* Aimed at reducing hostility from Muslims, others
* Conduct code backed by Vatican, Protestants, Evangelicals
* Rejects material inducements to change faith
(Updates, recasts with quotes from news conference)
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, June 28 (Reuters) - A coalition representing most Christian churches around the world launched a rule book on Tuesday for spreading their faith that aims to reduce tensions among themselves and with followers of other faiths.
The pioneering code of conduct, under negotiation for five years, was unveiled by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which together claim to represent over 90 percent of Christianity.
It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon “inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means”, saying that such behaviour “betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others”.
Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches.
Tensions have also risen in recent decades as evangelical Protestants have stepped up efforts to convert Muslims, which is a capital offence in some Islamic countries. This also prompts retaliation against local Christians who do not seek converts.
“The situation is requiring Christian communities to consider, in a new way, how best to proclaim the Christian faith,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue.
WEA Secretary General Geoff Tunnicliffe said the code, entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World,” would be “a great resource” for Christians lobbying against anti-conversion laws passed in countries such as India.
In recent years, there have been increasing attacks on local Christian churches seen as the focus for conversion activity — in Pakistan, Egypt, India, Indonesia and other countries — in which many Christian believers have died.
The new code — initially promoted by the Geneva-based WCC, which unites a wide range of Protestant and Orthodox churches — says conversion “is the work of the Holy Spirit”.
Christians should “conduct themselves with integrity, charity, compassion and humility, and overcome all arrogance, condescension and disparagement” with regard to other religions.
The code said religious freedom and the “right to publicly profess, practise, propagate and change one’s religion” are based in human dignity and called on governments “to ensure that freedom of religion is properly and comprehensively respected”.
“In many countries, religious institutions and persons are inhibited from exercising their mission,” it said.
“Where any religion is instrumentalised for political ends, or where religious persecution occurs, Christians are called to engage in a prophetic witness denouncing such actions,” the code added, suggesting behaviour that could clash with local customs.
In some Islamic countries, a Muslim converting to another faith can face the death penalty, and Christians who proclaim their religion are often accused of blasphemy, which can also be a capital offence.
The code stressed that changing religion was “a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation”.
WCC Secretary General Olaf Fyske Tveit said the code could also be useful for followers of Islam, the other major world religion that actively seeks converts, but did not elaborate.
The spread of Islam in recent decades, fuelled in part by petrodollars, has also created tensions with local Christians and followers of native religions, especially in Africa (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan, editing by Stephanie Nebehay and David Stamp) ((Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org; tel.: +41 22 733 38 31)