Drawing lines in the right places



by Dale McGowan

Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

Though world attention has largely turned elsewhere, the crisis in Haiti is ongoing. Many organizations continue to offer assistance to the devastated country. Foundation Beyond Belief will be supporting one Haiti-based medical aid organization in the second quarter. Watch for the announcement Thursday.

Disasters of this kind can reveal clear differences in approach among the involved organizations. In addition to questions of efficiency, focus, and methodology, it’s been interesting to see clear differences in purpose.

As noted in our FAQ, this Foundation does not support organizations that proselytize a given worldview, including our own. In addition to being a drain on donated resources, using a crisis or ongoing need to directly promote one’s worldview is ethically questionable.

I’ve seen it suggested that charities are good at hiding their proselytizing in order to “skirt the law.” This is incorrect on two counts. It is not illegal for a 501(c)(3) organization to proselytize, only to endorse political candidates or positions. And anyone who follows the work of religious charities knows that far from hiding it, those that do spend money on evangelism go out of their way to reassure their donors of that fact.

Food for the Poor notes in its mission statement that “Ultimately, we seek to bring both benefactors and recipients to a closer union with our Lord.” Samaritan’s Purse makes it very clear that they believe their relief work “earns us a hearing for the Gospel, the Good News of eternal life through Jesus Christ.” BrightHope International offers a graph to ensure that donors know the lion’s share of resources go to spiritual rather than physical or economic needs, and their homepage promotional video begins with a relief worker asking a Haitian man: “Let me ask you then: Is hope and faith connected?”

These organizations are honest and straightforward about their missions. Though they are not missions we would support, we wish them well in the humanitarian work they do.

But it’s important to note that not all religious relief organizations proselytize. Some, in fact, go out of their way to make it clear that they do not. The United Methodist Committee on Relief, also responding in Haiti, explicitly renounces proselytizing in their relief work.  From their website:

UMCOR honors cultural differences. We deliver aid to people without regard to race, religion, politics, or gender….UMCOR avoids tying the promise of its relief and development activity to any religious or political viewpoint.

Bravo! It’s because of distinctions like these that this Foundation draws the line not at the worldview of an organization but at proselytizing that worldview. If someone’s worldview inspires him or her to do good work in the world, I can support that work––even if the perspective that inspired it differs from my own.