Missionary faiths such as Christianity and Islam strongly enjoin their adherents to witness to their convictions for the purpose of converting nonbelievers.  In this propagation they are both aided and restricted by modern human rights covenants, namely,
1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948);
2. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950);
3. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966); and
4. The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981). 
The 1966 U.N. International Covenant, for example, protects one's right to "impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers."  But international human rights accords also have set limits on the expression and propagation of beliefs where they infringe on "the right of individuals to hold a belief of their choice without impairment."  These covenants circumscribe proselytism, the act of converting an individual from one faith or church to another, by specifically disallowing coercion, material inducement, violation of privacy, and preachments to captive audiences. 
The first important U.N. examination of change of religion, Arcot Krishnaswami's Study of Discrimination in the Matter of Religious Rights and Practices (1954), differentiates between the freedom to manifest a religious belief and the sometimes contending freedom to maintain a religious belief.  Similarly, Natan Lerner, an Israeli scholar of international law, identifies this "tension between the right to try to convince others in matters concerning religion ... and the desire to protect identification with a particular religion against any intrusion." He argues, "The determination of what is legitimate, and what is illegitimate, within the parameters of that tension is of great importance in the world today." 
Some parties will insist on the existence of a legitimate right to unfettered religious expression for the purpose of persuasion and conversion. Others, conversely, will insist on the right to be free of all unwanted religious proclamation, not just that which is coercive, invasive, or manipulative. In such cases of rigid single-mindedness, no meeting of minds is possible, and juxtaposing advocates of such uncompromising positions produces diatribe instead of dialogue. But if one concedes both a right to free religious expression and the legitimacy of restrictions upon abuses of religious expression, then there is a basis for discussion.
Continuing Issue of "Rice Christians"
The 1944 Hollywood production The Keys of the Kingdom recounted the story of a Catholic missionary priest from Scotland, played by Gregory Peck, who arrived at his station in China only to discover pseudo-Christians who had been bribed with rice to join Catholic ranks.  The issue over "rice Christians" is still with us. According to the Russian Orthodox Church, Catholics, Protestants, and cults are expanding their ranks in the former Soviet Union by precisely this means. The issue of inadmissible material inducements in evangelism and missions, what Natan Lerner calls "evangelistic malpractice," deserves serious consideration.  Keston Institute director Lawrence Uzzell states categorically, "Missionaries should not buy converts. Giving a provincial Russian a free Bible as an inducement to attend a religious lecture or worship service is the equivalent of paying an American fifty dollars or so for that purpose." And "offering brand-new converts or prospective converts ... a free trip to America ... can e asily become just a holiday, shopping opportunity, or springboard for permanent emigration ... Conditioned by Madison Avenue, American missionaries too easily forget that Jesus said, 'Take up thy cross and follow me,' not 'Take advantage of our new special offer.'" 
At the same time, Christian proclamation without concrete acts of compassion for the poor, the destitute, and the suffering rings hollow. Longtime mission researcher and mission practitioner Anita Deyneka has written guidelines for evangelical missionaries in Russia that underscore the need to "proclaim the Gospel in word and deed." She quotes veteran missionary Paul Semenchuk, who explains, "The former Soviet Union is in such severe economic circumstances that it seems 'sinful' to go and work there without providing some sort of practical assistance." To avoid any hint of manipulation, Deyneka recommends, "Humanitarian aid as a part of the Christian mission should be given without coercion to convert to any religious confession."  In the same vein Lawrence Uzzell explains, "There is nothing inherently wrong with giving away goods or services free of charge. But missionaries should make such items available to all who are in need, not just to participants in the missionaries' own programs....Free soup kit chens or food parcels should be targeted to all who are hungry, not just those willing to sit through Protestant sermons."  Sad to say, this writer attended a church in Moscow in July 2000 in which elderly women were provided tickets for a free meal in exchange for their presence in the service.
Increasingly the xenophobic Russian Orthodox Church sees not only such manipulative charity but all Western Protestant compassionate ministries and communications as illegitimate material inducements. Moscow Patriarchate Department of External Relations representative Alexander Dvorkin, whose U.S. citizenship serves as a rather odd accoutrement for a staunch Russian nationalist, deplores all manner of Western Christian ministry in the former Soviet Union, including "the furnishing of humanitarian aid, English lessons, education, and employment ... the use of television, newspapers, and other mass media to propagate the faith and the organization of loud and insensitive crusading carnivals."  In 1996 Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad bitterly complained to a World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism meeting in Brazil about the "hordes of missionaries" in Russia who "came from abroad with dollars" in a crusade ... against the Russian Church," preaching on radio and television "in order to buy people." Metropolitan Kyrill contended, "This work is not Christian mission, it is spiritual colonialism."  Similarly, throughout the 1990s Patriarch Alexis II decried the "massive influx" of "well-organized and well-financed" missions of "foreign proselytizing faiths,"  "zealots" in search of "new markets." 
Objecting to Missionary Presence
Undoubtedly, it is hard to draw a clear, precise line between legitimate expressions of Christian compassion, on the one hand, and material enticements offered to effect what must be superficial conversions, on the other. But such points of discernment do not concern the Russian Orthodox Church because, as Emory legal scholar John Witte notes, "The Patriarch is not only complaining about improper methods of evangelism--the bribery, blackmail, coercion, and material inducements used by some groups; the garish carnivals, billboards, and media blitzes used by others. The Patriarch is also complaining about the improper presence of missionaries."  Patriarchs and archbishops of fourteen Orthodox churches, including Alexis II, who met in Istanbul in March 1992, signed a joint message castigating new Catholic and Protestant initiatives in eastern Europe. The assembled Orthodox hierarchs expressed consternation that Catholics and Protestants were treating their territories as terra missionis (missionary lands), w hereas, they noted, "in these countries the Gospel has already been preached for many centuries." 
The Orthodox position derives in part from long historical conditioning that in the Byzantine and Russian Empires meant state preferments for established Orthodox churches and an absence of religious pluralism. In addition, definitions for "Christian" and "Christian nation" figure prominently in disparate Eastern and Western understandings of what constitutes proselytism. First, Orthodox understand their community to consist of all those baptized in the faith, regardless of the adult profession or practice of the baptized. Indeed, since "Russian" and "Orthodox" are taken as synonyms by conservative churchmen and nationalists, evangelism conducted by Westerners among any Russians is regarded as proselytism. Finally, since Russian culture is permeated with Orthodox influence and the established church historically thought of the motherland as Holy Russia, Russian territory in toto is perceived to be off limits for non-Orthodox, seventy-plus years of Communism notwithstanding.
What should we make of the argument that the witness of one Christian confession in a territory already the home of another Christian confession is illegitimate? If one were to accept the view that a majority Christian confession by rights should have territorial prerogatives, then, for example:
1. Saints Cyril and Methodius should not have begun their work in Moravia, where missionaries from Rome were already in evidence;
2. Orthodox conversions among Estonian and Latvian Lutherans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries should not have occurred; and
3. Orthodox who have been interlopers in every U.S. state except Alaska, should not have mailed unsolicited packets of information on Orthodoxy to Episcopalian priests across the country. 
Thus, proselytism and legitimate proclamation of the Gospel can be contentious in the West as well as in the East. Consider a volume of essays edited by Martin Marty and Frederick Greenspahn entitled Pushing the Faith: Proselytism and Civility in a Pluralistic World. In his dosing remarks, after a succession of chapters awash with broad condemnations not only of proselytism but of practically every conception of evangelism, Marty concludes that if the arguments of his contributors were taken to their logical conclusion, it would be a rare occasion when it was ever proper to share any personal spiritual reflection outside church walls. The politically correct Western Christian today seems determined to make an idol of tolerance, defined in such a way as to make almost every profession of conviction an affront and an offense. If everybody really left everybody else alone, says Marty, "it would be a more comfortable but probably comatose world." 
As noted, many Orthodox Christians believe that Protestants have no place in Russia. In particular, they see recent missionary activity from abroad as an unwelcome intrusion into a spiritual landscape nourished by a thousand years of Byzantine Christianity. Western missionaries working in countries with long-standing Orthodox traditions definitely need to apply themselves to a study of history and culture in order to understand this legacy. However, even as evangelicals come to appreciate Orthodoxy, the exceptional achievements of Russian culture, and the remarkable perseverance of a long-suffering people, they should not feel constrained to abstain from, or feel apologetic for, sharing the good news in Russia. 
Evangelical ministries are motivated by a desire to support a movement of some three million indigenous Protestants whose origins in the Russian Empire now date back well over a century.  Also, evangelicals by definition seek to evangelize nonbelievers, and a June 1996 survey revealed that as many as 67 percent of Russian men and 38 percent of Russian women do not identify themselves as religious believers.  Thus evangelicals have ample room to minister to millions of Russians who are spiritually adrift, without ever engaging in proselytizing. 
In closing, two distinct and seemingly antithetical propositions deserve consideration, one legal, and one theological. Legally, freedom of conscience, to be genuine, must concede the possibility of culturally insensitive, even patently obnoxious propagation, as long as it falls short of the aforementioned coercion, material inducement, invasion of privacy, and preachments to captive audiences. Thus in 1993 a European Commission on Human Rights court ruled in favor of Minos Kokkinakis, a Jehovah's Witness on the island of Crete, against a Greek law on proselytism, avowing that "freedom of religion and conscience entails accepting proselytism even where it is not respectable."  Theologically, however, legal scholar John Witte makes the telling point that a Christian must keep in balance the imperative of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and the imperative of restraint and respect for others implied in the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).  Thus, paradoxically, genuine champions of religious liberty must defend professions of faith they consider false and ingracious, and genuine followers of Christ must champion witness that is winsome and gracious.
Mark Elliott is Director of the Beeson Global Center, Sanford University, Birmingham, Alabama, and coeditor of the East-West Church and Ministry Report.
(1.) The present study draws heavily upon and reacts to findings in two major studies on proselytism in the former Soviet Union produced by the grant project "The Problem and Promise of Proselytism in the New Democratic World Order" (1996-99), funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and directed by Prof. John Witte, Jr., director of the Emory University Law and Religion Program. In addition to the two volumes on the former Soviet Union, other studies derived from the project are Pluralism, Proselytism, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe, a theme issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies 36 (Winter-Spring, 1999); Abdullahi Abmed An-Na'im, ed., Proselytism and Communal Self-Determination in Africa (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999); and Paul E. Sigmund, ed., Religious Freedom and Evangelization in Latin America: The Challenge of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999.
(2.) On the four declarations cited, see T. Jeremy Gunn, "The Law of the Russian Federation on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations from a Human Rights Perspective," in Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: The New War for Souls, ed. John Witte, Jr., and Michael Bourdeaux (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1999), p. 241; Natan Lerner, "Proselytism, Change of Religion, and International Human Rights," Emory International Law Review 12 (Winter 1998): 497-98, 500,519,542. Russia has ratified the 1950 and 1966 conventions.
(3.) Lerner, "Proselytism," p.485.
(4.) Ibid., quoting Donna J. Sullivan, "Advancing the Freedom of Religion or Belief Through the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Religious Intolerance and Discrimination," American Journal of International Law 82 (1988): 487.
(5.) Lerner, "Proselytism," pp. 482-83, 486, 495-96, 526-27, 559.
(6.) Ibid., p. 504. Debate over change of religion is "part of the larger controversy between the universal character of modern human rights and 'cultural relativism.' Spokespersons for cultural relativism argue that human rights law is strictly a Western institution and, therefore, not applicable to other cultures or societies. Accordingly, these spokespersons contend that particular cultures or religions have to be protected against external intrusions likely to disadvantage indigenous cultural or religious identity. This approach, however, clashes with the view expressed by most scholars, which stresses the universal validity of human rights." Ibid., pp. 478-79.
(7.) Ibid., p. 482.
(8.) For a plot summary, see www.tvguide.com/movies/database/ShowMovie.asp?MI=2992.
(9.) Lerner, "Proselytism," p. 495.
(10.) Lawrence Uzzell, "Guidelines for American Missionaries in Russia," in Witte and Bourdeaux, pp. 326, 327. See also Harold J. Berman, "Freedom of Religion in Russia," in Witte and Bourdeaux, p. 279.
(11.) Anita Deyneka, "Guidelines for Foregin Missionaries in the Former Soviet Union," in Witte and Bourdeaux, pp. 335-36.
(12.) Uzzell, "Guidelines," pp. 326-27.
(13.) John Witte, Jr., "Introduction," in Witte and Bourdeaux, p. 7. See also Joel A. Nichols, "Mission, Evangelism, and Proselytism in Christianity: Mainline Conceptions as Reflected in Church Documents," Emory International Law Review 12 (Winter 1998): 639-40, 642.
(14.) Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, "Gospel and Culture," in Witte and Bourdeaux, pp. 73, 75.
(15.) Witte, "Introduction," p. 7.
(16.) Nichols, "Mission," p. 649.
(17.) Witte, "Introduction," p. 22. See also Nichols, "Mission," p. 651.
(18.) Nichols, "Mission," p. 635.
(19.) These reflections originally appeared in Mark Elliott, "East of the Old Iron Curtain: Can Christians Coexist?" East-West Church and Ministry Report 2 (Fall 1994): 16.
(20.) Martin Marty, "Conclusion," in Pushing the Faith: Proselytism and Civility in a Pluralistic World (New York: Crossroad, 1988), p. 158. This paragraph originally appeared in Mark Elliott and Sharyl Corrado, "The Protestant Missionary Presence in the Former Soviet Union," Religion, State, and Society 24, no.4 (1997): 342-43.
(21.) This paragraph originally appeared in Kent Hill and Mark Elliott, "Are Evangelicals Interlopers?" East-West Church and Ministry Report 1 (Summer 1993): 3.
(22.) Mark Elliott and Robert Richardson, "Growing Protestant Diversity in the Former Soviet Union," in Russian Pluralism: Now Irreversible? ed. Uri Ra'anan, Keith Armes, and Kate Martin (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), p. 204.
(23.) Susan Goodrich Lehmann, "Religious Revival in Russia: Significant or Superficial?" (paper presented at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, Washington, D.C., October 21, 1996), fig. 6. An earlier 1992 survey found a comparable 69 percent of Russian men and 46 percent of Russian women who did not identify themselves as believers. Mark Rhodes, "Religious Believers in Russia," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report, no. 1 (April 3, 1992): 61. In contrast, in the post-Second World War era perhaps as few as 10 to 15 percent of the population was religious. William Fletcher, Soviet Believers (Lawrence, Kans.: Regents Press of Kansas, 1981), p. 67.
(24.) Nichols, "Mission," p. 646. The arguments in this paragraph have been adapted from Elliott and Corrado, "Protestant," pp. 341-42.
(25.) Lerner, "Proselytism," p. 552.
(26.) Witte, "Introduction," p.24. See also Nichols, "Mission," pp. 565-66.…