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Letters to the Editors...

Dec 13, 2002
To the Banff Crag and Canyon

The Crag recently published a misleading letter from the director of operations of Operation Christmas Child.  Its writer claimed that her program is "voluntary" and expressed hope that those who support the program do so on the basis of "complete and accurate information." Unfortunately, she misrepresented the facts of her program, and ignored legitimate concerns about the program's involvement in public schools.

Thanks in part to the failure of the media to publish the facts about a popular, powerfully connected charity, Operation Christmas Child is mistaken by many to be a model of altruistic concern for one's fellow man.  The true facts are that it, and its parent Samaritan's Purse, are on public record as caring more about converting people to their fundamentalist religious beliefs than about helping them with their real difficulties.  Their leader, the son of the fundamentalist Billy Graham, states on their own web site that the purpose of giving small gifts to children in their "shoebox charity" is to position themselves to convert the needy away from their local culture and to adopt the Graham approved beliefs.

Such an effort is inherently disrespectful of the culture and dignity of the needy people whom they seek to convert. It is also disrespectful of the many who are persuaded to support their proselytism unaware that their gifts are used for such purposes. In my own child's school their proponent misrepresented the religious conversion which is the admitted heart of the program. After it became known,  the school parents vote to end participation as inconsistent with the open character of a public school.

A disinformation campaign is  denying the facts of Operation Christmas Child. Their representatives falsely claim that religion is merely incidental to their program, and that there are no strings attached to the shoebox gifts, many of which are given in good faith by people who are unaware of the role they play in converting those in need of material help.  Contrary to the denials,  the web site of the Graham organization itself states "Before the boxes are delivered to hurting children around the world, Gospel literature is added to the boxes. Wherever shoe-box gifts are distributed, children hear the message . . " This is currently posted at <http://www.billygraham.org/article.asp?i=106&s=55>.

Admittedly, the shoebox program has a feel-good appeal, especially since the proselytism at its heart is unknown to many of its well intentioned donors.  Those who knowingly choose to support a campaign of religious conversion are free to do so, but they should do so in their homes and congregations. Such a program has no place in public schools. Our public schools are properly open and welcoming to families of all backgrounds, and children should not have to stigmatize themselves by being excused from participation in religiously oriented programs.  Sadly, some of those who voluntarily choose to support the shoebox program misrepresent and attack those who object to its involvement in public schools. Respect for religious neutrality in public institutions deserves the support of all people of good will, and is vital to the success of democratic society.

I trust that The Crag will have the journalistic integrity to publish this reply to the misinformation it printed on the 11th. - W.W.

Dec 12, 2002
To The Banff Crag and Canyon

It’s About Maintaining Respect in Schools: Taking a Second Look at Shoeboxes

Re: OCC official explains procedures, Dec 11, 2002

Taking a critical look at Operation Christmas Child and its appropriateness for schools does not mean giving up on generosity. Nor is it a criticism of any faith tradition. My concern with the shoebox gifts is that this evangelical ministry uses public schools to support their stated mission of religious conversion.

 I believe the shoebox program is inappropriate for public schools, not because they are Christian, but because of how Samaritan’s Purse intends to use these gifts. An Operation Christmas Child representative explains in a promotion video; “It’s not just a big gift. It’s not just humanitarian aid. It is a tool for evangelism so thank you for helping us evangelize our people.”

Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse International President confirms that “our ultimate goal is to open doors” to “world evangelization” and specifically, to bring children of a variety of faiths to accept his group’s particular religious beliefs. Their staff at the Canadian headquarters in Calgary assured me that, regardless of their faith, all children receiving shoeboxes are intended to be registered in advance, attend a rally, and receive Christian literature wherever the government allows it. Graham is clear: “This project focuses on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with them through Christian literature distributed with the shoeboxes.” Millions of copies of this literature are distributed to suffering children around the world each year.

But Samaritan’s Purse ministers don’t stop there. Their newsletter explains: “After the shoeboxes are distributed, we also provide follow-up materials to give children further opportunities to accept Christ and grow in their faith. One such discipleship program enrolls boys and girls in a 10-lesson Bible study. Hundreds of thousands of children have participated in this program.”

As an educator and parent of two children currently attending Calgary public schools, I am dismayed that children’s generosity is being used in this way. Groups of any faith wishing to operate in schools and channel our students’ kindness to bring about religious conversions should face similar careful scrutiny.

Parents and teachers across Alberta have already raised concerns about Operation Christmas Child to their school councils and boards, with some positive results. A multi-faith coalition of Alberta parents has even established a website www.pursestrings.ca to raise awareness on this issue.

Our schools and communities are increasingly diverse, and programs we endorse must be appropriate for all students. Let’s continue offering generous assistance to others in our own community and around the globe, but in a manner that respects their dignity regardless of faith.

If you wish to continue to support Graham’s ministry, please do so in your own home or church congregation. Otherwise, consider sending your collected supplies and toys to local relief agencies, and your cash donations to reputable aid projects. Many worthy local and international charities provide humanitarian relief that does not include proselytizing.

If the horrors of September 11 have taught us anything, it’s that showing respect for the religious views of others may be our best hope for peace in the world. - D.L.

Dec 12, 2002
To The Banff Crag and Canyon

"In response to “Operation Christmas Child official explains procedures” Dec 11:

Although the Director of Operation Christmas Child in Canada says that “we hope this decision (regarding choice of participating) is based on complete and accurate information”, she does not provide complete information about the purpose of Operation Christmas Child.

It is clearly the intent of Samaritan’s Purse to convert the recipients of the shoeboxes to Christianity. The Operation Christmas Child website is quite clear about this as is their CEO & President Franklin Graham. Strings are indeed attached!

The Samaritan's Purse "What's Unique About Us" brochure states, "Samaritan's Purse is a nonprofit international Christian relief organization with a single-minded commitment to evangelism. We meet critical needs among hurting people for one ultimate purpose: so that men, women, and children will come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ… Bibles, Christian literature, and transportation for national church workers--these and other essentials are given by Samaritan's purse to further the work of world evangelization."

The November 2002 Samaritan’s Purse (Canada) Newsletter quotes Franklin Graham:  I believe God has blessed this program because it is about more than Christmas presents. .. As long as evangelism is the focus, God will continue to bless it…  Shoe box gifts are distributed along with The Greatest Gift of All, an illustrated booklet that gives a clear presentation of the true meaning of Christmas … After the shoe boxes are distributed, we also provide follow-up materials to give children further opportunities to accept Christ and grow in their faith. One such discipleship program enrolls boys and girls in a 10-lesson Bible study.”  

The Operation Christmas Child Special Report (2002) quotes Franklin Graham, “Our outreach to these children and their families may begin with a shoe box gift but our ultimate goal is to open doors to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to open hearts to receive Him as Lord and Savior."

The Good News, according to Franklin Graham is, “You've got to tell them. You've got to tell them about God's son, You've got to tell them they're sinners, How are they gonna know that by watching you? You've got to tell them they're sinners, you've got to tell them that they've got to confess their sins. You've got to tell them that they've got to repent and turn from their sins.”

In their promotional video, a spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child says, “It’s not just a big gift. It’s not just humanitarian aid. It is a tool for evangelism so thank you for helping us evangelize our people”.

“That’s one of the things about Samaritan's Purse,” Michael, an OCC representative, says in the Nov 2001 Newsletter, “It’s not just about giving the boxes so the children can receive presents. Giving the boxes actually evangelizes more than people think."

Did she say there were “no strings attached”? Operation Christmas Child is a program of kids helping to evangelize other kids! Public schools should not be supporting the evangelizing mission of Samaritan’s Purse or any other religious group." - J.W.

Nov 30, 2002
To The Calgary Sun

"I write in response to your opinion piece Friday on the "Operation Christmas Child" program.

Unfortunately, you perpetuate myths about this organization. In doing so, you fail entirely to explain [much less explore] the serious objections to the involvement of such a program in public schools. The result is an utter failure to fulfill your duty as a journalist to provide well informed, unbiased reporting and commentary.

Your piece demonstrated a total lack of curiosity to dig into the facts and understand why people of good faith object to this program's involvement in public schools. You made note of your spending some time in one country where the shoeboxes are distributed and somehow concluded that, simply because you did not personally observe objectionable practices, there must therefore never be anything objectionable done anywhere in the many countries where the group in question operates. Rather than doing your homework in order to know the full facts of the oftentimes tied giving engaged in by OCC, you seem to have swallowed their public relations package without so much as a minute's research to learn whether what they claim is true. Do spend some time on the web sites of both OCC and its sponsor Samaritan's Purse to see that their primary mission is not humanitarian assistance but, rather, religious conversion. Go beyond their sites and research what else has been written by informed, objective observers.

However offensive and disrespectful it is to ignore people's established beliefs in order to attempt converting them to your own, doing so when they are in needy, vulnerable circumstances, it is altogether wrong to involve public school children in the effort. The population of Canada grows more diverse by the day, and the classrooms where OCC has been introduced include children of wide and differing backgrounds. Your commentary was wholly irresponsible in ignoring that Calgary children and families are in many cases being duped into supporting conversion efforts which promote religions other than their own. If you don't understand why this is wrong, do ask yourself if you would support an identical program if it were practiced to promote a religion other than a Christian denomination. Are all religions entitled to the same respect, or do you think that some religions should enjoy privileges denied to others? What turmoil would descend on public classrooms if various different religions all tried to do the same thing that OCC does? Your shallow, feel-good comment makes it obvious that these important issues never even entered your mind.

I found it striking that a writer from a paper as notoriously insular and provincial as The Sun would have ventured out of familiar territory. Who paid for your trip? If it was OCC/Samaritan's Purse, it was both a hypocritical waste of resources that should have been spent on relief efforts as well as a failure on your part to disclose. If it was your paper, that too would be curious, as The Sun provides the most superficial and distorted coverage of world events. Why would it choose to spend resources on such a story, when there are so many more substantive international events to cover? From your commentary, I strongly suspect the reason to be simple: your paper has an undisclosed agenda to support a special interest program like OCC, and is not interested in unbiased reporting.

When the practice of journalism departs from the duty to be truly inquisitive and unbiased, it serves to undermine the freedoms that make democracy valuable. Your commentary on OCC amounts to a breach of your professional duty to report accurately and without bias.

If you have any journalistic integrity, you will take the trouble to inform yourself of the facts and then publish a supplementary comment in which you correct your errors of fact and discuss objectively the serious problems of OCC involvement in PUBLIC schools which are intended to respect children of ALL backgrounds. Given that you work for The Sun, I expect to read your correction at the same time that I see pigs fly." - W.W.

Nov 27, 2002
To The Calgary Eyeopener

"Following the comments made on the Eyeopener by two Calgary School Board Trustees that there is nothing wrong with allowing the religious group Operation Christmas Child into our schools because the children don't know that it is an evangelical organization, I have one very important question for them.

Suppose a political party approached the Public School Board and offered a program that involved children in our schools filling a shoe box with toys to be delivered to needy children elsewhere in Canada.

Suppose this political party was clearly delivering these boxes to families who voted for other parties.

Suppose this political party clearly stated that it's primary goal was to spread their beliefs and try to convert the recipients to support them.

What would the Trustees say?

Yes or No?

Or would they just say it depends on the political party?

They have clearly stated that what is done with the shoe box is not the issue it's the good feeling that our children get from filling them that counts.

We (and particularly School Board Trustees) must leave our personal beliefs behind and interpret policy as it stands.

Religious groups should not be allowed to use our children in the Public School system to further their religious goals." - M.F.

To the Calgary Herald in response to "Shoebox program survives complaint" in the November 26, 2002, edition of the Calgary Herald:

"Below is a copy of my letter, which was sent to all of the trustees of the CBE. As I stated in my previous letter, other parents have sent letters to the CBE as well. Separately, I am sending you additional information put together from a parent in Banff who has had similar issues with his school board. I find it curious that you somehow seemed to know how to spell my very complicated last name, but not how to contact me. I think you should know that I am a freelance journalist - at one time I reviewed books for your paper. I understand reporters from the Herald have in the past accompanied Samaritan's Purse on one of their trips to deliver the shoeboxes. Which leads me to my next question: Were you one of these reporters? And did the Herald fund the trip or were your expenses paid by Samaritan's Purse? I look forward to reading a more balanced report on this issue." - R.S.

Response from the Calgary Herald: 

"I have been copied on your letter to Shelley Knapp and wish to respond. Yes, the Calgary Herald through its reporters and photographers has frequently travelled with the Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan's Purse organizations to report to Calgarians on the outcomes of their generosity. I can only testify as to our conduct during my watch, but this has always been done at the expense of the Calgary Herald. As I recall, we have travelled to Rwanda, where the organization delivered Calgarians' gifts to the victims of genocide. We have travelled to the Chiapas region of Mexico, to Iran and Afghanistan and, this year, intend to travel to Uganda. At no time, to my knowledge, have any of our reporters or photographers witnessed anything other than expressions of the virtues of love, kindness and generosity, all of which are the accepted values of the world's great faiths. The generosity of Calgarians of all faiths and the work and people of Operation Christmas Child were gratefully accepted and celebrated by people in all these countries including, as I recall, Islamic clerics who were generous in their praise. In the tradition of the teaching of Jesus Christ and the blessed Prophet (peace be upon Him) and other teachers of true charity, we have never seen strings attached to this charity. The only tears we have witnessed have been those of joy from children who, until these gifts arrived, had no idea that there were people elsewhere in the world who cared about them, no matter their faith. Had their been anything untoward to report, we would have done so and you can trust that we will do so in the future should the need arise. Indeed, prior to his most recent visit to Calgary, we travelled to North Carolina and reported on Franklin Graham - all in a fair and balanced fashion reflecting the best traditions of journalism. I hope you find this helpful in your pursuit of the truth. Feel free to share this letter with CBE trustees. Please let me know if you would like me to forward a copy." - Peter Menzies, Editor in Chief, Calgary Herald

Nov 26, 2002
To  The Calgary Eyeopener:


"Having been lied to here in Red Deer by Operation Christmas Child, I find the current discussion surrounding the organization's scam very interesting. For the record, OCC misrepresented itself to my child's school, claiming to be "non-denominational".  It was only after the true nature of the organization became known that the school's parents decided to end the affiliation.

Operation Christmas Child is not only inappropriate in a public school setting  but is dishonest as well.  Public schools serve and welcome children of all backgrounds. In doing so, they  should not seek to involve children in sectarian activities, no matter how many parents may seem to accept it.  Children from minority religious backgrounds deserve the same respect that all children do:  to be valued and nurtured without regard to who their parents are or what they do or do not believe.  The necessary respect is compromised when children are induced to support religions other than their own.

OCC has been dishonest in failing to disclose openly that its program seeks to promote a specific faith, and that it does so by requiring children to undergo religious indoctrination before receiving gifts. The poor children receiving the gifts are required to pay homage to someone else's beliefs as a condition of getting their goodies.  Unsuspecting donor children and parents are deceived into supporting beliefs other than their own. The  dishonesty of denying these aspects of their program is especially disturbing given the clear evidence that Operation Christmas Child is both sectarian and proselytizing. What happened to the Ninth Commandment?

The apologists for Operation Christmas Child claim that few parents oppose the program, while at the same time failing to disclose the program's nature. If the truth were made known to more people, more would see how inappropriate the program is for a public school.

If every religion sought to do what Operation Christmas Child does our classrooms would become filled with conflict, as children stooped to identify their classmates by their religious preferences rather than by what Martin Luther King called "the content of their characters."  Home and congregation are the proper venues for religious inculcation. Only by keeping our classrooms religiously neutral  can they truly be open to all." - W.W.

Nov 26, 2002
To The Calgary Eyeopener

"I listened with interest to the discussions regarding Operation Christmas Child. I noted that Sean Campbell, the executive Director for Samaritan's Purse in Canada, did not answer your question regarding Franklin Graham's statements denigrating the Islamic and Hindu faiths. This omission is noteworthy. Graham's statements alone should be enough to demonstrate that this organization and its shoeboxes have no place in a public school environment. Would it be allowed if it was anti-Jewish? It is the same principle.

Carol Oliver and the CBE should be ashamed of themselves if they believe that the program is OK in public schools as long as the children are not told that it is a "Christian organization". Shouldn't our children and their parents have the full story? What else is the CBE not telling...

In fact, it is not just a Christian organization. It is a Christian evangelical organization that is using our children's generosity and the shoebox gifts as a tool to evangelize and convert children of other faiths elsewhere in the world. This sends a message to our non-Christian public school children that their religion is not as valued as Christianity. This is not acceptable in public schools! We must treat all of our children, regardless of faith, with respect and dignity. Not telling our children about this organization demonstrates neither.

I would hope that the school principals in Calgary will follow the lead of school principals in the Canadian Rockies Public Schools and not allow our schools and children to be used in this way." - J.W.

Nov 14, 2002
To The Banff Crag & Canyon

"Franklin Graham is the International President of Samaritan's Purse. Graham's words and actions toward other world religions reveal a remarkable lack of respect for the dignity of people whose world views differ from his own. His philosophy and world view are reflected throughout Operation Christmas Child.

On Islam, Graham says. "…it is a very evil and wicked religion."

On Hinduism Graham says, "…we traveled to the subcontinent of India, with its hundreds of millions of people locked in the darkness of Hinduism… These people were bound by Satan's power."

On a local religion in Indonesia Graham says, "A witch doctor ruled that particular village, and I could sense an evil presence."

The Samaritan's Purse website contains an article entitled "Shoe Box Gifts Help Dispel Spiritual Darkness in Haiti" that denigrates another local religion by claiming it is a false religion.

The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance say that, "statements that categorize other religious groups as evil, degenerate, sub-human and/or hated by God are statements that promote religious intolerance."

Statements by Graham and Samaritan's Purse are a form of religious bigotry and they definitely promote religious intolerance.

Do you think that it would be appropriate for our public schools (or any public facility or institution) to be used as a venue for an anti-Semitic organization? Or an anti-Islamic, or anti-Hindu? The principle is the same.

I applaud the wisdom of our school administrators for setting a very good example for all of us (and especially our children) by not allowing Samaritan's Purse to use our schools as a venue for Operation Christmas Child.

The end does not justify the means. There are many other worthwhile charities that do a great job and that don't promote religious intolerance or denigrate the beliefs of the people they purport to "save". - J.W.

Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child Exposed...

The Issues
A Summary of the Issues
 
Quotes from Franklin Graham

Quotes from OCC
Religious Intolerance and Proselytizing 

Articles
Giving Gifts With Strings Attached 
Evangelism by Shoebox 
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