What is the real problem with evangelism overseas by U.S. religious groups?

source:? Washington Post, March 6, 2010

When we started our weekly online religion section, "On Faith," Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham and I agreed to co-moderate a regular panel of distinguished religion scholars. The idea was to create a diverse assembly of religious voices. The result has been a wonderful running conversation on belief or lack of belief, the search for meaning in our lives, and a sense of the divine. This week's discussion was about proselytizing overseas. A sample of the conversation is below.

— Sally Quinn




Religious expression is a fundamental right: Freedom of expression, including sharing one's faith with others, is a fundamental human right enshrined in national and international law from the Bill of Rights to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Michael Otterson, head of public affairs, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Proselytism is a dangerous religious idea: Government-supported religious proselytizing, especially in the name of security, is a very dangerously bad idea because it compromises religious freedom and, in fact, renders it unfree.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor, Chicago Theological Seminary

Proselytize away, just not on my tax dime: Of course there is a problem with American religious groups proselytizing overseas — not because they don't have a perfect right to proclaim their faith from every rooftop and minaret, but because many of these organizations have long received U.S. government funding for their charitable works. This does no good for the image of the United States in countries where people deeply resent proselytizing.


Susan Jacoby, author and reporter

The ethics of proselytizing: Far from being a threat to religious freedom, proselytism is one more expression of it. In fact, in countries in which proselytizing is illegal, people are literally dying for the right to share their beliefs with others. We should be far more concerned about those nations in which one is barred from sharing their beliefs than we are about individuals who may annoy us with their overly enthusiastic religious salesmanship.


Brad Hirschfield, rabbi and president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

My god's better than your god: Let the educators from every tradition spread out west, east, north and south to teach and to learn, but let them leave their expectations of winning souls at home. Believers and nonbelievers alike have been blessed abundantly and ought to join in gratitude for those blessings, not in competition to prove that my god's better than your god.


Jack Moline, director, public policy, Rabbinical Assembly


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