One of the things those of us with any disposable income try to do, is to give it to good causes. About once a year I review who receives what I give. There are some obvious stalwarts: my old College, which is not one of Oxford’s richest, and gave me so much, that I want to give something back to each new generation; and then a series of charities. Some of these are secular charities, but the majority are religious ones. It was, therefore, sobering, to put it mildly, to see the news about Oxfam. As my friend Neo has written elsewhere there is a very considerable iceberg underneath this tip.
That aid agency staff commit abuses seems further proof of the axiom that bad people will find a way of working with vulnerable people. We see it in every Church. This leads those with an agenda to criticise my own Church, or someone else’s church; for believers in original sin, that seems a culpably blind attitude. Some of the things described in Neo’s piece are heart-breaking. For the Director of Oxfam to say ‘it isn’t as though we murdered babies’, shows, alas, that he still fails to grasp the scale of the outrage. His detailed excuses as to why they behaved as they did once they knew the details of the scandal, shows a concern with preserving the institution at all costs. As an expert on disaster management, he should have consulted an expert in media relations on when not to bring a mechanical digger to a hole-making party.
Charities have become big business, but unlike other businesses which pay their CEOs a fortune, this business does not make anything or sell anything, it raises funds and then tries to spend them in the best way possible. It is a business that relies on reputation. The Charity sector is not coming well out of this, or indeed, other investigations, such as phone fund-raising. There is something deeply disturbing about the pattern of behaviour being revealed. I stopped one long-term donation because a phone fund-raiser aggressively tried to make me increase the amount I had given. He seemed oblivious to my argument that I gave to a number of charities and had worked out what I could afford to give to each; the result was he managed to lose his charity a regular amount, plus a legacy. Of course, he did not work with the charity, he was a professional fund-raiser paid by results. I hope he was not on a bonus.
In all this sorry story, it is good to recall some charities do work no one else would. The Aid to the Church in Need charity is one. The work it has done with the victims of ISIS/Daesh is exemplary. In places no one else goes, ANC goes. It is helping thousands of Christian who feel abandoned by the UN charities working in Jordan. £3.6 million has just been given to Iraqi Christians to help rebuild houses in the Nineveh Plain. This is something no one else would do. NGOs tend to take a relentlessly politically correct line, which in places like Jordan means that Christians are at the bottom of the list. A quarter of Iraq’s Christian have now returned to their homes. This is real charity. It is not about trying to help make the refugee camps more permanent, but about making them unnecessary. So far, £28million has been given to Christians in Iraq.
But ANC is in the Sudan, Russia, Syria, and raising the alarm wherever Christians are persecuted. At Lent we are encouraged to give of our charity. I have made my decision, and hope that, despite the scandal engulfing the ‘charity sector’, charities like ANC will continue to be supported.