17 May 2006 — “Freedom of religion is a fundamental, inviolable and non-negotiable right of every human being in every country in the world,” states the report of the 12-16 May meeting in Lariano/Velletri, near Rome, that launched the cooperative study.
“Freedom of religion connotes the freedom, without any obstruction, to practise 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,” the report goes on.
But this right entails the “equally 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”. Moreover, 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 makes a bold recommendation: “All should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others”.
Acknowledging that “errors have been perpetrated and injustice committed by the adherents of every faith,” it suggests that “it is incumbent on every community to conduct honest self-critical examination” of its historical record as well as its doctrines.
As a result of such “self-criticism and repentance,” some reforms should take place in order to ensure a healthier approach to the issue of conversion. Some concrete suggestions 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”.
The report, issued by the 27 participants from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Yoruba religious backgrounds, recognizes that “many differences and disagreements” remained among them, but nonetheless a “convergent understanding of the several aspects of the issue of religious conversion” developed.
The participants welcomed as useful and needed the idea of a collectively developed ‘code of conduct’ on conversion and suggested “that inter-religious dialogues on the issue of conversion should continue at various levels”.
© 2006 Ekklesia. Posted on Religioscope with permission. An initiative of the Anvil Trust, Ekklesia is a not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square. Website: www.ekklesia.co.uk