Charity Commission and Evangelisation

The Charity Commission in England have announced this week (17th Dec 2008) that evangelisation can be a public benefit.

The following extract from the new Guidelines on the Charity Commission website is the most relevant for groups related to GfE, but all sections of the Guidelines should be read to get a full picture. These Guidelines affect charitable and legal status, with clear implications for finance and fund raising.


Annex B: Examples of ways in which charities can advance religion


There are a variety of ways in which the Courts have accepted that charities can advance religion by seeking new followers or adherents and/or by encouraging and facilitating the practice of the religion by existing followers or adherents, or by advancing the religion generally. The following examples illustrate the many different ways in which charities can advance religion:

There are a variety of ways in which the Courts have accepted that charities can advance religion by seeking new followers or adherents and/or by encouraging and facilitating the practice of the religion by existing followers or adherents, or by advancing the religion generally. The following examples illustrate the many different ways in which charities can advance religion:


• Seeking new followers or adherents

Proselytising (seeking to convert someone to a faith or religion) is used by many charities advancing religion as an established and accepted means of attracting new followers or adherents. In some religions proselytising is seen as an essential part of the outworking of the religion. For example, Christians regard evangelising as a central part of their religion. In the majority of cases, proselytising is carried out sensitively and without coercion and does not present any public benefit difficulties.

However, there are circumstances in which the way in which proselytising is carried out, or the effects of proselytising, can affect public benefit, such as where it involves:


• exerting improper pressure on people in distress or need; or
• activities that entail the use of violence or brainwashing; or
• activities offering material or social advantages with a view to gaining new members of the religion.
• Encouraging and facilitating the practice of the religion by existing followers or adherents

Examples of advancing religion by encouraging and facilitating religious practice by existing followers or adherents include:

 

• Places of worship, including:
• the provision and maintenance of a building used for religious practise (including churches, gurdwaras, mosques, synagogues, and temples; also including meeting houses, adjoining halls and meeting rooms used for related activities, eg religious instruction for children);
• the conducting of religious ceremonies, eg naming ceremonies, or the celebration of marriages or funerals;
• the maintenance of public churchyards and other public religious burial places;
• the saying of masses open to the public;
• the saying of special prayers for a year after the death of a person;
• the provision and maintenance of religious or devotional artefacts and items used in religious services, rituals or practices;
• the provision and maintenance of religious stained glass windows and other religious works of art within places of worship;
• ‘passive advancement’, meaning leaving religious buildings open for people to enter and benefit from personal spiritual contemplation.
• Raising awareness and understanding of religious beliefs and practices, including:
• advancing a particular interpretation of a religious doctrine, or advancing particular religious tenets, provided the charity is not doing so in order to achieve a political purpose;
• advancing belief in a particular miracle or miracles – some religious beliefs include belief in ‘miracles’. [A ‘miracle’ is generally regarded as an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an ‘act of God’. There is a distinction, though, between advancing a religion that includes a belief in miracles amongst its tenets, beliefs and practices, and promoting belief in a particular miracle, not in that context. Advancing belief in a particular miracle or miracles, not acknowledged by a recognised religion, or not capable of promoting the moral or spiritual welfare of the community, would not, of itself, be charitable];
• producing and promoting religious books, tracts, films and other information for the public, including providing religious resource centres and libraries;
• promoting the study of religious teachings and practices and scriptures;
• promoting religious narratives and/or doctrines through producing and performing musical and theatrical liturgy;
• providing religious instruction and supervision;
• providing or supporting schools and educational establishments, including theological training colleges, which provide education in accordance with the principles and practices of the religion;
• support of religious office holders for acting as such, including the provision of stipends and other living allowances, pensions and retirement accommodation;
• promoting prayer, praise and study.
• Religious devotional acts, including:
• visiting the sick;
• sitting with a deceased person’s body so that it is not left unattended;
• administering the sacraments to the sick and dying.
• Missionary and outreach work, including:
• the provision of prison, hospital, university and industrial chaplaincy;
• prison and hospital visiting;
• the encouragement and support of pastoral work;
• cultural and community activities provided either in the place of worship or in the buildings attached, such as the provision of free community kitchens in gurdwaras;
• work for reconciliation, truth telling and peace;
• developing understanding regarding peace and human rights.
• Religious communication, including:
• sermons and religious seminars, talks, meetings and conferences;
• charitable religious television and radio broadcasts;
• the provision of religious material via the internet;
• street and door-to-door communications.
• Retreat and pilgrimage, including:
• provision of property for retreat;
• organising the holding of long or short-stay retreat; where the people who attend return to society to practise their beliefs;
• organising open pilgrimages where the pilgrimage is part of the public worship of a recognised religious group and where the purpose of the pilgrimage is more than personal devotion.
• Advancing religion generally including:
• charities set up in general terms for religious purposes;
• charities set up to support religious societies and institutions;
• charities set up to support more than one religion or denomination, such as Protestant Christianity;
• ecumenical and inter-faith charities.

Whatever way trustees choose to advance religion, it must be clear that the activity is being carried out as an expression of the advancement of that religion.
We recognise that, for many, the separation of religious and secular work is not easy, or even possible, as secular and/or social work in these similar fields is in fact an outworking of the religion.


However, there is a difference between a religious person undertaking work as part of their religion and a person who has religious beliefs undertaking work in furtherance of a secular purpose. It is important in public benefit terms to be able to distinguish why the activity is being carried out since activities are what organisations do in order to carry out their aims and therefore the activities must be related to those aims.
Charities whose aims include advancing religion do not have to undertake secular activities in addition to their religious activities in order to meet the public benefit requirement.

 
For example, the sole aim of a particular charity advancing religion may be to provide a place of worship for all who wish to attend. Provided access is not unduly restricted, carrying out this one activity is capable of meeting the public benefit requirement.

Visit the Charity Commission website for further information.

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