A group of 25 evangelism practitioners, scholars and church leaders from Orthodox, Pentecostal and Protestant perspectives gathered in Bangkok, Thailand from 26 November to 1 December to reflect on evangelism at a time when religious faith is often accused of – and guilty of – stirring up intolerance, suspicion and even violence.
The meeting, with the theme “Giving an account of the hope within us: Evangelism and discipleship when hope is challenged,” was organized by the Council for World Mission (CWM) and the World Council of Churches Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME).
The urgency of these challenges was evident from the news stories surrounding the event: of religiously motivated suicide bombings in Nigeria, the Papal visit to Myanmar during the mass persecution of the Rohingya and President Trump re-tweeting racist anti-Muslim propaganda.
Those gathered met also knowing that evangelism continues to divide churches, that some use it to proselytise fellow Christians, to further their own growth, to deepen intolerance within the diverse human community, or to excuse looking away from the crises of today.
In these crises, those gathered portrayed evangelism as an act which offers hope and nurtures life in Christ. The consultation also offered an opportunity to explore further a notion of ‘evangelism from the margins’ which has emerged from the shared work on evangelism this year by CWM and CWME.
Rev Karen Georgia Thompson inspired and moved the consultation with her keynote address exposing the historic and contemporary complicity of evangelism with violence and colonization. She challenged white Christians and churches to confront these complicities as an urgent manifestation of the Good News of Christ in a troubled and divided world.
The group came together to offer insight and critique for these crises from three broad areas: Bible and Evangelism, Evangelism Practices and Theologies of Evangelism. The discussion of Bible and Evangelism brought out post-colonial perspectives on evangelism which offered direction for new texts to shape and caution evangelism. The practices group wrestled further with evangelism which comes from the margins as well as to the margins and sought to articulate a vision of evangelism rooted in hospitality. The theologies group explored the implications of contextual identities and realities for evangelism and explored categories like evangelism and the body, evangelism and mono-culturalism, evangelism and capitalism.
The following statements were released:
The Spirit of the Lord is calling us to re-examine our approach to evangelism and honour the new faces of the church.
The Spirit of the Lord is speaking through many texts to convert and subvert how we have used elements of the Bible in mission and evangelism to harm and dominate.
The Spirit of the Lord is calling us to be evangelized by Christ present outside the boundaries of the church, in those whose bodies, identities and communities are marginalised by self-interested powers.
The Spirit is calling us to truly be salt, giving ourselves in changing what surrounds us and being changed by it as well.
The Spirit of the Lord is calling on the church to announce the Good News of alternatives to the life-denying structures and systems of our time.
The Spirit of the Lord is calling us to embody a discipleship which celebrates our multi-diverse realities, resists being coopted to dominant systems and shares hope and faith without doing harm.