October 2016 – SACRE endorses Aquabox as an alternative to OCC
At its meeting on 17th October 2016, the Derbyshire Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) heard a presentation by Derbyshire charity Aquabox, who distribute emergency supplies including a filter to provide safe drinking water, to refugees and victims of natural disasters. The SACRE agreed to endorse Aquabox to schools as an alternative to OCC.
March 2016 – Update on OCC collections in Derbyshire Schools:
At its meeting on 21st March 2016, the Derbyshire Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) considered the involvement of schools in organising OCC collections, or distributing promotional information.
The SACRE considered objections to OCC summarised in this article published on the Humanist Life blog, and also a written response from OCC UK.
The SACRE agreed that a communication will be sent to schools to advise them on the religious nature of the scheme.
Operation Christmas Child is a shoebox gift scheme run by Samaritans Purse to deliver christmas gifts to disadvantaged children. The scheme has been widely criticised by non-religious and secular groups including the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society, and by charities and companies such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and The Co-operative Group. The main points of criticism are summarised here, and there are links to some excellent articles below for further information.
Operation Christmas Child is run by Samaritans Purse, US based organisation which takes a very literal view of the bible, including creationism and the existence of Satan and Hell. The shoeboxes are not merely intended to provide a gift to a child in need, but are actively used to proselytise and recruit children to a particular ‘brand’ of fundamentalist Christianity. Children are asked to acknowledge their sin and pledge themselves to God in the leaflet they receive with the box. Children are then recruited to a ‘discipleship program’ called The Greatest Journey which teaches creationism as fact, something not allowed in UK schools. Upon graduation children are given a bible and sent back into their communities to try to convert friends and family as well.
Using gifts or aid in this way as a means to convert vulnerable children whose families may be of different faiths is unethical, and has been criticised by various charities including Oxfam and Save the Children.
Samaritans Purse has contributed financially to the campaign against equal marriage in the US, and it’s CEO Franklin Graham is openly homophobic on social media.
As Derbyshire County Council is a Stonewall Top 100 Employer 2015, and some schools in the county are part of Stonewall’s School Champions programme, it seems counter to the aims of equality and inclusiveness for any schools to be supporting a charity with an openly homophobic agenda.
Information provided by Operation Christmas Child UK
The UK branch of Operation Christmas Child is not honest about the nature of the scheme. Following an investigation by the Charity Commission, boxes from the UK (unlike those from the US) do not contain any religious literature, and OCC UK makes much of this fact in interviews and written material, also highlighting that boxes are checked and any religious items removed.
However this isn’t the full story. The church partners distributing boxes also give children a leaflet, billed in UK promotional material as ‘a booklet of bible stories’. In fact this leaflet begins by explaining the Garden of Eden story, and why Adam and Eve were sinners, the theme of sin recurs heavily throughout. The leaflet ends with a prayer in which children are asked to say “I know I am a sinner, I made wrong choices and did bad things” and are then asked to sign a pledge that they are now”Gods child”. This is not merely ‘bible stories’ but is using the fear of Satan and hell to coerce children into converting.
OCC UK are being dishonest to people donating boxes, by not being upfront about the nature of the literature that children receive, and by downplaying the evangelism and links to US fundamentalists. A Radio 4 piece (from 23.30) from Nov 15 is a good example.
This scheme remains popular with many schools and parents, and seems on the surface to be a way to teach children about giving to those in need. However there are very many ways of doing this, and of giving to charity without allowing your generosity to be misused by fundamentalists.
There are many excellent articles on this subject if you would like further information:
British Humanist Association
National Secular Society