Religion needs to be charitable, say evangelicals

By staff writers
9 Mar 2007

Some new Charity Commission guidance which requires every charity, including religious ones, to show that they are for “public benefit” is no threat to churches and Christian groups, says the Evangelical Alliance UK. Indeed they should be welcomed.

The Alliance, which claims to speak for a million Christians in the UK, and has a membership of more than 3,000 churches and charities, has proclaimed itself pleased with the public consultation around the new guidance.

For the first time, the Charities Act 2006 requires that all new and existing charities, including those “for the advancement of religion”, should demonstrate that they provide clear public benefit.

This has the effect of putting an end to “qualification based on presumption” – the idea that religion is automatically a good thing.

Secular groups say that it does not go far enough: specifically religious purposes which include propagation should be self-funding and not receive money from the public purse, they argue.

The fact that evangelistic bodies, whose aim is to convert others through their work, will still be able to receive charitable money is a sign that the Charity Commission has still not got it right, they say.

But the EA UK is up-beat. Don Horrocks, the Evangelical Alliance’s Head of Public Affairs, said: “While there is certainly a new challenge involved for churches and religious charities, it is a challenge that should be welcomed.”

He continued: “There should be nothing to fear from the switch away from presumption of public benefit for religion to a requirement to demonstrate it. After all, if it cannot be shown that religious groups are benefiting the public it is reasonable to question why they should receive public tax concessions.”

Mr Horrocks added that the Evangelical Alliance had been assured that the burden of proof for public benefit will not be “unduly onerous”.

The Guidance is based on acceptance that religion generally contributes to social and spiritual well being. This will not go down well with those who argue that religion can be dangerous or delusional in some cases, and that non-religious philosophies and life stances may also contribute to well being.

Moreover, churches and other bodies have also been assured that they will not be forced to undertake community activities (though many already do), and that religious activities open to the public will be deemed to confer public benefit per se.

David Jones, Chief Executive of the Evangelical Alliance member organisation Stewardship, said: “Religious charities can be reassured that the propagation and teaching of faith principles will continue to be regarded as beneficial, provided it is open to and directed towards the public as a whole.”

Those who argue for an end to religious privilege say that proselytism is not a charitable act which should be eligible for public funding.

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