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15 November 2017

Conference on religious conversion in Cardiff

Conference on religious conversion in Cardiff

The Evangelical Alliance in Wales recently hosted an event in Cardiff to discuss religious conversion, charied by Roy Jenkins, BBC broadcaster and Baptist minister. Guests from the Christian, Muslim and Baha'i communities were interviewed and shared their experiences to an audience made up of people from a variety of religious backgrounds.

It was the latest in a series of events the Evangelical Alliance has hosted in recent years as part of a campaign to raise awareness of conversion. While Christians are used to talking about such issues in Christian settings, the ability to talk about them with grace in wider civil society is something that we need to continue to develop in a plural public square. This approach of recognising that non-Christian faith groups should have the same rights relating to religious conversion as Christians is consistent with the understanding of religious freedom that developed in the UK in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Centred around the rights of nonconformist Protestant Christians to practice Christianity away from the structures and governance of the state Church, the Church of England, these values of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion applied beyond Christians. Baptist minister Thomas Helwys stated in 1612:

"For men's religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King be judge between God and man. Let them be heretikes, Turks, Jewes, or whatsoever, it apperteynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure."

It does, therefore, include the right for people to become Christian as well as the right for people to join other faiths. This does not negate or impede our right to share our faith, our desire for our faith to be passed on to our children or to want Christianity to flourish in the UK. In fact, it can be argued that the opposite is true. Religious conversion can also be viewed through a lens of peaceful coexistence. Conversion is arguably the most sensitive topic to discuss among different faiths and, while we don't want potential converts to Christianity to experience harassment or intimidation, neither should we want to see converts to other faiths experience this either. 

The ability to be facilitate constructive conversations around delicate issues related to conversion would be welcomed by many in civil society, including the Welsh Government who place a high value on community cohesion and well-being.