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Humanists UK urges caution over Christmas shoebox appeals run by evangelical groups

Humanists UK is urging schools to check who is behind Christmas shoebox appeals, after receiving numerous queries from worried parents. There are many reputable charities now running such appeals. But Humanists UK has identified two in particular that use the generosity of donors to evangelise to vulnerable children.

Samaritan’s Purse is the organisation behind Operation Christmas Child. Their annual shoebox appeal is promoted by many schools as a positive way of helping the poor in other countries at this festive time of year. The appeal sends shoeboxes full of toys, books, and other presents to vulnerable children in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. But Samaritan’s Purse uses a trojan horse approach of adding religious literature to the gift boxes after they are dispatched. The literature aims to convert children to Christianity.

Schools across the country encourage parents and children to participate and fill shoeboxes. But when they do so they are often completely unaware of the indoctrinatory purpose of the gifts. Schools and families want to contribute and do something good. But their efforts are being used to promote a single, evangelical view of a faith rather than being delivered unconditionally as intended by the donors.

The head of Samaritan’s Purse, Reverend William Franklin Graham III, is the son of well-known American evangelist Billy Graham. He has a long history of making homophobic and racist comments and has even gone on the record to describe homosexuality as an ‘abomination’. He also said Muslims ‘should be barred from immigrating to America’ and has called on Christians to convert Muslims. In 2020, Graham participated in the ‘March for Life’, calling for a total ban on abortion.

Blythswood Care, a UK-based charity, runs a similar appeal to Operation Christmas Child. This is also being promoted to UK schools. The appeal sends gifts, which have Bible verses attached before delivery, to vulnerable adults and children in Eastern Europe. The charity’s website features a physically disabled Bulgarian woman, who had not previously been to church. It describes how she converted to Christianity as a result of being given a shoebox containing a story called ‘Jesus the Promised Child’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said: 

‘Samaritan’s Purse and Blythswood Care use gifts to indoctrinate vulnerable adults and children who have already suffered extreme poverty, war, and other terrible tragedies. It is appalling that organisations like these are allowed to operate year after year, exploiting the generosity of families who want to help those less fortunate than themselves.

‘We know many parents and schools will wish to give an altruistic gift this Christmas. We only urge them to do so through a reputable, transparent charity which seeks only to give joy to vulnerable children, not to impose its own religious views.’

Humanists UK has drafted a template letter addressed to schools highlighting what their donations are contributing to. It urges them to reconsider their support for the scheme. The letter can be downloaded at humanists.uk/ethical-appeals.

It says causes such as Aquabox and Link to Hope (itself a Christian charity) also run similar shoebox appeals, but with no ulterior motive. Other charities like Plan UK, Oxfam, and Children in Need all have Christmas appeals.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigning on Operation Christmas Child and alternative appeals.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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