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Christian debt charity quits support network over prayer policy

Christian debt charity quits support network over prayer policy
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Christian debt charity quits support network over prayer policy18

Finance | Tania Mason | 5 Sep 2011

Debt counselling charity Christians Against Poverty has been forced to quit its membership of Advice UK after the umbrella body was made aware that it offers to pray for people who come to it with debt problems.

Christians Against Poverty is a national charity with a network of 160 centres based in local churches.  Advice UK is the UK’s largest support network for free, independent advice centres.

Advice UK chief executive Steve Johnson told civilsociety.co.uk: “We don’t feel that praying as part of the advice process is compatible with our membership criteria.  Advice should be impartial and offered with no strings attached.”

He denied any discrimination against religious groups, saying plenty of other faith groups were members.  

'Praying is not advice'

He said Advice UK raised the issue with Christians Against Poverty after receiving reports, from both beneficiaries and other advice groups, about the offers of prayer.  The discussion was perfectly amicable but at the end CAP chose to withdraw from membership, he said.

“The people at CAP feel it is important to offer prayer and we absolutely respect their view, but we don’t agree with it.

“At the end of the day, praying is not advice.  We don’t feel it is compatible with what is regarded throughout the advice sector as normal practice.”

Johnson said there was no evidence that CAP was evangelising to clients or trying to convert them to Christianity “but it is not a big step from one to the other and that would be a concern”.

People in debt often don’t seek help until their situation becomes desperate and so are often feeling very vulnerable and hugely thankful for the lifeline provided by counsellors, he said. Thus the offer of prayer could pose a dilemma or unwanted pressure for some.

Christians Against Poverty said in a statement: “Whilst CAP is committed to provide impartial help and advice to all members of society, as an expression of our care for clients we do offer to pray with people. We also have the furtherance of the Christian faith as a charitable objective.  In order to protect the integrity of both organisations it was amicably agreed that CAP would not continue to be a Advice UK member.”

Johnson added that CAP “are people trying to do a good job, their motivations are good and they help a lot of people”.  Advice UK would stay in touch with the agency and continue a positive relationship, he said.

Lee, Stoke On Trent.
CAP User
24 Nov 2011

I am a recent user of CAP and, at no time, has prayer been mentioned or been brought up as a subject at any meeting with my visiting worker from CAP. The same goes with contact with CAP's Bradford office - at no time have I been evangelised to nor prayer offered.

I do know that many CAP Field Centres are based at very outgoing and charismatic churches who are keen to gain new members and others are at very quiet 'run of the mill' churches. I attend a local church myself and CAP know this and, at no time as this been questioned nor have I been told to move to another while using CAP.

I will say one thing in favour of CAP - they have, in just a few months, given me a purpose once more and let me see where my meagre wages are going and helping me to budget and pay off creditors. Also, I know that, unlike using some of the debt management companies out there, CAP are using my money and any money they gain from my creditors to help others and not just to line pockets.

It's quite sad that, in this day and age, one organisation has to pull away from another or have the door closed, just because of value and belief.

Paul Johnson
27 Oct 2011

Steve Johnson said there was no evidence that CAP was evangelising to clients or trying to convert them to Christianity “but it is not a big step from one to the other and that would be a concern".

From their 2010 annual report:

"When we visit clients a support worker will go with the debt coach to offer friendship and help with any other areas of life. We offer to pray with our clients and if they are interested connect them into church. As a result of love demonstrated in a really practical way 404 people became Christians in 2010."

John
16 Sep 2011

Once again we have someone, Steve Johnson, taking an anti-religious line on the basis of not upsetting unknown and unspecified persons. Whilst thinking this is a neutral position it is in fact strongly pro-secularist and needs to be seen in this light. A neutral position, which Advice UK should adopt, is to recognise that there are a variety of ways of supporting people in debt and the good work done by CAP includes the opportunity to pray with clients and is a legitimate way of helping clients.

Advice UK should be more focused on those unscrupulous debt 'advisors' who merely get clients into more debt by charging exorbitant hidden fees, not parting company with an agency which has helped many people resolve their debt problems.

Carl Allen
8 Sep 2011

Is it the case that Advice UK found itself in the position that it could not apply for funds with CAP on board?

It reminds of the Catholic Care case in some respects.

P Haworth
Executive Secretary
Seventh day Adventist Church
7 Sep 2011

I note that the support is based in 160 centres based in local churches. I also note that there is an offer of prayer but that there is NOT a string attached, ie. there is no compulsion to accept prayer before the advice is given.

Being that the centres are in Churches and that there is no strings attached what are Advice UK doing? Are they actively seeking to weed out Christian or faith based organisations?

Stephen Lulsley
Commentator
7 Sep 2011

Perhaps Mr Johnson should ask the other faith based groups that he says are members what they do. Might he be afraid of an open rebellion of his faith based membership?

I bet some of them pray with their clients - whether Muslim, Christian or whatever and quite rightly too under the right circumstances and with the agreement or at the request of their clients.

Talking of those other groups, perhaps some of them might feel it is in their best interests and appropriate to let Mr Johnson know that they take a dim view of the forced departure of CAP from their number.

If I were a member of Advice UK, I certainly would. I would also consider the position of my own organisation's continuing membership of Advice UK under such circumstances.

Ed Ingle
Consultant
7 Sep 2011

If I were CAP, I wouldn't be worried about not being a member of Advice UK. Being true to their calling and their own beliefs is far more important than complying with some silly PC agenda. CAP are better off out of it, than belong to an umbrella organisation that is supposed to be supporting organisations that help people. Isn't Advice UK's stance somewhat anathema to their purpose?

As Groucho Marx also said, "I wouldn't want to be a member of any organisation that would have me as a member."

Ade Arogundade
Director
Corporate Concepts (UK) Limited
7 Sep 2011

As a religous group, praying will logically be deemed to be part of CAP's legitimate activities. I just don't get it!

Francesca Quint
Barrister
Radcliffe Chambers
7 Sep 2011

Surely the question should be whether praying for or with a debtor, along with practical advice, actually helps a person to get out of debt? The prevention of cruelty to animals by prayer was held non-charitable in re Joy but I can imagine that a human beneficiary might sometimes benefit in a material way from the psychological support provided by such an offer. Compare 'spiritual healing', the provision of which is charitable.

Barbara
5 Sep 2011

In my experience people are not embarrassed or surprised that people from a Christian organisation whatever area they work in,offer to pray for the individual/family. People are free to refuse prayer just as they do not have to accept the advice they are given. Its a natural outcome of the work of a christian organisation. Why should people feel threatened by prayer? They are in control of whether it happens or not.

Mrs C M Heath
5 Sep 2011

I am an active christian but would find someone offering to pray WITH me in those circumstances as patronising. People in need come to our organisation but I would not dream of offering to pray with them or saying that I would pray for them. I do say a prayer for some of them, but do not feel the need to possibly embarrass them by telling them that.

I agree with Advice UK - I would feel pressured if I were a client.

Graeme
5 Apr 2012
Response to [Mrs C M Heath]

Why would you find anyone praying for you patronising? We are called to pray for each other. It’s a humble thing, asking for prayer, showing your weakness, Paul boasted in his weakness to Glorify God. 2 Corinthians 12v8-10.


James 5:16 ... and pray for one another, that you may be healed...
1 Timothy 2:1 ... First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.
Romans 15:30 ... I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf...
1 Thessalonians 5:25... Brother, pray for us...

We are called to be different, we are meant to be a light to this world, to show the Glory of God to all nations.

I agree with some of the people above, people have free will, they can say no to prayer like you can say no to some giving out leaflets in the street. I doubt very much that CAP advisors pressurise people into prayer or that they have ANY strings attached.

CAP seem to have a good view on the matter. They were making Advice Uk uncomfortable so they stepped down. I say well done to them!!

Carl Allen
5 Sep 2011
Response to [Mrs C M Heath]

An event of patronising to some users should not preclude a service having potential added value to other users.

Elimination of the potential added value is a sure answer but does it constitute a solution?

Carl Allen
5 Sep 2011

Standard solution is to separate the offer of prayer from the delivery of prayer by the same person.

But a clean break solution was adopted.

So what is better for a diverse client base is the question?



Julia Handfield
5 Sep 2011

Pure agressive secularism.

John Marshall
CEO
Centrepoint Outreach
5 Sep 2011

As a Christian charity, I have prayed WITH some of our clients and FOR all of them. I have also offered and given Gideon Testaments to them.

There are no strings or pressures attached. Those we serve are free to say 'no thanks'. We recognise that many people come to us with spiritual as well as physical needs.

There is no conflict - all support is offered in the best interests of an individual client. Perhaps the Advice UK chief exec. has never experienced the power of prayer! I will pray that he is blessed.

Nigel Edward-Few
CEO
Jubilee Action
7 Sep 2011
Response to [John Marshall]

I entirely agree with John Marshall of Centrepoint Outreach. I think it is very unfortunate that CAP have been forced to quit Advice UK.

We are a Christian led organisation working worldwide with children at extreme risk, but our help is not conditional on us being able to promote or force any Christian agenda to those children, nor laying down any conditions in helping them.

As Christ demonstrated himself on many occasions, He saw the person in need, not the ethnicity or belief of that person. In every case, he sought to help or heal them. It is true that many responded in faith, but that was not His driver or agenda. He was filled with compassion for the whole person.

Many of our project partners and individuals that we work with are not only willing to be prayed for or with, but welcome and are grateful for the reassurance and care that prayer support offers.

In the case of Christians against Poverty, not only is the foundation on which the organisation is predicated obvious in its name to anyone seeking help, but it also expresses however subliminally that it is not the mechanical dealing with debt and poverty that is the only driver, but a real holistic and complete care for the individual in need.

I wish CAP every success in their work. They are only doing what Christ did Himself and told us to do; to care for the poor, the widowed and the orphan. I for one have no embarrassment in saying that personal faith has been my motivation for working in the charity sector for the last 30 odd years, professionally and voluntarily. The day that I stop caring and believeing passionately about why and what I do and lose my motivation will be the day that I will cease to be effective and human.

Carl Allen
5 Sep 2011

Admonishment and advice about debt and debt prevention are part and parcel of diverse religious teachings (and non-religious teachings).

But my point ... what does the diverse debt client want or is the supplier (Advice Uk) restricting the service as an oligopoly?

I take it for granted that Advice UK has no adverse intentions.

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