In this article, I’m going to offer a response to an article by Humanists UK which expresses opposition to the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child (OCC) program. In the program, donors pack shoe boxes with gifts to be distributed to poor children around the world at Christmas.
I’ll be the first to admit that OCC is not perfect. (I’ve stated some of my concerns in this article). And I am personally not a big fan of Franklin Graham, the founder of Samaritan’s Purse (see here). But in this article, I’m going to focus on the primary concern of Humanists UK, namely that it is somehow unethical to distribute gifts with a positive Christian message to children.
Let’s begin with the article’s description of OCC practice:
“a scheme run by evangelical US Christian charity, Samaritan’s Purse, which has used donations from the public to promote religious literature and convert children to Christianity.”
Now as Christians I do think that we should be aware of the specific ethical issues with child evangelism (see here). Nonetheless, I don’t see anything unethical about distributing gifts to children while sharing with them a positive message of God’s love and care as embodied in the church. Needless to say, calling such actions a “scheme” (i.e. an underhanded plot) borders on the ridiculous.
As if that weren’t enough, the article goes on to quote Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy, Richy Thompson:
“It is absolutely appalling to target vulnerable children in the way this scheme does especially when, in many cases, these children have already suffered poverty, war, and other terrible tragedies.”
Let’s put this in perspective: a poor child who has suffered the trauma of war receives a shoebox with a stuffed animal, a toothbrush, a rubber ball, a toy car, and a simple pamphlet declaring God’s love for them.
By what metric should that action be considered “appalling”?
How about we turn things around? What if that child had received the same box but instead of declaring God’s love, the pamphlet relayed a simple message in keeping with the values of Humanists UK. Would Richy Thompson still be outraged? Would he still consider that an appalling act targeting vulnerable children?
I’m guessing … no.
Not surprisingly, OCC has addressed these kinds of concerns: here is a nuanced and thoughtful response from OCC Canada to the question: “Do you use the shoeboxes to coerce children and their families into Christianity?”
As for Humanists UK, my suggestion is that they recalibrate their offense-meter. The Christian church has done many things that provide a legitimate ground for moral offense, but packing Christmas boxes for children with a message of God’s love is not one of them.