Monday, March 05, 2007

Evangelical aid agencies finally under scrutiny

Often operating below the radar and marching to their own drum, humanitarian relief efforts funded and implemented by evangelical Christians are a common feature in many of the world's emergencies.

An AP report from Uganda addresses the professionalism and qualifications of one such organization, Samaritan's Purse, led by Franklin Graham, Reverend Billy Graham's son. Billy Graham was described by Time magazine as an American 'hero and icon' of the twentieth century.

The AP story begins:
"Telephone to Jesus. Hello?" the children of Aler refugee camp in northern Uganda sing, their bare feet thumping the ground as they dance wildly in their concrete chapel. Most camp residents have never used a phone, but they are learning about Jesus. The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, smiled as he watched the children — members of a club run by Samaritan's Purse, the Christian missionary organization he leads.

Critics accuse them of taking advantage of vulnerable communities — forcing people to abandon traditional beliefs in exchange for desperately needed goods and medicine. Graham, though, says his group is meeting spiritual as well as physical needs, and he's proud of what has been accomplished.

Read the rest of the story here.

In 2003, Slate reported on Franklin's global vision as informed by his faith. It is worth a read, and starts thus:

"Franklin Graham is the son of Billy Graham and a far more influential figure in the evangelical Christian community than Jerry Falwell or even Pat Robertson. Graham is viewed as the torch-carrier for his father, who is still among the most beloved figures in American Christianity. Moreover, the Graham family is close to Bush. Billy Graham led Bush to Christianity in the 1980s; Franklin Graham delivered the invocation at his presidential inauguration.

In addition to being publicly allied with the Bush administration, Graham also happens to be stridently anti-Islam. His list of anti-Islam comments is long; his most succinct was that Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion."


Hogweed said...

Perhaps Islam is an evil and dangerous religion and is only christians who have had the guts to say it in this suffocating multi-culturalist world of intellectul dishonesty as we all bow low to political correctness and leap into the soupy sea of reletavism.Perhaps not. Something vaccuous about aid and development in modern times is that it purely focuses on the temporal and offers little vision or metaphysical hope for those in destress, trauma, disorientation and dispair. I think its OK if some people want to get people stomping and singing in the midst of their misery..presumably they stomp and sing better on a full stomach and in clothes anyway. On the other side its also the givers (christian givers in this case) to give with whatever conditions they choose. thy have that freedom too, even if it irks us agnostics/atheists etc.

Anonymous said...

Hogweed, I think the point is not necessarily to rush to judgment, but to welcome more scrutiny.

Many humanitarian agencies seem to have agreed, after quite painstaking thought and debate, that for lots of reasons, independence, impartiality, and (usually) neutrality are useful and right principles to work by.

In times and places where religious divides can inspire the sort of invective with which you begin your comment, it is easy to see why evangelical aid may be misunderstood.

Of course, the need for more scrutiny is certainly applicable right across the field of humanitarian and development assistance, whatever the stated motivation and funding arrangement, and whether non-governmental, governmental or multilateral (the lines are often blurred).

Most organisations, just like most people, have a tendency to be convinced by its own self-justifying rationale.