The world’s largest ecumenical Christian church alliance, alongside the Vatican, will seek a common ground on Christian conversion, according to a World Council of Churches (WCC) leader on Wednesday.
The ecumenical forum -- which seeks to resolve conflicts that arise from conversions -- will also include leaders of other faiths including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Over the years, says the WCC, missions outreach by Christian groups in so-called unreached areas of the world have led to tensions, especially by people of other religious groups who perceive their faith to be under threat by missionary activities.
"How can we — anxious to maintain, develop and nurture good relations with people of other faiths — deal with this highly complex issue that sometimes threatens the fiber of living together?" said the Rev. Hans Ucko, head of the WCC interreligious relations office, according to Reuters.
The meeting to be held at Velletri, 25 miles southeast of Rome, will bring together more than 350 Christians of mainline Protestant, Orthodox and other churches as well as envoys from the Vatican, which has tensions with China over Beijing’s consecration of two bishops without papal blessing.
Organizers of the four-day conference hope discussions will eventually lead to the drafting of an outline toward a "code of conduct" for Christian conversions worldwide. The code may take at least three years to research and draft.
Topics for discussion may include the issue of religious politics in Asia including the reported crackdown on house churches in Vietnam and China.
In addition, the forum may address the recent clash between China and the Vatican over the loyalties of Catholic. Chinese Catholic, by Chinese law, are required to worship at state-monitored churches which does not recognize papal authority.
Catholics refusing to worship at state-approved churches often congregate at "underground" house churches, and are subject to government harassment, arrests, fines and sometimes imprisonment.
Last week, Vatican officials expressed anger and alarm over the consecration of two bishops without the blessings of Pope Benedict XVI. A Vatican spokesman later warned that those who blessed the two bishops may face excommunication.
An obstacle to the forum may include the absence of Pentecostal and evangelical congregations whom have been at the forefront of missionary outreach worldwide, and represent the fastest-growing Christian groups.
In addition, Christian persecution monitors with ties to evangelical churches often are the first to criticize those who are opposed to the conversion of Christians.
Ucko hopes that though contacts with other groups, including the Assemblies of God churches and the World Evangelical Alliance, the WCC would be able to have dialogue with "the most zealous groups to try to find a common voice."
The WCC, currently, claims a membership of more than 500 million Christians, and has worked closely with the 1.1 billion-strong Catholic Church in the past – though the two organizations are separate.