Some seasonal thoughts about Operation Christmas Child

One of the debates currently in play amongst some parents from our school surrounds Operation Christmas Child, the shoebox-distributing charity that still gains wide support in the UK and further afield.

To cut a long story short, there’s been a backlash against what, for the sake of my typing fingers, I’ll call OCC, and that backlash is a good ten or so years old now. I first came across it through a series of articles in The GuardianGiles Fraser’s piece is one that springs to mind, though there was a feature piece in, I think, the paper’s Society section a good year or so before that.

One point worth making is that OCC, to the best of my knowledge, changed its literature after the mid-first-decade-of-the-2000s backlash, but as Giles Fraser pointed out in 2014, it’s still possible to have a huge issue with the very act of distributing Christian tracts along with shoeboxes, particularly within some religious contexts. As Fraser notes, it’s a particular problem within Islamic cultures, though I don’t think you have to be a Muslim to feel very wary about some of the charity’s operations.

Generally speaking, I suspect it’s difficult to separate your views on OCC from your own religious (or non-religious) viewpoint and, more relevantly, the degree to which you have a problem with organisations asking for donations from people of all faiths and none, and then distributing overtly Christian literature with those donations. Myself, I have a huge problem with that, not just because I vehemently and fundamentally disagree with OCC founder Franklin Graham’s venomous take on Christianity, but because… well, have some bullet points, because I have several other things to do and to write tonight.

  • Honesty is key here. My main dislike of OCC comes from their hiding, deliberate or not, of what they actually present along with the boxes. Granted, they’re much better on that now than they used to be (they even have the tract on their website) but I’m still very uneasy about the way they promote to schools. By the way, I don’t think for a second that any of this is the ‘fault’ of anyone at any particular school, and I certainly don’t think that well-meaning teachers are deliberately hoodwinking the parents. OCC have been going for years, but even after ten years of publicity, the sort of stuff I’m talking about here really isn’t that well known.
  • It’s possibly a rather provocative aside, but worth making – the very name ‘Operation Christmas Child’ implies that you’re getting something, at least, of a somewhat Christian nature. I accept, though, that what OCC do goes far beyond the secular, and that Christmas is at least as much a secular festival by now in the UK/Europe/US as it is a religious one. (And I’ve read, or at least dipped into, the excellent Ronald Hutton, taverymuch, so I’m well aware of the appropriation and culturally changing meaning of Christmas in Britain over the centuries).
  • While big in schools, OCC is slightly more marginalised in the remainder of society than it was. GMTV, the ITV breakfast franchise, used to support OCC annually. This hasn’t happened for quite a few years.
  • Everyone, but everyone, has a viewpoint on this. The initial link posted by a parent came from Innovative Minds, who appear to be an Islamic organisation, who, understandably, wouldn’t exactly be delighted about an evangelical Christian organisation including the literature it did include alongside its shoeboxes. Having said that, I have something in common with their concerns, though from a rather different perspective: I find Franklin Graham’s views to be fairly odious, and not ones I personally share.
  • Christians aren’t all like Franklin Graham. Really. We’re not all closed-minded racists who would rather dismantle the past 40 years’ progress on equal marriage. Mind you, ours is a broad church, and I’m fully aware that Samaritans’ Purse, OCC’s supporting charity, would be horrified and offended to hear their founder described in such ways.
  • And there’s a baby-bathwater thing going on here too. Christians have a social conscience (as, yes, do people of all faiths and none) which manifests itself in various helpful ways – most of them massively more helpful than OCC. The Trussell Trust works alongside faith organisations and secular communities. Churches open their doors for fairly non-pushy parent and toddler mornings. I could go on, but I feel there’s another point that I need to revisit…
  • …which is that honesty is key here. I’d say that truth, openness and plain transparency are values which Christian organisations should share alongside their wider secular community… but that opens a whole other can of worms, which, thankfully, I don’t have time to explore.

Incidentally, you’re very welcome to comment on this. Mine is one viewpoint and I certainly don’t pretend to speak for any other individuals, let alone organisations. I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

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