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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious violence

Is Christian proselytizing
linked to religious hate crimes?

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Excerpts from The Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom: Sharing Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic Society.'

bullet"Only a society that permits free discourse within the robust marketplace of ideas envisioned by America's founders can safeguard the true liberty, freedom, and human dignity we all pursue. Misguided or false notions of pluralism must not be allowed to jeopardize anyone's constitutional right to evangelize or promote one's faith." 6
bullet"We pledge to defend the rights of others to hold their own religious convictions, to challenge our beliefs, and to attract converts to their religious faiths."

Types of religious proselytizing:

Religious proselytizing is the act of attempting to convert another person to your own religion. As long as it neither involves verbal harassment nor creates a disturbance, it is a protected form of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Proselytizing can take many forms:

bulletAt one extreme, the follower of one faith may simply share their religious beliefs with another person of a different religion. A dialog may develop in which the follower of both religions -- as equals -- discuss their beliefs. One goal is increased awareness of religious differences and similarities between the two faiths. Another is the hope by at least one person that the other will convert to their faith.
bulletAt another extreme, the follower of one faith approaches the other from a position of superiority. She/he assertively presents theirs as the only true religion. Other faiths, including the religion of the listener, may be described as inferior, filled with errors, or even Satan-inspired. The proselytizer might state that the other will spend eternity being tortured in Hell unless they convert to the proselytizer's religion. 

The former approach involves genuine bi-directional communication. It should lead to a greater understanding of both religions, and may increase the level of religious tolerance in the community. In the second approach, the proselytizer has a perceived position of superiority. He/she lacks respect for the other person's religion. The exchange can be expected to sometimes generate ill feeling, animosity, and conceivably even violence.

Friction developed between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and a local, inter-faith council in Chicago, IL. The SBC planned to send 100,000 volunteers to the city in the summer of the year 2000 to evangelize the unsaved population. The council expressed concern that the SBC style of proselytizing might exacerbate religious tension in the city and lead to violence. Each side has charged the other with religious intolerance. The Americans United for Separation of Church and State agency became involved, viewing the problem from a civil rights perspective. They acknowledged that SBC's style of evangelism offends many people, but emphasized that the volunteers have a constitutional right to try to convert people to their religion.

Southern Baptist evangelist effort in Chicago:

According to Newsroom on 2000-JAN-05: 1,2

Southern Baptists planned to launch a "major evangelism effort in Chicago" during the summer of 2000. "The Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago wrote a letter in November to Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, asking that the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. not send thousands of missionaries to Chicago for fear they would create a climate conducive to hate crimes."

The Southern Baptists point out that "Neither spokesmen for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and Council of Religious Leaders, nor organizations and agencies that track hate crimes cite any studies linking them with evangelism."

"However, the implicit suggestion in Southern Baptist prayer guides is that 'others, including Christians, who do not practice the Christian faith as they do are not as Christian,' contended United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, a member of the inter-faith council. 'That is insulting to us and conducive to real hurt.' With the recent defamation of synagogues and deaths attributed to hate crimes in the Chicago area, the bishop said, 'it's no stretch to look back at history and see cause and effect.' "

"Sprague said the incident reflects the theological divide between Christians about evangelism. Evangelical Christians, like Southern Baptists, believe that salvation comes only by accepting Jesus Christ as savior. Others consider Christ as the decisive revelation and that believers witness their faith by living life 'with Jesus Christ as savior, living and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.' It is clear as the Southern Baptist leadership has communicated that they have a hold on truth, and others who do not agree are outside the fold of salvation,' the bishop said. 'That is offensive and theologically suspect...This raises deep historic wounds, particularly in the Jewish community. It is important for us as Christians to remember that this is still the century of the Holocaust.' "

"[Rob] Boston [spokesperson] of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said he is aware that conversion activities of Southern Baptists offend many people, 'but they have every right to do it. It would be unfortunate if we got to a point where folks wanting to spread their message could not do that. ? The First Amendment gives the right to hold unpopular opinions and the right to spread them. The appropriate response is not to ask them not to come, but to shut the door' when they come to your home."

According to ReligionToday on 2000-JUN-9: 

The numbers of volunteers for the SBC evangelistic conversion of Chicago has fallen behind expectations. 100,000 volunteers were expected, but only 1,200 out of town volunteers had signed up by early June. The Chicago Metropolitan Baptist Association planned to cancel 6,000 hotel reservations. However, evangelicals from 170 conservative churches in the Chicago area became involved in a range of activities that summer.

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The Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom:

As described by ReligionToday: 3,4

"Stung by assertions that preaching can lead to hate crimes, some of the country's most prominent Christian leaders are reasserting the constitutional right to evangelize. Eighty-four scholars, theologians, and church leaders last week endorsed a document called 'The Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom: Sharing Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic Society.' They include Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, theologians Carl F. H. Henry, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.

The leaders rejected the notion that evangelism undermines 'a peaceful, pluralistic society and may lead to intolerance, bigotry, and even violence,' but said that only a society that permits free discourse 'can safeguard the true liberty, freedom, and human dignity we all pursue.' 6

The declaration also 'acknowledges with shame that some Christian churches have failed to exercise proper respect for the rights and dignity of others,' and rejects the use of 'coercive techniques, dishonest appeals, or any form of deception.'

Southern Baptists last year announced a plan to evangelize Chicago this summer. An interfaith coalition asked the denomination to reconsider the campaign, fearing that it might lead to violence against Jews, Hindus, and Muslims.

That was 'the straw that broke the camel's back,' Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Dallas Morning News. Saying that evangelism leads to hate crimes is nonsense, he said. 'The declaration puts our critics on notice that they're going to have to defend what appears to a lot of Americans to be intolerance.' "

As described by Newsroom:

Robert Coleman is the director of the School of World Mission and Evangelism at Trinity International University, He said that the Chicago Declaration grew out of efforts to resolve the SBC/Council conflict, but added that "the document has a larger mission...It reflects an attitude that all of us have in a strong evangelical faith and a desire to present the gospel freely...We are not singling out any groups, like Jews, but we want everyone without regard to race or religious faith to hear the gospel." With an apparent reference to the conflict in society between absolute and relative truth, he added that "There is a climate, a whole culture that is so pluralistic that almost anyone who has a strong conviction is considered a bigot...6 Those of us who are evangelicals, who believe that, in real truth, there is a word that is clear, a word that is absolute -- that is naturally going to evoke some criticism from those who think everything is up for grabs."

As supported by the Southern Baptist Convention:

At their 2000-JUN-13/14 convention in Orlando, FL, the Convention asserted their right to evangelize. The messengers (delegates) passed Resolution 2, which said, in part:

bulletTherefore, be it RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 13-14, 2000, commit afresh to personal evangelism; and
bulletBe it further RESOLVED, That we affirm our God-given and constitutionally-protected right to make Christ known in a pluralistic society; and
bulletBe it further RESOLVED, That the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ is a reflection of our love for both God and neighbor; and
bulletBe it further RESOLVED, That out of respect for the value, dignity, and human rights of all people, we abhor the use of coercive techniques, dishonest appeals, or any form of deception in evangelistic outreach; and
bulletBe it finally RESOLVED, That if our culture or even our government were to forbid us to proclaim the gospel, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). 7

Note: We have not been able to find any other references (or the document text) related to the Chicago Declaration on the Internet. 

Related essays on this site:

bulletSouthern Baptist prayer guides
bulletHow Christians view non-Christian religions


  1. Lead article, Newsroom, 2000-JAN-5. 
  2. Newsroom is a service of Worldwide Newsroom Inc. Their articles are written by "a network of journalists, scholars and other professional contacts in country." You can subscribe to their free service from their website at http://www.newsroom.org/ 
  3. Current news summary, Religion Today, 2000-JUN-6. See: http://www.religiontoday.com/Archive/NewsSummary/ 
  4. Religion Today offers a free daily religious news service at: www.ReligionToday.com.
  5. "U.S. evangelicals assert right to evangelize," Newsroom, 2000-JUN-9. Article 1612.
  6. The term "pluralism" is ambiguous. It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity. Other times, it refers to the belief that all religions are true. It appears to have been used in both senses in various quotations in this essay.
  7. "Resolution No. 2," Southern Baptist Convention, 2000-JUN-13/14, at: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.org/

Portions copyrighted © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUN-12
Latest update: 2009-NOV-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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