A had the privilege to open the launch of the ecumenical “Recommendations for Conduct” in Geneva on the 28th of June, 2011 (see here) with the following words:
Today, we are gathered here to launch this historic document, an outcome of the intense and extensive process of five years of our collective efforts come to an end, but it will also open a new process to carry out this message in our respective constituencies in the coming days and years. As a person who has been part of the process from the early stage, let me take this opportunity to give you an overview of this process.
The question of conversion emerged as one issue to be discussed on a worldwide scale during a major interreligious event, the „Critical Moment Interreligious Conference“ organized by the WCC June [6-9,] 2005 in Geneva. There was a proposal at that time for the WCC which needed to be much clearer on the question of religious conversion as an issue in interreligious relations.
Hans Ucko, director of WCC’s Office on „Interreligious Relations and Dialogue“, brought the idea up in one of the yearly staff meetings between PCID and IRRD. The end result was that the two offices initiated a project entitled “Interreligious Reflection on Conversion – From Controversy to a Shared Code of Conduct”. The project was made up of three major consultations, about double as many smaller meetings of staff and experts (mostly called the „drafting committee“) and an ongoing virtual discussion that later on included many Christian leaders worldwide, that were asked of their evaluation of the draft.
The first consultation “Conversion: Assessing the Reality” met at Lariano, Italy, May [12-16,] 2006 and wanted to map the problems and thus was an interreligious meeting. 27 people, representing Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and the Yoruba religion agreed that a code of conduct for propagating one’s own faith should be achieved. They stated: „We affirm that while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating other’s rights and religious sensibilities.” (Report Lariano 2006, no. 3)
After Lariano 2006 I was invited by the WCC as an expert on this particular issue to a small meeting convened by the WCC in Geneva. It was at that meeting when Hans Ucko on behalf of the WCC, in agreement with Felix Machado of the PCID, invited the World Evangelical Alliance to become part of the process. Most of their staff were connected to the WEA’s Religious Liberty Commission and later the Theological Commission, but it was run directly under WEA’s Director and International Council from the very beginning.
The second consultation „Towards an ethical approach to conversion: Christian witness in a multi-religious world“, which was prepared by a small group meeting in Geneva, January [11-12,] 2007, took place as a larger meeting of all branches of Christianity in Toulouse, France, August [8-12,] 2007 with 45 participants. It was here that the necessity of specific recommendations was discussed in length and the topics were set out, that had to be addressed in a “code”, as it was still called at that time. The idea would be that Christians first of all find a code of conduct among themselves in their relationships to other religions. If even Christians would not agree amongst each other on a peaceful way for their witness that respects the human dignity and rights of others, how could they expect an agreement with all religions?
After Toulouse, a drafting committee of the three bodies involved started to work on the text of the recommendations, following the topics listed in Toulouse. The text was revised again and again in discussion with the leadership and taking in reactions from church leaders from all over the world who got to see the text. Finally the text was taken to a third consultation in Bangkok under the title “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for a Code of Conduct “, January [25-29,] 2011, with 45 high ranking representatives of the three bodies plus church leaders and experts, which had the sole task to discuss and revise the text of the recommendations. In groups and in plenary the text was discussed line by line. There were so many fine and valuable contributions, that we ran out of time. It was amazing, how suddenly the text finally proposed was seen as much better than the one we started with, both by the participants and the institutions involved. It no longer was a text with a lot of single thoughts, plus one flowing from the first sentence to the last, as you will see when reading it.
After Bangkok, only very minor changes were agreed upon between PCID, WCC and WEA.
During the period of the process of drafting and finalising the document over a period of five years, there were many changes in staff and leadership in PCID as well as in WCC. The process went on anyway. This proves that the project, that has come to an end today, is not just a project bound to certain people, but a joint need of the whole Christian community and a great achievement of institutions working together over time.
These pictures show the Great Hall of the World Council of Churches while publishing the code, Schirrmacher is speaking, from left to right: Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata (Sekretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID)), Jean-Louis Pierre Cardinal Tauran (President, PCID), Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit (General Secretary, World Council of Churches), Dr. Geoff Tunicliffe (General Secretary, World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)), Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-Anan (Under Secretary, PCID), Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher (Chairman, Theological Commission and Speaker for Human Rights, WEA). Fotos by courtesy of WCC-Media.