Defining Evangelism vs. Proselytism

What is the difference?

As there is misunderstanding and misuse of the words "proselytism" and "evangelism" in the world today, World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) wants to share an official definition of these words.

WEA strongly rejects proselytism but supports full religious freedom according to the United Nations declaration of Human Rights (Articles 18 and 19). That freedom will give people of every religion the right to share their beliefs and allow everyone the freedom of conscience to believe as they choose.

According to the World Evangelical Alliance, to proselytize and to evangelize are not synonymous. Citing Dr. John R.W. Stott, “The best way to distinguish them is to understand proselytism as ‘unworthy witness.’ The World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church produced a helpful study document in 1970 titled ‘Common Witness and Proselytism’. It identified three aspects of proselytism.

[Definition from from Rev. Gary Edmonds, Secretary General for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)]

Proselytism takes place:

  1. Whenever our motives are unworthy (when our concern is for our glory rather than God’s)
  2. Whenever our methods are unworthy (when we resort to any kind of ‘physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure’)
  3. Whenever our message is unworthy (whenever we deliberately misrepresent people’s beliefs).

In contrast, to evangelize is:

"To make an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it. We wish to be sensitive to those of other faiths, and we reject any approach that seeks to force conversion on them.” (per the Manila Manifesto)