In my Do’s and Don’ts for Deployment handout, I advise service personnel operating in majority Muslim areas to, “Avoid giving Bibles to people who ask you for one.” Several friends have questioned my advice.
Giving someone a Bible when they request one is not proselytizing, but the issue is not just proselytism but also the appearance of proselytizing. Print, audio, and video materials can become “evidence” to substantiate slander. Whether or not the material was solicited becomes a matter of one person’s word against another’s. An unfriendly public will choose sides based on stereotypes and prejudices. Under community pressure, people to whom the material was given may feel too insecure to admit that they requested the material.
Although it’s inadvisable in many situations to give out religious materials even when they are solicited, it may be possible to help seekers obtain materials themselves. They may find materials on a public bookshelf, at the gym, or abandoned. It may be possible to direct seekers to a store or web site where they can purchase materials on their own.
Legally service personnel may be “innocent as a doves” when giving religious materials to people who spontaneously ask for them. Being “wise as a serpents” requires attending to those requests in ways that avoid risky appearances.