Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A confusion of Kingdoms

This article was posted by 
my friend Diana Haywood Rankine on Facebook

The relationship of NGOs (well, some of them) and church-run charities to government has bothered me for quite a while. Particularly concerning is the relationship of the latter. My thinking on this topic has been kicked off by my long-simmering anger in regard to the Rudd and Gillard Governments continuation of two dreadful policies of the Howard era: government funding of wealthy private schools such as Geelong Grammar and The Kings School and The Intervention (to me it will always be The Intervention no matter how much the Labor Govt speaks of Closing the Gap and Stronger Futures). 

I was once on the board of a major church charity and I have reflected on this as well. The article below highlights the amount of money paid to CEOs of major charities. I recall an uproar in the media some years ago about the amount of money an incoming CEO at The Brotherhood of Saint Laurence (I have no connection current or previous with this charity) was to receive. I can't recall the exact figure but let's just say HUGE, particularly in contrast to The Brotherhood's clientele. There was a lot of back-pedalling and revising on that issue. But just to give you a look at the intertwining of of government funding and apparently Christian charities operating within government guidelines please go here and study what is written. 
Some of the programs are obviously government connected. Others, if you stop to think about it, almost certainly receive government funding. So while it is easy to criticise on the school funding issue because of Australia's history and politics in regard to sectarian schooling versus public schooling, we don't often think of the government linkages in relation to charitable work. 

There is a difficulty in discussing the charitable work with youth, the aged, the ill etc. This is work has always - well, almost always - been part of the Christian tradition. Rulers in Christian countries have long delivered beneficence to such charitable work. What Christians seem to have a bit of trouble with is Jesus's words about His Kingdom not being of this world. With denominational charities "brand names" supported in the public view by government funding is this a confusion of Kingdoms? Let's have a look at this confusion.

In the Kennett years in Victoria, the confidentiality clause entered into contracts connected with government funding to charities. Policy workers within charity found that they could not criticise government policy and continue to receive money from the government. On the other side of the coin, church charitable empires have frequently expanded their boundaries with government funding. They may find a need and seek funding. They may establish their work in a particular way so that they are able to get a share of existing government funding. 

The relationship between church and state is mutually beneficial. The state can make policy decisions and fund church charities to carry out the work on the ground. The state can be seen to be responsive to community needs in taking up policies and ideas from church run charities. And back again to the empire - the more money the charity receives the more offices, staff, services it can run and a corporate empire has sprung into being before you can say "social services".

Then there is the management of these services. If they are very large they tend to be bureaucratic as corporations and governments and bureaucracies are. Their modus operandi is a fit - one for the other. This is becoming more so now that these charities are seeking corporate dollars as well as public money. So another empire becomes involved in the confusion of Kingdoms. 

Long ago we learned how horrible some of the "worthy" church run charities are - the British WorkHouse idea is usually the first to spring to mind. To-day, we are trying to eliminate bushfires across the world caused by "Christian Charity". 

All these musings are very well, but there are still people in our society who need assistance for all sorts of reasons. The money to do this well needs to come from somewhere. The church/government/corporation, in all likelihood, has to continue. However, can we, as a community, together with those who work on the funding side begin to critique what is actually happening and what sort of models of assistance we are creating?

We know that the corporatisation of government has meant some horrible attitudes to need. Under the Gillard Government we may be seeing an uplift in attitudes to assistance as we see the possibility of how we might help, in a more constructive way, people with disabilities. After all, just because governments have lurched to the right does not mean that communities have forgotten their values. As a practising Christian, I ask are we really as conscious as we should be of the revolutionary and subversive message of Jesus of Nazareth? Do we know the boundaries of the empires and kingdoms? Do we understand why it is that He helped people and we try to continue in His tradition? Because if we don't understand these questions and their answers, we are nothing but money-grubbing do-gooders. We then fail to be the salt of the earth. 

Then comes Jesus's rhetorical question - 
What happens when the salt loses its savour?

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