What to make of the missionary code of conduct

This evening I have been reading the missionary code of conduct that’s been jointly released by key evangelical, protestant and catholic bodies, as well as some of the Christian and non-Christian responses it has generated. At first glance it seems well intentioned but theologically thin and organisationally toothless? What’s your thoughts. Do you think it will achieve anything? Personally I’m doubtful it will reign in Christian extremists or placate non-Christian critics, but at least it highlights that voices of moderation can be found across multiple strands of the world Christian movement.

5 thoughts on “What to make of the missionary code of conduct

  1. I’m glad you shared this Matt. In some ways I’m glad it’s ‘toothless’. ‘Teeth’ would rather undermine the point of a non-coercive missiology. Mostly, I think it’s a good piece of work and raises some important questions, especially about coercion, manipulation and evangelism. I think perhaps, I would have liked rather more Post-Christendom specifics and a bit more acknowledgement of what we got wrong under Christendom. As you’ll see from this piece (http://radref.blogspot.com/2011/06/evangelism-we-can-believe-in.html) I’ve been very much thinking along the same lines. There’s definitely a role for the Peace Churches in helping to carry a policy like this forward. Shalom, phil


  2. My analysis is similar to yours. I think there are some great — if somewhat vague in some cases — points to be found in there.
    Here’s what I predict will happen:
    Some people (like yourself) will look at these, see the good points, and take it as an opportunity to do some personal reflection and consider where their own conduct may still need improvement.
    Some people, not quite as aware of these issues as the first group, will gain a deeper awareness of them. They too will take this as an opportunity for personal reflection and consider how they might need to change.
    Some people will be totally confused by this, not understanding what the big deal is. Hopefully, these people will engage in conversations with others and come to get a better understanding.
    Some people will do what they always do and rationalize their actions. They’ll redefine virtues like love, compassion, and humility in ways that they can call what they do loving, compassionate, and humble. Then it’ll be business as usual.
    As a non-Christian who sometimes criticizes, I’ll be grateful for the reactions by the first two groups, remain hopeful that people in the third group will eventually move in a good direction, and take ibuprofen to deal with the headache caused by the fourth group.
    As for the code’s toothlessness, can it really be any other way? Missions and church groups are not a monolithic entity with a central authority, so there really can be no overall “these are the rules and here’s what happens when you break them” approach to these issues. At best, individual churches, denominations, and religious organizations can implement formal policies (not to mention methods of determining compliance and disciplinary procedures for noncompliance) based on this code that those endorsed, sponsored, or commissioned by them are required to follow. And I’m not convinced that’s entirely practical or desirable. Ultimately, conduct is carried about by people, not organization. And getting people to do what you want them to do is a tricky business at best.
    That and let’s face it, I think trying to codify how to be compassionate, loving, and humble is likely to succeed as nailing jello to a tree.
    So, no, this won’t exactly placate me, as it’s not going to ultimately solve all the problems. But at least (1) I can appreciate the attempt and what it might accomplish and (2) I acknowledge that I’m not sure there’s anything that will ultimately solve all the problems. So I’m willing to cut you some slack. 😉


  3. Oh, and I’m glad to see the code talk about working with other religious groups for the common good, though I suspect with some groups (both Christian and non-Christian), defining what qualifies as the common good might raise issues in its own right.


  4. Jarred,
    I agree. Since we do not share a common worldview it is unlikely our views of the common good will be commonly shared in every respect.
    Take for example the Dalit situation in India. Christians tend to view the common good as best served by actions aimed at lifting the poorest of the poor out of their grinding poverty. Hindus however, often see such Christian actions as a denial of karma and an assault on the dharma. What we call “charity” they call “inducement”. How do we arrive at a common understanding of the common good in a situation like this? It’s easier said than done. We should be aware of Hindu sensibilities I agree, but I’m not going to ignore the poor just because my attention could offend someone. There are some ethical conundrums here that the code of conduct skirts over way too quickly.
    Then of course there’s the question of how the common good relates back to the good news, which is after all the focus of the document. Would I be out of line to suggest many Pagans would struggle to see how sharing the good news could ever contribute to the common good … given the very goodness of the news is widely questioned? Indeed, from the discussion that erupted over my “Tips for Conversations with Pagans” it’s clear to me that the very notion of “ethical evangelism” is inherantly oxymoronic for many non-Christians. Not unlike searching for “chaste prostitution”. Again, the document skirts over this very quickly as well. I appreciate that the code of conduct differentiates between witness and conversion, suggesting we are responsible for the former but not the latter, but I suspect many will miss the nuances underlying such a statement.
    As for discipline, I think this has developed a bad rap to our detriment. Discipline is valued in sport, why not in spirituality as well? I see a three way choice between no discipline, destructive discipline and constructive discipline and would suggest the current situation is due more to the first two options than the latter one. Moderates have been too silent in the face of extremist excesses and I doubt more silence will improve the situation. We need to constructively challenge unChristlike witnessing practices with both sensitivity and steadfastness.


  5. Agreed.
    I think that those who compiled it already observe its provisions and had no need for it, and those who had no part in compiling it will continue to ignore it.


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