Zeal for converting non-Christians sets evangelical Christianity apart from
other expressions of the Christian faith. You will find evangelicals all
over the world, teaching, preaching and healing broken bodies and broken
lives. They do much good.
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But sometimes they go too far. We are dismayed at the furor ignited by
members of Waco’s Antioch Community Church, which sent a relief team into
tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka. According to The New York Times, the Waco
evangelicals have outraged Sri Lankan Christians and non-Christians by
aggressively proselytizing among the country’s Hindus, Muslims and
Buddhists. Some native pastors complain that the Texans are putting all the
country’s Christians in peril from militant Buddhist factions.
The Rev. Duleep Fernando, a Sri Lankan Methodist, told The Times that the
Texans induced him to bring them into a refugee camp, pretending to be
merely a humanitarian group. “We have told them this is not right, but now
we don’t have any control over them,” the sadder-but-wiser pastor says now.
Aid to the poor and oppressed is a central tenet of Christianity, and
missionary efforts over the centuries have often mixed material aid with
subtle or not-so-subtle invitations to convert. It is difficult to draw a
bright line between what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
But deception – hiding one’s evangelical aims – is wrong. And so is
imperiling the lives of Christians who can’t hop a plane bound for D/FW if
non-Christian militants turn violent.
Even absent that, the internal damage to a society can be profound.
“Soupers” in Ireland and “rice Christians” in Asia are some of the epithets
that reflect the bitter resentment toward people who are perceived to have
abandoned their historical faith in return for handouts from proselytizing
That’s why many Christian aid organizations today try to separate
humanitarian efforts from evangelism outreach. But the Waco church
explicitly rejects that strategy. One paralyzed Buddhist fisherman told The
Times he believes the Waco team is trying to convert him, but that he is
“in a helpless situation,” and feels he has no choice but to submit to
their ministrations. How can Christians be proud of that