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Samaritan’s Purse Controversy in UK Parliament

Lib Dem MP Removes His Name from List Supporting Operation Christmas Child

From The Guardian‘s diary column:

So you’re a backbench MP. You see a cuddly early day motion praising a group that sends much-needed Christmas presents to deprived children abroad. Do you sign it? Well, of course. Do you check the group out first? Well, probably not.

An “early day motion” (EDM) is a subject tabled to be debated in Parliament, but which will probably not in fact reach the floor of either House. Its purpose is to allow MPs to show their support for the issue concerned by signing their name to it. Of course, the idea of MPs checking out a group before endorsing it is an optimistic one – the satirical TV show Brass Eye showed several years ago that politicians are very easily manipulated when presented with the chance to be associated with a good cause.

So let’s not be too hard on Timothy Farron, [Liberal Democrat leader] Ming [Campbell]‘s principal private secretary, who put down an EDM last week endorsing the work of Operation Christmas Child’s shoebox appeal. Or MPs such as the rightwing Tory Andrew Rosindell, who put his name to it. How could they know that the charity’s leading light and founder Franklin Graham prompted controversy both here and in the US by describing Islam as a “wicked and evil religion”?…Contacted yesterday, Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock, one of the signatories, wrote to the table office asking for his name to be removed from the EDM. Mr Farron said that while he deplored Mr Graham’s remarks, the charity’s good works seemed more important. Mr Rosindell also supported the charity’s work but said he could not be expected to check the bona fides of every group he endorsed in an EDM…

The shoebox appeal is, of course, an offshoot of Samaritan’s Purse International, which combines humanitarian aid with proselytisation. As well as Graham’s notorious 2001 remarks on Islam, I noted in July that Ken Isaacs of SPI had tactfully declared that Israeli bombing of Lebanon had “softened the hearts of many Muslims in Lebanon to the spiritual truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Operation Christmas Child has been controversial in the UK for some time; the Guardian first raised concerns in 2002:

The charity says about 4,500 volunteers were involved in last year’s British appeal, which was backed by GMTV. For the past three years, Kwik-Fit has supported the initiative, allowing donors to leave boxes at its 650 tyre, exhaust and brake centres. In its annual report for 2000, SPI states that its objectives are “the advancement of the Christian faith through educational projects and the relief of poverty”, and it describes itself as “a faith relief mission agency”, although the latter does not appear in the 2001 report. The glossy appeal leaflets, which instruct children and parents what to put in boxes and how to pack them, do not make any mention of a missionary role.

However, SPI’s website features links to a Samaritan’s Purse newsletter from Graham, in which he states that God has blessed Operation Christmas Child “because it is about more than Christmas presents”. He says: “It is about introducing children and their families to God’s greatest gift – His Son, Jesus Christ. As long as evangelism is the focus, God will continue to bless it.”

…The Rev David Applin, chief executive of SPI, admits that a religious pamphlet – “The greatest gift of all” – is distributed with the boxes (though not inside them). But he denies that the appeal is evangelical.

As a result of this report and subsequent concerns raised by the Charity Commission, the organisation rewrote its fundraising material to make its religious mission clearer, and appointed David Vardy (brother of the controversial Creationist businessman Peter Vardy, whom I blogged on here) as new director. However, negative coverage continued, and in November 2003 the Co-operative Society broke links with the organisation:

Following complaints from Muslim pressure groups and its own members, the Co-op yesterday said it would no longer participate in Operation Christmas Child, a project supported by thousands of schools, churches and other organisations.

…”You are aware that we have received a large number of complaints regarding the comments of your trustee, Franklin Graham. Indeed, had we been aware of his views in advance, we would not have participated in Operation Christmas Child this year. It is unfortunate that our work together has come to an end in this way, as the shoe boxes of customers’ gifts will undoubtedly bring joy to many deserving children this year.”

Such coverage elicited a response from Vardy in the Guardian letters page:

…Samaritan’s Purse works in many countries and dispenses humanitarian aid to all, irrespective of race, political background or religion.

For example, Samaritan’s Purse has provided supplies and equipment to Al-Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad. Its director, Dr Mahdi Jasim Moosa, a Muslim, told Christianity Today: “Workers with Samaritan’s Purse didn’t preach or attempt to convert people.” Surely this has a degree of veracity which outweighs the opinion of those who fail to understand the reality of our aid operations, and our all-encompassing approach to assist anyone who needs help?

The Christianity Today article – which indeed shows that SPI’s humanitarian work is appreciated in Muslim countries – can be seen here.

One Response

  1. […] Graham’s views on Islam have also created some controversy for his Samaritan’s Purse charity, as I blogged here. […]

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