2012 ICSA Conference The Ethics of Evangelism

by Lady Lee 26 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Lady Lee
    Lady Lee

    Well the title of this caught me attention especially since so many ex-Jehovah's Witnesses think any kind of evangelism or preaching is bad. So the idea that some evangelism might actually be good intrigued me. I have refrained from adding comments how JWs measure up to each of these. But feel free to add your own.

    E. Theissen started by saying that most of us could identify unethical evangelism fairly easy. He outlined 15 criteria to assess whether any group used ethical or unethical practices in their attempts to teach their beliefs to others.

    Dignity Criterion: The attitude towards all people must treat people with dignity. They must be valued as a person in their own right weather they want to learn more or not. It becomes unethical as soon as the potential recruit becomes an object to gain status or becomes nothing more than another drone whose sole purpose is to recruit more members to the group.

    Care Criterion: Ethical care for a person means caring not only for some future life but caring for the whole person NOW, in this present life. The care must extend to their whole life, not just one part of it. It needs to include their physical well-being, their emotional, psychological, financial, and social well-being, not just their spiritual welfare.

    Physical Coercion: The use of physical coercion or threats should never be a part of ethical evangelism. "Obey us or die" does not honor the dignity of the person. True freedom means that at any time you have the freedom to walk away with dignity.

    Psychological Coercion Criterion: We live in a world filled with psychological persuasion. We see it in every commercial or advertisement. So at what point does it cross the line to unethical persuasion? Theissen points out 3 things to watch out for. Ethical persuasion means:

    1. the avoidance or repetitive, intense and programmed methods of psychological manipulations

    2. avoidance of exploiting the person's vulnerabilities. This includes children and young people, people in crisis, vulnerable adults and the elderly (I would also include immigrants who have not connected to fellow immigrants and have little or no support system.)

    3. the avoidance of using fear or other emotional tactics to manipulate someone.

    Social Coercion Criterion: IN all relationships there are degrees of power and control. Hopefully they balance out so that one is not always in the position of power. But exploiting that power, or using that power to manipulate people is not ethical.

    Inducement Criterion: Evangelists often offer physical, medical and/or psychological aid to those who need help. They must be very careful that the aid they offer is in no way connected to whether a person accepts the belief system the care-givers offer. People need to really believe there are no strings attached to the acceptance of whatever assistance is provided.

    Rationality Coercion Criterion: There is no way to get around this. Evangelism is done for one reason - to convert people to a new belief. Ethical evangelism provides sound reasoning without attempts to side-step certain questions to avoid answering them.

    Truthfulness Criterion: Ethical evangelism must be truthful. Not only about what it teaches but what it says about other religions. There is a basic integrity without hidden agendas, lying or deception or even lying about who they are.

    Humility Criterion: Arrogance, dogmatism and condescension are not the marks of humility. Saying you are humble is not being humble.

    Tolerance Criterion: Ethical evangelism treats all people with respect especially when they hold differing beliefs. We all have the right to disagree do without it affecting our right to respect and dignity.

    Motivational Criterion: A person needs to be sure of their motive for evangelism. Is it because you truly care for the other person? Or is there some ego-centric motivation behind preaching? Preaching for the welfare of the church, to increase your status in the church or in front of others, because it gives you power or status over the convert are unethical reasons for evangelism.

    Identity Criterion: It would be unethical to seek to separate a person from their social and cultural identity. People are people first and that needs to be respected before the individual beliefs.

    Cultural Sensitivity Criterion: As in most things people need to be able to take new ideas that feel right to them and ignore the rest. There is no one body of religious, social or cultural beliefs that are better than others. People need to be free to accept what works for them without the fear of rejection based on beliefs.

    Results Criterion: The numbers of converts should never be "proof" of a religion's correctness. Church growth is a by-product not an end product.

    Golden Rule: I remember hearing about the Golden Rule to treat others as they would want to be treated. I heard about it in almost every church I ever went to. But I didn't hear it as a Jehovah's Witness. If I am going to preach to someone else then I should expect that they will also tell me about their beliefs. To ignore or refuse to listen to their perspective while expecting them to listen to mine is disrespectful and has no place in ethical evangelism.


    I sat at this session and kept nodding my head at so many of these. But I wasn't alone. Everybody else there from more groups than I knew of were all in full agreements that the groups they had been involved with used all of these things to manipulate prospective recruits. I think we are a lot more alike other cultic groups than we want to think. We have far more in common. Perhaps the set of beliefs are different but how those beliefs get translated into behaviors and how we treat one another is much closer than I ever considered.

  • Lady Lee
    Lady Lee

    Nobody?? This is another diagnostic tool that we can use to determine whether any group we get involved with crosses the line into being a cult.

  • designs

    Just because Methodists make a nice Meatloaf doesn't mean they aren't a cult (its religion in general).

  • WinstonSmith

    Hi Lady Lee,

    Thanks for sharing and bumping the thread. Our different timezones meant I missed it when it first came up. Glad to catch it now!

    Reading through that list reminded me of the first time I read the BITE criteria. There is so much that is instantly identifiable with the way things are done to get people studying and then held in the confines of the Society.

    This will be a useful tool in the arsenal. Things like this are good to show someone to get them thinking.....

  • designs

    WS- Isn't the essential and fundamental problem Religions who are built on the premise that you have to do X to get through the Pearly Gates.

  • WinstonSmith

    @Designs: You are bang on there bro! Especially when the X keeps changing....

  • aposta-Z

    Thank you for sharing.

    I am often faced with this dilema myself now as an XJW turned atheist. As much as I want to allow freedom of choice to anyone, my freedom from religion as been so good to me that it is hard to keep my mouth shut about it. But this goes to shows that there is an ethical way to share your believes with others. It is good to keep in mind when in discussion with a family member still in the cult.

    Very good info :D

  • Reopened Mind
    Reopened Mind

    WOW Lady Lee! Thanks for sharing. As JWs we violated every one of them.

    Reopened Mind

  • cog_survivor

    I missed this too! So glad it got bumped.

    This is really some great information. I love reading your posts and have been especially fascinated by what you've come away with from the ICSA conference.

    While I'm a christian (albeit fairly liberal:), I've long been troubled about this very issue.

    I don't think I should have to hide the fact that I'm a believer, but I don't want to pressure anyone to believe. I'd like to share this with some of my friends at church.

  • Lady Lee
    Lady Lee

    cog definitely share it with people in your church.

    It took me 10 years after I left to begin to look at what I had been in for 22 yrs. A Christian friend asked a question about the JWs that I didn't know the answer to so I wenty searching on line.

    She and her husband were awesome in not preaching at me. They rarely brought religion up as a topic to discuss. They would say they had been to church but they never prodded me to go or listen to them. As a result I had some of my best religious discussions with them that I had in all my 22 +10 years believing in the JWs.

    I would say that looking at the list above they always treated me with respect understanding where I was coming from and never once treated me unkindly.

    I never got into religion but I did go to their church a few times and I took the Alpha Course that was being given in their church. Again there was no attempt to convert me. They were comfortable discussions about what the Bible says about Christ. We has a couple of Jewish woman, a Muslim and many people from other Christain churches join the group. My comment to them att eh end of the course was that it was a wonderful "free-ing" experience.

    So I have done the join us or die thing to other people. And I have seen 2 examples (one individuals and one group) that were both so respectful that people were coming to them who just wanted an opportunity to learn more. I know some people have had bad experiences with the Alpha groups but mine was great.


    I understand where you are coming from. We were so far OVER the line that knowing where it is can be hard. I think this listr is an excellent tool to help us know where the line is regardless of what perspective we now hold.

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