December 4, 2017
By: Kristopher Smith

Late last week, I saw a colleague share an article from VOCM, stating that the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) had asked schools to stop supporting Operation Christmas Child. This is an initiative that is spearheaded by a Christian organization called the Samaritan’s Purse, which “collects shoeboxes filled with items for distribution to children in the developing world.”

Now, if the school board instructing its schools not to support a program that collects shoeboxes filled with anything from little toys to little toiletries and sends them to the poorest people in the world sounds a little Grinchy to you, especially at Christmas, you would be right, but there is more to this story.

Last year, Kay Cossar, a woman from Burgeo, was denied a volunteer position with Operation Christmas Child because she supports same-sex marriage and abortion. This was confirmed when CTV reached out to Samaritan’s Purse and received a statement saying, “leaders who represent the group must sign a statement of faith recently changed to explicitly reject gay marriage and abortion.”

According to VOCM, the NLESD Board of Trustees thought “Samaritan’s Purse did not meet with their philosophy of inclusion.” They went on to report that Interim Superintendent Tony Stack said the NLESD supports a long list of charities, “including ones that supply shoeboxes to developing countries that align with their inclusion philosophy.”

It seems that Samaritan’s Purse finds themselves on both the naughty and nice list, and it might leave some of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who’ve sent shoeboxes to the developing world feeling conflicted as well. So we find ourselves in a bit of a Christmas pickle here, don’t we?

Full disclosure, Christianity pretty much lost me at the age of six when my Religion teacher was reading out the creation story from the Bible, which failed to include dinosaurs, and did not have an answer for me as to why there were no Bible-dinos. Despite this, I have packed several shoeboxes over the years because the idea of helping a poor child who has next to nothing has been something I hold dear since I first heard (and recorded several intoxicated covers for YouTube) Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”.

I actually enjoyed picking up things to fill the shoebox (despite the fact that there was a rule about “no war toys” which apparently meant no Batman toys could be packed) and it usually served as the unofficial kick-off to my holiday season. I even had a close friend who went to Costa Rica while we were in high-school to help give out said boxes.

This is all well and good, but I can’t knowingly support a group who can do such good and then perpetuate such close-mindedness. That to me is the definition of hypocrisy. According to the Samaritan’s Purse website, they provide aid ““regardless of their [those in need] religious faith, race, gender, or socio-economic standing.” So what if those that need help so desperately are homosexual, support gay marriage, have had, or believe in abortions? Would they not receive aid? This could be a logical hypothesis to make since if you can’t hold a leadership volunteer position if you believe these things.

As I said, I sort of checked out of Christianity when there didn’t seem to be room for dinosaurs but I have a pretty good knowledge of the tales that make up the Bible. One such tale is “The Good Samaritan” (Hey! That sounds very close to Samaritan’s Purse). In this story, a traveler comes across another man who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead. The traveler, who hailed from Samaria, (thus can be referred to as a Samaritan…you still with me?) helped the other man by bandaging his wounds and bringing him to a nearby inn. This Samaritan who was doing a good thing, even stayed the night to make sure the man was okay and told the innkeeper that he would pay more money if the innkeeper would nurse this man back to health. I don’t happen to remember the part where the “Good Samaritan” spotted the man on the side of the road, jumped off his donkey, or camel, or another preferred mode of Biblical transportation and said “You there! Do you need help? AND do you denounce gay marriage and abortion?”

If you are like the woman from Burgeo who was told her altruism was not welcome, or you feel that you would like to send your Christmas cheer with a side of true tolerance, understanding, and inclusion, there are other groups to support. This article is based in the UK but provides some good examples and Canadian equivalents wouldn’t be too hard to uncover.

It seems to me that the people at the Samaritan’s Purse should open up a Bible and re-read the story that they took their namesake from for further clarification, maybe give Band Aid a spin, a play, or a stream and “Throw [their] arms around the world/At Christmas time”.