The term comes from Asian countries, such as India, China and Japan. Concerns have been expressed both by Christian missionaries and by those opposed to Christian missions that people in these situations are only nominally converting to Christianity in order to receive charity or material advancements. One of the earliest examples of this concept in English appeared in 1689 with the writings of William Dampier when he wrote regarding the French priests' effort to convert people of Tonkin that "alms of rice have converted more than their preaching."
This term and the topic were very extensively written about by Thomas Hale, Jr.. He introduced the topic in his first 1986 book "Don't Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees" and spoke and taught on best practices in missions summarizing his work in his 1995 book "On Being a Missionary" The term has also been used pejoratively to describe conversions by missionaries who exploit poverty and famine, where food and other allurements are given in exchange for conversion. In Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct, a document issued by the World Council of Churches in 2011, one of the points raised states "If Christians engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means, they betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others." Principles 4 and 5 of this document outline that "..Acts of service, such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy are an integral part of witnessing to the gospel. The exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach. Christians should denounce and refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards, in their acts of service." and "..as they carry out these ministries, fully respecting human dignity and ensuring that the vulnerability of people and their need for healing are not exploited." These points are seen as to prevent false conversions which produce "Rice Christians".
The term "Rice Christians" appears in Harper Lee's book To Kill A Mockingbird, in Chapter 13. Scout's Aunt Alexandra uses the word referring to Missionary Society refreshments during "long reports on Rice Christians." To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960.
An example of "Rice Christianity" was used in A.J. Cronin's novel The Keys to the Kingdom, about a Scottish priest who does missionary work in China. While the term is never used in print, the example is shown when the protagonist is hosted by a Chinese couple named Hosannah and Ferdinand Wang. Through getting to know his host couple, the protagonist sees they have little interest in aiding him in his missionary work and are mainly hosting him for the money they receive from his church in Scotland.
- "Rice Christians". Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Way of Life Baptist publication (2005-07-11). "Baptists Tired of Being Swindled by Rice Christians". ChristianAggression.org. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- Diana & Michael Preston (2004). A Pirate of Exquisite Mind. Walker & Company. ISBN 042520037X.Chapter XV