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.