05 November 2015, The Tablet

Christian charities reluctant to allude to religion

FEAR OF being accused of prosely­tising has meant that Christian charities avoid mentioning religion and using overtly Christian titles, a report has found.

The survey by the Christian think tank Theos found that organisations that relied on government funding were particularly concerned about being seen to be trying to convert people.

Theos interviewed 20 faith-based charitable agencies for the report, on the condition of anonymity, including some Catholic agencies.

It said that faith-based organisations could be divided into evangelical agencies, which tended to work “off the radar”, and those who work closely with other agencies and worry they will only be seen as legitimate if their religious ethos is “implicit and internal”.

The report’s author, Paul Bickley, director of political programme, said that charities faced pressure to downplay their faith identity because of concerns over government funding.

“Local authorities have particular views about the kind of things they will fund,” he explained.

But he said this was a result of religious illiteracy rather than an anti-religious bias, and in fact some commissioners sought out faith-based organisations.

A spokesman for Christian Aid said it did not tone down its faith links.

“We are proud of our Christian heritage,” he said. “However, we are aware that there will be those who think we proselytise, which is why we are at pains to point out, wherever appropriate, that we work with people of all faiths and people of none.”

The aid charity Progressio, which changed its name from the Catholic Institute for International Relations in 2006, said the move was based on the encyclical Populorum Progressio, which discusses relations between rich and poor nations. But it said the change also took into account the sensitivities of working in Muslim settings.

The aid agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cafod, said its mission was informed by its Catholic values, wherever and with whomever it worked.

The study comes as a report commissioned by the Church of England and the Evangelical Alliance found that practising Christians who talk to friends about their beliefs are three times as likely to put them off God as to attract them.

Only 19 per cent of non-believers said such a conversation made them want to know more. While 23 per cent said it made them feel “more positive towards Jesus Christ”, 30 per cent said it left them feeling more negative. A third said they were not aware of anyone they knew being a practising Christian.

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