A little while ago, we got a notice from my Daughter’s school saying that they were having a bake sale. This happens all the time. Apparently, there’s a student council who decide to raise money for charities of various sorts. All very nice and character building. However, this time, it was to raise money for the nearby church. Why on earth are the local primary school kids raising money to support a local religious group? It’s bad enough that the same group has access to spread their religious beliefs to the kids every Tuesday morning but now they’re trying to pay their property maintenance bills by sourcing cash from them as well! Apparently, prayers alone don’t work.
From past experience, I knew it was pointless to raise the very valid argument of the school being secular, not religious and that it was totally inappropriate for the school to allow fund-raising for the church. So, I rolled my eyes and put it down to yet more Christian privilege and religious bias in the school.
The next newsletter said that the student council was now raising money for children in Cambodia with a “shoeless day”. Our kids were meant to donate money and come to school shoeless to show some solidarity with their less fortunate Cambodian friends and help them get an education. However, I noticed that there was no explanation of what charities the money was going to. This got me thinking… where exactly is this money going and how is it used?
The first stop was the Shoeless Day website. It turns out that it was set up by a local girl who appears to have done a great job of getting media coverage, with articles appearing in Stuff, The NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB. There’s no mention of religion anywhere on her website or the articles in the media that promote this awesome idea of getting Cambodian kids a better education. Just awesome right? Well maybe… at this point, I was thinking that perhaps my “Christian agenda radar” was on the blink. Perhaps, I’d become overly cynical?
Willow Creek is an outright religious organisation with a global network. They unreservedly state their faith and Shoeless Day is an integral part of their website, where they state;
Every $20 raised will buy a school pack (shoes, uniform, school supplies) for a child’s year of education. The difference you can make in these children’s lives is huge.
I think it’s great when any organisation wants to help those less fortunate, but you’d have to be pretty naive to think that an organisation as evangelical as Willow Creek is primarily concerned with education. Note that there’s never any mention of bibles or spreading Christian faith with regard to getting Cambodian kids an education. However, Shoeless Day is listed as one of Willow Creek’s “Ministry Departments”. In Christianity, ministry is an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith. So while they are talking about books and pencils, the goal is Christian evangelism.
Interestingly, around 95% of Cambodians are actually Buddhists, so there is a lot of potential for conversion there. Imagine that you’re a poor farmer in Cambodia who wants your kids to get an education. You’d probably be willing to bend some of your beliefs at the cost of some Christian indoctrination for the kids. It seems that the money is actually going to private Christian schools run by Care for Cambodia, who also seem to have been known as “Christian Care for Cambodia”.
The Care for Cambodia website also has no mention of any religious affiliation but I did find references to them (here’s an example) from religious organisations, so their allegiance is pretty clear. So the money that you’re giving to Shoeless day is actually being used to promote Christianity and fund Christian schools. They didn’t say that in the brochure!
So what is the objection? It appears that Care for Cambodia may be doing some good and assisting some people. I haven’t found any reason to dispute that even though Istruggled to find out exactly what schools they run/support and where they are. What grates on me is that there is an obvious effort to avoid having the charity fund-raising being associated with Christian evangelism. There will inevitably be people giving them money that they otherwise wouldn’t have because they hid some of the things they are trying to achieve.
Since originally writing this article about Christian fundraising through state schools, our local school kids have also been involved in a singing competition “Slice of Heaven”, run by World Vision under the label “Kids for Kids“. World Vision are an evangelical Christian charity that run development programmes in impoverished countries. Of course, they are always accompanied by a pile of bibles carried by smiling missionaries who have come to help. It’s hard to deny Jesus if you’re hungry, sick or want to give your kids a better life! in 2014, World Vision also became famous for changing a long standing recruitment policy of not hiring gay Christians to allow the hiring of gay Christians in same sex marriages. It was an uncharacteristic attempt at equality. But there was such a huge outcry from their Christian supporters that within 48 hours, they reversed this policy. Regardless, they lost millions of dollars every month in donations and up to 19,000 children who had previously had a direct relationship with a Christian sponsor were dumped because their sponsors objected to World Vision’s policy change. World Vision continues to refuse employment to gay people on the basis of their religious beliefs and have stated that their priority is to “unify the church”.