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The Problem of Proselytism

The Problem of Proselytism

In this report, Paul Bickley challenges assumptions about religious charities, arguing that there is little evidence that they proselytize as part of their community action. (2015)

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Critics of religion argue that the threat of proselytism is one of the key reasons why faith–based organisations should not have a greater role in providing public services, or receive any public money.

The word, which traditionally simply meant the attempt to persuade someone to change their religion, now implies using power and position or taking advantage of the vulnerable to recruit new adherents. However, there’s confusion about the boundaries between what is and isn’t legitimate when it comes to the public articulation of faith.

The Problem of Proselytism explores three areas where faith–based organisations do need to exercise caution: prioritising the public good, respecting the dignity of religious and other minorities and protecting vulnerable service users. It argues that faith–based organisations don’t need to secularise in order to head off these concerns. Indeed, they should be transparent and consistent in setting out how what they do is different to purely secular providers, particularly when it comes to offering spiritual care. The report offers a rigorous analysis of the debate around proselytism today, drawing on the findings of a range of interviews. It describes ‘full fat’, ‘half fat’ and ‘low fat’ approaches to faith–based social action, arguing that each will and should have a different kind of relationship with statutory providers or funding. 

The report calls for openmindedness from decision makers, with responsible and reflective social action on the part of faith–based organisations.

Theos and the Centre for Theology and Community have also produced a short practical guide for faith–based organisations to help them consider the place of faith and evangelism in their work. You can download this guide here.

Paul Bickley is Director of Political Programme at Theos.

Image from available in the public domain.

Paul Bickley

Paul Bickley

Paul is Head of Political Engagement at Theos. His background is in Parliament and public affairs, and he holds an MLitt from the University of St Andrews’ School of Divinity.

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Evangelism, Religion, Welfare


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