Who is a Rice Christian?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A bowl of rice.
A bowl of rice.

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.

Uncooked rice.
Uncooked rice.

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.

A Bible.
A Bible.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I would just like to say that I am a Rice Christian and I find this article very offensive. If you could please clear up the negativity behind my people and my culture I would be very happy.


@MissDaphne: I understand what you're saying, certainly, but a box of gifts containing a tract, to me, does not constitute coercion. The child doesn't have to read the tract, and if he or she does read it, is under no obligation. If they do read it and want to know more about Christianity, then the seed has been planted, in my opinion.

I suppose I'm just working under the scripture in Isaiah that says God's Word will not return void, but will accomplish what the Lord has purposed that it will accomplish.

Coercion is never the way, but giving a tract inside a box is, to me, presenting information. What the child or the parents choose to do with this information is entirely up to them. And, people have been saying they were Christians for their own gain, or to manipulate others long before missionaries and relief groups were active in Asia. It's all about the motivation of the person giving the information, and the one receiving it. In the end, God gives us free will to accept or reject Him.


Not to stir the pot or anything, but where's the line between "if you embrace Jesus, we'll feed you" in Asian countries and "go to church or else you're grounded" that families do to their own children? No child is born Christian, but they can be born to Christian parents.


@robbie21 - Well, yes, providing resources only to those from a particular religion does create pressure to convert. I think many people of faith would rather that their faith-based organizations simply go where people need help and help them. If the recipients of that help ask questions about the faith, the volunteers should be free to answer. And if some people wind up converting after their positive interaction with members of that religion, that's fine, too.

I guess what I'm saying is that the best way to proselytize is to be the kind of person others want to be. I'm opposed to any sort of coercion. As a teacher, I passed on a charitable opportunity to fill gift boxes for kids in Third World countries because the boxes were going to contain religious tracts. To me, it felt like bribing the kids to become Christian. (We did Trick or Treat for UNICEF instead, so we definitely did our part for kids in impoverished countries.)


I can see why a fake or coerced conversion is bad, but is it so wrong for religions to want to help their own? If there were some sort of natural disaster and I had a supply of water, I would help my family and friends first. Members of the same religion are like an extended network. Why shouldn't they help each other first? Is doing that considered to be coercion?

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