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ICC Note: Hmmmmm, while we welcome the effort to create an “advocacy tool (for use in) discussions with governments considering anti-conversion laws” (that should) “help to advance the cause of religious freedom” it makes us a bit nervous that the World Council of Churches is involved. Stay tuned. . .

Evangelicals Join Interfaith Effort to Write Rules for Conversions

GENEVA, Aug. 16 (NY Times/AP) Evangelical Protestant churches have joined an effort by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other Protestant churches to create a common code of conduct for religious conversions to preserve the right of Christians to spread their religion while avoiding conflict among faiths.

The World Council of Churches, which with the Vatican started talks last year on a code, said Wednesday that the process was formally joined by the World Evangelical Alliance at a meeting this month in Toulouse , France .

The aim is to ease tensions with Muslims, Hindus and other religions that fear losing adherents. In some instances, converts and foreign missionaries have been punished with imprisonment or death.

The kidnapping by the Taliban of 23 South Korean Christian church volunteers visiting Afghanistan last month underscored tensions. At least two of the 23 have been killed.

One accusation against the South Koreans is that they wanted to meet with converts from Islam. But their church has denied that they were trying to spread Christianity.

The World Council of Churches, which is based here, said the code of conduct should be an “advocacy tool in discussions with governments considering anti-conversion laws” and should “help to advance the cause of religious freedom.”

The rules should also address concerns in other religions about Christians who seek converts and inspire those faiths to “consider their own codes of conduct,” the council said.

It said, however, that “none of the partners involved intend — nor have the means — to impose the code of conduct on their constituencies.”

Evangelizing has also caused concern among other branches of Christianity because of the vigor with which Pentecostal and evangelical congregations have led the drive for conversions around the world. These churches have generally grown faster than older Christian churches.

The visit to Brazil by Pope Benedict XVI in May was partly a response to the exodus of millions of Catholics to Protestant evangelical churches.

Juan Michel, a spokesman for the World Council of Churches, said the support from the evangelical alliance was a big push for efforts to agree on guidelines by 2010.

Major evangelical groups were absent last year from a meeting of the Vatican and the council near Rome , where the idea for the code was initiated. But at the five-day meeting in Toulouse , which ended Sunday, Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the World Evangelical Alliance, gave his “full approval” to the process, the council said.

The alliance comprises 233 Protestant groups and ministries in 121 nations. The council unites about 350 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians.

The next step in the process is a meeting next year to draft the guidelines.

The council said the code should establish what “needs to be banned when it comes to Christian mission, a daunting task given the many different contexts involved,” and should provide guidelines for dealing with complicated issues like interreligious marriages.