Conversion (chr.)

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(Turk. Din Değiştirme)

The term ‘conversion’ is used to describe a person’s deliberate turn to a particular community of believers or the transformation from one religious community or Christian confession into another. The possibility of conversion is a product of the human right of religious freedom and must be respected as an individual entitlement. Against this backdrop, forced conversions of the sort encountered down through the history of nearly all religious communities must be rejected.

Conversions have been a part of the history of the Church ever since its beginnings. At first, the Christians were temporarily considered a Jewish group, but soon they came to be seen as a religious community in their own right. With his turn towards Jesus Christ, Paul can be considered a convert from Judaism to Christianity (cf. Acts 9; Gal 1). The early Church recruited its supporters exclusively through conversion, as it was not yet possible to grow into the Christian community naturally through one’s origins in a Christian family. Differentiation among the confessional traditions of Christianity created an option for members already baptised into one church to convert to another church.

Conversion to Christianity by persons who have not yet been baptised always involves liturgical-sacramental initiation, i.e. the Sacrament of Baptism. Even the conversion of a person baptised into one Christian denomination to another usually takes place as part of a religious observance, and where indicated in combination with sacramental celebrations (bestowal of the Sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist).

From the Christian standpoint, the conversion of a baptised person to a non-Christian religious community does not annul the Baptism; i.e. from a sacramental point of view, the convert who turns away from Christianity remains a member of the Church. The Church must respect such a conversion on grounds of natural law. This does not, however, prevent the Church from reacting with religious penalties designed to draw the attention of the member who has fallen away from the community or from Christian faith to the fact of his or her error. If an individual who has been baptised joins a non-Christian religious community, this is apostasy and is met with excommunication. Conversion from one Christian denomination to another can also result in penalties. For instance, the Catholic Church considers conversion from the Catholic to the Protestant denomination a schism (and heresy); this, too, results in excommunication.

In countries in which an individual citizen’s religious affiliation is of significance even as a matter of civil law (e.g. Germany), in most cases conversions are documented legally by civil authorities.

Stephan Haering

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