The term “rice Christian” is used to refer to people who convert to Christianity out of a need for survival, rather than from a genuine desire to embrace the Christian faith. The term references historical missionary policies in Asia, in which some missionaries offered rice and other food items to people who agreed to convert to Christianity. Faced with the choice of starving or converting, some people chose to convert, or to at least appear to convert.
Modern missionaries generally frown upon tactics which essentially pressure people into conversion, because they are more interested in spreading the word of Christ and wooing people to the Christian fold with the power of faith. Coerced conversion is frowned upon because rice Christians rarely truly embrace Christian faith and values, and forcing people to do your will is not considered a Christian virtue by many people in the missionary community.
However, there are circumstances in which modern-day rice Christians do exist. Often, the choice is socioeconomic, with someone becoming a rice Christian because being Christian has financial advantages. In other instances, some Christian aid organizations only offer supplies to fellow Christians, which causes people to convert to access food, medical care, and supplies which they might not be able to obtain otherwise. The conversion can also be political in nature, with a rice Christian choosing to appear Christian for political gain.
As a general rule, people do not refer to themselves as rice Christians, because of the pejorative connotations associated with the term. “Rice Christian” is most commonly used by critics of missionary tactics which involve coercion, with these critics pointing out that such tactics undermine traditional cultures and beliefs. For missionaries who genuinely believe that salvation can only be found through Christianity, a pretend conversion would not accomplish the end goal of saving the convert's soul, so missionaries will not generally describe someone as a rice Christian.
In some cases, forced conversion has been investigated by charity organizations and governments. In the wake on the Indian Ocean Tsunami, for example, several aid organizations were accused of forcing victims to convert to Christianity before they would build homes or provide supplies to the displaced people they claimed to be helping. Many Christian aid organizations loudly condemned this practice, both because it gave their organizations a bad reputation by association, and because they felt it was unChristian to refuse to assist people in need.