In the midst of all of the back and forth that has marked the present conversion controversy with the Rabbinate, it seems as if very little thought has gone into how this looks to others. Now, I am most decided not saying that people should not get involved in a principled debate or dispute, simply because of מה יאמרו הבריות. However, the impression one gets from the Jewish blogosphere (at least) is that there is a vast number of Jews in Israel and abroad, who have no clue as to why conversion is more than a matter of personal, private, choice. One thing, however, is for certain, this has become an occasion for a lot of venting: toward the Rabbinate, the rabbinate, the Torah, you name it. We have a serious hasbarah problem, especially in Israel.
How to resolve it? Well, I think we can take a cue from the Rov זצ"ל. When the inter-faith initiatives first came from the Papacy, in anticipation of Vatican II, a lot of prominent rabbis and theologians jumped on the inter-faith bandwagon. Typically, the Rov remained the Lonely Man of Faith, and opposed the initiative.
Here’s where things got interesting. He approached a former talmid of his, and asked him to arrange a talk to the Religion and Philosophy faculties (I believe) at Columbia, which would be by invitation only. The talmid told me that the lecture was a real tour de force. Based upon the classics of Western and Christian theology, he argued that inter-faith dialogue in matters of dogma and faith is not possible. The Greek was in Greek. The Latin was in Latin. The German was in German, and so on. In other words, he was able to argue his point on the turf, and in the koine, of his listeners. (cf. Moreh Nebuhim III, 31). He spoke in a way that commanded the informed respect of his audience, in terms to which they could relate. (Confrontation, the essay that emerged from the talk, does not reflect the totality of the original.)
If we are going to make our point, we need to develop the knowledge base and skills to take the debate onto the Post-Modern, Western Liberal playing field. Otherwise, we will not be heard. On the contrary, we will be drowned out.