibly sensitive to the needs of their community and incredibly self-reflexive. People tend to think that good intentions and "sacrifice" suffice to do work in poorer countries. I cannot ever support the argument that "this is better than nothing." Opening the conversation to call into question any practice of an aid worker does not stop them from working, but it does hopefully introduce into the discourse some consciousness that will improve future aid work.

The missionaries that dedicate a prolonged amount of time to helping local communities should be commended for their dedication--especially when they have been able to learn the local languages. But this dedication does not excuse the problems that come with evangelism. I also know many missionaries that do not evangelize, and I recognize that we cannot place everyone in the same group. It is perhaps in the interest, then, of the non-evangelical missionaries that we look at all aspects of the work of missionaries rather than just focus on their evangelizing work. With this in mind, I hope that people can recognize all the psychological and long term problems that come in general with western aid--especially that tied to western religious institutions.

Rather than arguing about whether or not missionaries try to convert in poorer countries, why don't we talk about how to deal with missionaries who do evangelize? And more importantly, how can we improve the livelihood of people in remote impoverished areas without imposing our values onto them?
Re: aid and conversion
November 11, 2009 06:12PM
The way I personally see it is it should be like it is here in the United States. Freedom of Religion. As we all can see India is a different country so the influence of our values and customs can be harder to fulfill there. But, I believe that for the parents that want their children to be brought up into Christianity can have it be so. If a child, a teenager, an adult, says they want to, then great. But if someone says they don't want to be any part of it or have a religion they already believe in, they shouldn't be forced otherwise.

So I'd say it's all on opinion. If they want to then they should, if they don't want to, then they shouldn't be forced.
Re: aid and conversion
November 12, 2009 09:26PM
Expecting someone to convert their religious beliefs in return for basic necessities amazes me. If you want to convert people, talk to them and give them the choice to listen but to go to a third world country and make a deal saying that they must believe what you believe or you won't help them survive says much about your 'spirituality'. Help someone because they need it and ask nothing in return. Kindness and a consideration for the many differences amongst us all is what should be brought there.
Re: aid and conversion
January 07, 2010 05:41AM
First of all my respect to Brenda who remains working in this area where no one wants to go, risking her life and showing this kind of christian sacrifice. This is a huge contrast with high paid consultants who earn thousands of dollars a day and have no ties with the community. Not so much, I do critisize them because they provide specific experience which can be very useful but it makes you respect more the choices Brenda made.

Ofcourse forced conversions do not work and religion should not be imposed on people. This case was short and the christian mission seems to more focused on compassion than on forced conversion. This example of compassion and sacrifice will most likely be more effective and I believe has led people to follow this example.
Re: aid and conversion
July 07, 2010 05:08PM
I understand why someone would want aid and religion to be separate. There have been many cases where even well meaning missionaries have coerced people into faith or spread Western culture as well as their faith. According to Christianity's own standards I believe these missionaries are in error. However if we just react those negative examples we put ourselves in a bind.

By taking away anybody's freedom to share their worldview we in turn limit the listener's ability to choose their own worldview. Protecting freedom of speech, freedom to share your faith, is actually protecting the rights of others to choose.

We should tackle the problem of coercion and the spreading of Western culture and standards along with faith. Missionary organization must be self-critical on this issue and willing to listen the perception of those they feel called to serve.
Re: aid and conversion
December 16, 2010 09:28AM
I help my former students run a charity focused on getting education and nutrition and counseling to the street children and war orphans of eastern Congo. I also teach university graduates in an intensive journalism program. These students go with me to the frontline and do field work. I am a devout traditionalist Roman Catholic (paray in Latin; attend Tridentine Masses when possible even in Congo), and I have strong relations with the Trappists, the Ursulines, the Salesians, and the Jesuits in the region.

The charity I help run is based fully on caritas. That said, it offers no program of evangelization. Education and nutrition and counseling is offered to all children seeking a better future. These children are Catholic, and Protestant, and Muslim, and some are without denomination. And this is fine. It does not matter. The organization's core motivating principle is that of the Good Samaritan, himself an outcast and not a member of the 'Chosen People', not to mention the priestly caste. He offered succor and solace without asking for recognition, or recompense, or conversion. In this fashion, the outreach and the credibility of this organization has grown leaps and bounds.

Similarly, the university students I teach are sponsored by a hospital, originally founded by a strict fundamentalist church. Their tactics and tone have evolved over the years. But there is still an old-school element that would rather choose to purchase water for the baptismal font than for the cistern at the hospital. I have found working through this organization challenging at times as a Catholic. In particular, I find it odd when church groups from America, Canada, Oceania, and Europe, arrive, seeking to praise Jesus and to spread the Good News. I find this odd, because they greet me as a 'fellow Christian' and then go out to 'convert' people to Christ, people who are already baptized in the Catholic Church. Eastern Congo is 70-80% Roman Catholic.

As one of my dearest friends and colleagues, a former student and now an assistant professor, once remarked walking back from Mass and encountering an imported revival from Keny along the road: "You see all of these ministers. They were born Catholic and went to Catholic schools. But staying Catholic you cannot get rich. You cannot have much money. You cannot be a man of God and take a wife and have too many kids. You cannot have a big house on the lake with a beach and a Range Rover."

I share this with you all, as personal observations that I have had along my way. How we all engage is as critical as engaging at all.

My greatest hero is an Ursuline nun, who arrive on the shores of Lake Kivu in December of 1954, when Goma had a population of 5,000. It now has a population of over one million. She survived Independence and civil war, she survived Mobutu and the Rwandan genocide, she survived the First Congo War, and the Second Congo War. She is still there. You will never hear about her. You will never meet her most likely. She is now 86. She set up the first primary school for girls. Any women of significance in that part of Congo or Rwanda went to one her classes. She brought women's rights and dignity to a place where before women were exclusively seen as cattle. She now teaches street children. She gives to all. She gives God's grace. With vows of humility and poverty and chastity and charity all in tact. To my knowledge she has converted no one in one sense. And in another sense, more subtle, she has re-converted many to a truer understanding of Christ. She has me. Pax vobiscum.
Re: aid and conversion
September 15, 2012 06:38PM
What a great series. I love the invitation to dialogue. Thank you!

Re: aid and religion, I think there is a temptation to believe that aid is either coming from a "non religious" position or a religious position without recognizing that for many cultures a western "secular" approach has deep religious implications. There is no neutral ground. If you come to provide medicine in a culture that revolves around a central power structure, for example, and that power structure includes a spiritual ideology about the chief or priest's ability to heal through spiritual means, then your "secular" medical aid has become just as confrontational as a Southern Baptist bargaining over evangelistic opportunities in return for clean water. Our Western dualistic and fundamentally gnostic divisions of spiritual and physical realities are in conflict with most cultures who don't draw these lines to separate their cosmologies. Religions are not a compartmentalized piece of a world view for non westerners, but the source of worldviews. So a "non-religious" or religiously neutral aid approach does not exist, except hypothetically in western secularized cultures that are comfortable with this dualism. Religious neutrality and concepts of pluralism are just as confrontational to many religious systems that don't separate social laws from laws of ritual and spiritual practice. Try delivering sanitation, clean water, or medical care effectively in a culture where you are considered ceremonially unclean because of your skin color or nationality, or by nature of your secularism! Religion and world view don't just get turned off as a matter of choice when delivering aid. Even our idea of human rights, equality, and the need to care for humans outside of our own kin, creed, or culture are historically unique and have, as the film noted, flowed from a specific religious tradition. The same tradition that was responsible for academic institutions and hospitals, incidentally. It required a specific world view for the concept of aid to develop. So, in my humble opinion, there is no aid in isolation from world view.

The problems that come up seem to come from poor expressions of Christianity. The same dualism that creates the question of this post has, despite fundamental opposition in the historical church, become commonplace in modern faith. Souls are seen as more important than bellies, for example, because they have been dislocated from one another. A Christian author expressing theological concern over the Christian appropriation of western dualism once said, "A soul without a body is a ghost, and a body without a soul is a zombie." In other words, to concern ourselves with one dimension of human experience in isolation of the other is to reduce humans to a horror. The worst atrocities done to man have stemmed from a fundamental division like this: Think of any instance of ethnic cleansing and you will often find some language that calls those persecuted "mear beasts" or attributes inhumanity to the population being murdered. This division is not "Christian". This is why the creeds of early Christianity rally with such deep insistence that Jesus was fully human (in opposition to those who said he was merely a spirit, or merely a body). When Jesus announced the "Gospel of the Kingdom of God" he did it through healing, addressing poverty, addressing political oppression, AND through healing spiritual and social afflictions. This holistic, no strings attached expression was to say, "Where God is king, ALL these things will stop". So Christians can address any and all forms of opression, sickness, unforgiveness, hate, injustice, bad business, loneliness... whatever is broken... and be fully in keeping with the agenda of Jesus. The small, gnostic care for souls alone is simply not Christlike, not to mention the absurd reduction of "Lend to your enemies without expecting repayment" into "give to the pagans only if they will convert."
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