The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Violence and Religious Proselytization

D. Patel asks, “At a UN World Religion Conference, there was discussion on ‘Religious violence and religious proselytization.’ Do you think stopping the practice of religious proselytization will help reduce religious violence?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

In 2005 I embarked on a lecture (and listening) tour of 4 states of India that have a significant Christian majority.  Many of these expressions of Christianity were Fundamentalist/Pentecostal. While there is no doubt that some people converted out of an honest religious experience, I learned of many efforts by evangelical organizations that were duplicitous and unethical. Yes, this colonialist mindset of ‘saving’ the poor dark people of India has inspired violence. A significant element of my lectures was focused on meeting this western juggernaut with a Gandhian sense of peaceful ​resistance. This conflict will not be solved by burning churches or attacking missionaries. But I understand the frustration that inspires some of the heinous acts committed as a response. 

Groups like Grand Rapids’ own Mission India have used very offensive language in promoting their message of salvation. They paint Hinduism as a religion completely devoid of charity, compassion or sense of duty. And it’s important to note that the World Council of Churches has condemned such heavy-handed practices. All this said, I understand that asking an Evangelical Christian to refrain from attempts at conversion is akin to asking a Muslim not to fast during Ramadan. It is an integral part of their faith. But I would hope that someday all missionary orgs comply with the appropriate guidelines set forth by the WCC. 

The Rev. Steven W. Manskar, a retired United Methodist pastor, responds:

Ending the practice may reduce religious violence. But is this possible? All religions, and political ideologies, have within them groups that are convinced theirs is the one true faith and all others are false. This arrogance leads people to hate and believing god hates who they hate. If their god hates who they hate, therefore non-believers must be proselytized. Violence against those who fail to comply often follows. Those perpetrating the violence believe they are acting with god’s blessing.

Proselytization is violence. It is an act of pride rather than love. Pride is disordered faith that is centered in the believer’s confidence in their knowledge of God’s will. It is the mistaken confidence that their religion is the sole bearer of truth and that others cannot also be true and worthy of honor and respect. It is failure to honor persons as created in God’s image worthy of respect and dignity. Proselytization reduces persons to things that must be conquered. 

In other words, proselytization is sin. Sin is an unfortunate reality of the human condition. Love is the cure for this condition. Love does not proselytize. Love invites, comes alongside, and shares live with the beloved. 

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

First, I understand a difference between ‘proselytizing’ and  ‘evangelizing’ or faith sharing. If proselytizing includes coercion or forced conversation, violence is more likely to enter the picture. A greater cause of religious violence, I believe, results from fanaticism and extremism. The chance of inter-religious violence decreases dialogue increases allowing for growth in understanding, mutual respect, and peace.

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

Without an exact reference to the article in the question, (an internet search using the information above provided no help), it is difficult to respond to a ‘general’ question. Therefore, the word ‘proselytization’ in the question is forced conversion to a specific religious tradition. There are other meanings of ‘proselytization!’

In the Roman Catholic faith tradition, a sincere conversion consists of two components that work in unison. First, the individual must exercise humility in recognizing the presence of sin in her or his own life. The humble acceptance of sin necessarily brings about the second component, which is the realization the God is merciful in forgiving sins. Only this will lead to a true change of heart.

How to stop the practice of religious proselytization is the crux of the problem? The United Nations created a document entitled, Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes. Changing the hearts of human beings is the only way to reduce religious violence.

My response:

I will trust my colleague Fred Stella’s report that aggressive proselytization has led to violence. However, I am not convinced that it is the major source of violence. It seems to me that the majority of the religious-based violence in the world is rooted in the notion that you belong to the wrong ethnic tribe or you are not indigenous to this region and my sense of religiosity believes, therefore, that I have the right to forcibly remove you. It is not clear that the ultimate goal is conversion. Another sizable portion of religious violence is committed against women whose practice does not confirm to that of the religious leaders. They are not being asked to convert, per se, but to adhere to a narrower and more restrictive definition of the religion with which they are already affiliated.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.