Shalom Makers: Development in the Way of Christ – Part IV
Ethical Reasons for Separation
Professor Saroj Jayasinghe believes that faith-based NGOs that combine proselytizing (seeking the religious conversion of an individual or a group) with humanitarian assistance have potential ethical dilemmas. He raises these concerns from actual examples. For instance, some Christian missionaries allegedly refused to aid some people because they were of a different faith (Jayasinghe 2007:623). Jayasinghe rightly believes this ethical issue must be addressed in medical literature. In an article in The Journal of Medical Ethics, Jayasinghe explores “several ethical issues, using four generic activities of faith-based NGOs:
1. It is discriminatory to deny aid to a needy community because it provides less opportunity for proslytising work. Allocating aid to a community with fewer health needs but potential for proselytising work is unjust, since it neither maximises welfare (utilitarianism) nor assists the most needy (egalitarianism).
2. Faith-based-NGOs may state that proselytising work combined with humanitarian assistance improves spiritual wellbeing and overall benefit. However, proselytising work creates religious doubts, which could transiently decrease wellbeing.
3. Proselytising work is unlikely to be a perceived need of the population and, if carried out without consent, breaches the principle of autonomy. Such work also exploits the vulnerability of disaster victims.
4. Governments that decline assistance of a faith-based NGO in proselytising work may be deprive the needy of aid (Jayasinghe 2006:623).
While Jayasinghe’s concerns might cause some Christians to want to separate faith from development for fear of ethical violations, his concerns might cause other Christians to dismiss him altogether, because he fails to distinguish proselytizing from honest and loving evangelism. Neither approach is wise. The third alternative is to approach development and evangelism in the way of Christ.
In understanding this third alternative, it is important to distinguish between proselytizing and evangelism. Some may consider these words synonyms, but proselytizing has the connotation of trying to coerce or manipulate people into faith using an asymmetric power relationship unfairly for selfish ends. Evangelism, by contrast, is sharing the Good News in a posture of loving servanthood sensitive to the Spirit’s timing and direction. It is helpful to remember that “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church” (Moltmann 1993:64). We are not required to be salesmen for God, but rather journalists who engage in conversation to share the Good News that we already embody.
Besides this, it should be noted that everybody shares a story either implicitly or explicitly, Christian or non-Christian. See last post for this point.
The next post deals with practical reasons why people separate faith from humanitarian aid.