Edwina Turner: When faith steps in – charities, faith and politics

12 Sep 2019 Expert insight

Edwina Turner from Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP examines the role that faith-based charities can play.

To put the words ‘charity’, ‘faith’ and ‘politics’ in the same sentence is surely an attempt to incur the wrath of the nation – politicians, the general public and even the Charity Commission. However, faith-based charities have never shied away from stepping into the breach where a pressing or controversial social issue has presented itself.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a leading Baptist preacher and writer, founded the charity Spurgeons in 1867 as an orphanage.  As a prominent Christian of his day, Spurgeon’s practical response to the Bible’s teaching was to provide orphaned and vulnerable children in London with shelter, education and the hope of a better future.

Today’s social pressures continue to be met with faith-inspired affirmative action from charities like Spurgeons, the Trussell Trust, Tearfund, Christian Aid and Islamic Relief Worldwide. When asked whether running food banks was ‘letting government off the hook’ Daniel Singleton, national executive director of Faith Action, was reported as saying: “In the end, if someone falls down in front of you, I think there is a responsibility to pick them up and do something.”  

As well as meeting social needs, faith-based charities have a long-established reputation of speaking truth to power. Some faith charities take on active roles in local, national and international politics in furtherance of their charitable objects. Throughout history, Quakers have been outspoken and active, most notably in the abolition of slavery and, today, can be found engaging in issues such as supporting asylum seekers and refugees and action against climate change. 

In open letters to the Prime Minister, cross-denominational Church leaders recently called on the government to publish evidence of the impact a no-deal Brexit would have on disadvantaged communities; leaders from over 100 faith organisations lobbied Boris Johnson to urgently resettle more refugees and 25 bishops from the Church of England warned the government against showing “a cavalier disregard” for Parliament by proroguing Parliament. 

Charities are subject to rules regarding engagement in political activities but seeking to influence political parties, decision-makers, politicians or public servants on a charity’s position may well be a legitimate pursuit of its objects.

Where faith-based charities have stepped in to provide a vital service or to speak against injustice in society, there has historically been an initial mistrust of them often because of concerns surrounding their motives and proselytising. And yet faith-based organisations make up over one quarter of charities in the UK and, as such, the role of religion and belief in motivating action to tackle injustices cannot be underestimated. 

Indeed, the contribution of faith-based organisations, like those mentioned above, to social support has become more prominent in recent years and could be critical in the coming months with the impact that the UK’s exit from the European Union may have on the most vulnerable in society.

Edwina Turner, is senior associate in the charities team at Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP. Turner will be leading a session with Ross Hendry, chief executive of Spurgeons, titled ‘The Role of Faith in Leadership’ at Civil Society Media’s Faith Charities Forum on 12 September.

This content has been supplied by a commercial partner. Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP is a sponsor of the Faith Charities Forum. 


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