Charity Commission’s anti-Christian precedent could strip Catholic Church of charitable status

The Charity Commission’s decision to deny charitable status to an evangelical church because they’only give Holy Communion to full members’ is being seen as a part of a long term strategy that could lead to the Charity Commission threatening to withdraw charitable status from the Catholic Church due to not offering their services to all, such as ‘homosexual’ marriage.

The Charity Commission, an agency of the UK government, also made plain their anti-Christian attitude when they stated, ‘there is no presumption that religion generally, or at any more specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England.’

LifeSiteNews reports:

A Conservative Party MP has accused the government’s Charity Commission of attempting to suppress Christianity after the group denied charitable status to the Plymouth Brethren, a small denomination of conservative evangelicals. MP Charlie Elphicke has said that the Charity Commission has stepped outside its mandate telling the Brethren that their religion is “not necessarily for the public good”.

The Plymouth Brethren, of which there are about 16,000 adherents in Britain, have said they intend to pursue their dispute to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary. They have been embroiled in the dispute with the Commission for seven years since the Commission refused charitable status to one of the group’s churches in Devon. The group engages in street preaching, distributing bibles and visits hospital patients. These activities, said Garth Christie, an Elder in the group, more than qualifies them for charitable status under the “advancement of religion” clauses.

The Charity Commission alleges that the group’s rule of only giving Holy Communion to full members means that their services are not open to all, a charge which the Brethren deny. The Brethren say that their public services are offered to everyone regardless of religious affiliation. If it is upheld, the rule could be extended to the Catholic Church which also officially restricts Communion reception to members.

The letter has promoted Elphicke, a member of the Select Committee, to call the Commission’s policies “anti-religion” and said that it is more evidence that it is a waste of public funds. Members of the Plymouth Brethren were giving evidence to the committee and Elphicke asked, if they thought the Commission was “actively trying to suppress religion in the UK, particularly the Christian religion”.

Christie responded, “I think we would share those concerns.” He agreed with Elphicke’s suggestion the Charity Commission’s decision could be seen as the “thin end of the wedge” with concern to other small religious groups.

Elphicke told the Brethren representatives, “I think they [the Commission] are committed to the suppression of religion and you are the little guys being picked on to start off a whole series of other churches who will follow you there.”

Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative MP and Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party said the Commission seems to be using the group as a test case to establish the meaning of the public benefit requirement in charity law.

“Picking a relatively vulnerable organisation and putting you through huge time and expense is a rotten way to decide what charity law means,” Jenkin said.

Protect the Pope comment: The UK government under Tony Blair discovered that when it came to choosing between upholding the moral teaching of the Church and receiving government money for placing children with homosexual couples, many diocesan adoption agencies in England and Wales chose to carry on receiving government money.

This decision by the Charity Commission shows the UK government under David Cameron beginning to put the long-term strategy in place to put pressure on the Catholic Church to accept some form of homosexual marriage.  If, in the future, the Catholic Church refuses to allow homosexual marriage then the Charity Commission has established the precedent of denying charitable status to those churches who do not offer services to all.



12 comments to Charity Commission’s anti-Christian precedent could strip Catholic Church of charitable status

  • Robin Leslie

    Consistent with that logic is the refusal of the Charity Commissioners to acknowledge the Catholic Church’s position on gay marriage. That logic cuts both ways.
    Far better if we are to play these language games and deal with frenzied relativistic atavism
    to simply acknowledge the reality of conflict and agree to differ! Anything else will lead to endless court cases and open-ended abuse!

  • Mark Thorne

    Dear Deacon Nick,
    Thank you very much for posting this article, and I was meaning to forward a link of this news item on to you in case you hadn’t seen it. This is a very crafty case of deliberately mixing up the temporal and public dimension of a religious organisation with its spiritual dimension, all for the sake of advancing secularism. I share your views that this decision of the Charity Commission represents a very dangerous precedent. Though some who post on this site have scoffed at the idea or even consider that there may be those who would revel in such a possibility, I can easily envisage a scenario where it will once again be illegal to be a practising Catholic in this country, maybe a generation away from now, perhaps a little longer. But that day seems likely to come, sooner or later.

    • John Dare

      Anything can have unintended outcomes. Usually the courts put them right.

      Taking my Eton example, does anyone really think that it deserves to be a charity? My point being that all sorts of organisations use the fine print to become charities, and some are really stretching the point.

      Is the church a charity? Does it care what ‘the world’ thinks of its actions?

      • Nicolas Bellord

        Yes I do seriously think that Eton should have charitable status. The point about the whole concept of Charitable trusts is that in the past it was considered that certain activities should be privileged. In the past education, the relief of poverty and the advancement of religion together with others with a public benefit were regarded as good things to be encouraged by being privileged in certain ways. The Charities Act 2006 changed the definitions to require ‘public benefit’ for all such activities. Obviously the definition of ‘public benefit’ is going to be political and NuLabour stuffed the Charity Commission with its cronies with Suzy Leather as its head. I hoped that a Conservative government would rectify matters but no Cameron seems to have bought into the Marxist social engineering that NuLabour pursued.

        As to Eton I believe that everyone, including our leaders, should have the best possible education and therefore it should be privileged.

        • John Dare

          To put the alternative view, Eton and places like it is why we will never be all in this together. If everyone uses the same system then ‘the elite’ have a reason to make sure that things like health and education are the very best that they can make them.

  • Eric

    I don’t think that has anything to do with gay mariage. It is part of the CC’s long running difficulty in trying to define what “public benefit” actually means. The problem the PB had wasn’t one of discrimination in who they provided their services to, but whether they were providing them to “the public” at all because they are a closed sect.

  • Michael Petek

    I suppose the Diocesan Trusts could register in a tax haven such as the Cayman Islands or Liechtenstein.

  • John Dare

    Eton is also a ‘charity’.

    • Eric

      many private schools are, and they are also caught by the “public benefit” requirement of charities. It does seem to be a concept that the Charities Commission is strugling to nail down:

      I have long wondered if what the UK needs is a new category of “not for profit” organisation, which could be used by lobbying groups, churches, schools and political parties, so that Charity status could be reserved for those organisations, religion or non-religious, who do what we would immediately recognise as charity but who are a-political.

  • Stewart

    There is a basic problem here of not conducting even basic research into what the Charity Commission has actually said, or who the supposed “Plymouth Brethren” really are. This is a fundamental flaw. MP’s and Media appear to have jumped on a bandwagon without investigating some basic facts first.

    First of all the group in question are not Plymouth Brethren, they are in fact the “Exclusive Brethren” led by a “Universal Leader” Mr Bruce Hales based in Australia, and in that country they are known as “The Exclusive Brethren”, where in circles of government they are known as a Cult. The group was formed around 1848 when the Plymouth Brethren had a huge division creating two distinct groups with vastly different practices “Open Brethren” and “Exclusive Brethren” the Exclusive Brethren continued to be led by John Nelson Darby.

    When the decision of the Charity Commission was made, the Exclusive Brethren who had a website under the same name until Nov 2012, choose to re brand themselves as the more innocent sounding “Plymouth Brethren Christian Church”. If you don’t believe me check out the following link –

    There is a huge campaign of deceit and mis information being waged by the Exclusive Brethren, some of it very subtle. In talking to the UK Parliament and the Media, they have not been honest about who they really are. They are known to split families if one person leaves the group, they believe through a twisted interpretation of 2 Timothy 2 that all others not in their group are evil and “iniquitous”. They will not eat with any not in their group. Despite the impression given they do not follow the King James Version of the Bible as they have led the UK Parliament to believe,they only use the JN Darby version in all their services. They only follow that bible through the eyes of their previous leaders interpretations, men such as FE Raven, James Taylor, J Symington who all produced vast volumes of “ministry” (written word). In fact it was these leaders that declared –

    “Antichrist is really man in his lawlessness, in the hands of Satan, setting up a rival to Christ. I do not think that people were far out when they spoke of the pope as antichrist; I think you see almost every feature of antichrist in the pope”
    FE Raven Volume 20 Page 279

    “JTaylor – Yes, it is what the public system has become. Although the mind is directed to Rome, it really takes in all the public systems.
    HB – The extensions you spoke of would include all the clerical systems.
    JTaylor – Exactly. All these public systems, that have taken on things that belong to Rome, are not clear in the matter; what the Lord exposes and condemns, clericalism, priest-craft linked with worldliness, seen in all current religious organisations, mark Rome; indeed generally they have come out of Rome. Hence all will ultimately be included in Babylon and judged in her”
    J Taylor Volume 45 Page 61

    The Exclusive Brethren now known under their new disguise of the “Plymouth Brethren Christian Church” are not what they seem, they believe and practice that all other churches, Christian or not, are in error and should be treated as being “evil”. That is why the remain so seperate.

    If you don’t believe me ask about their previous leaders. In addition one of the UK representatives, Garth Christie who gave evidence to the UK Parliament and appeared on TV in the last few weeks under the banner of the “Plymouth Brethren Christian Church”, also appeared in the BBC Documentary “Everyman”, in 2003 under the banner of representing the “Exclusive Brethren” – total hypocrisy. (search for the program on You Tube and watch it)

    Why did the Exclusive Brethren aka Plymouth Brethren Christian Church try to draw all Churches including the Roman Catholic Church into the debate when the Charity Commission specifically stated in a letter to the brethren on 7th June 2012 that –

    ““this case as confined to the circumstances of the individual group. The forthcoming appeal also relates to this individual organisation, not other religious groups”.

    As ever its all about checking and re checking facts and asking probing questions first, before jumping on a bandwagon.

    • stewart

      As a further update to my above post, you maybe interested to read the following speech from Baroness Berridge made in the UK House of Lords today 22nd Nov 2012.

      Baroness Berridge calls for Church Enquiry into Christian Sect

      Start of Speech

      The role of religion in society is recognised in our charity law but this has become contentious in the case of Preston Down Trust. Is this the thin end of the wedge for the charitable status of churches?

      No I would say due to a curious comment in the decision letter from the Charity Commission which says “the question will turn on the doctrines of this religious persuasion” which also explains why none of the main denominations are concerned.

      This religious persuasion are the Exclusive Brethren who sit under the universal leadership of Bruce Hales in Australia. In August they incorporated as the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Christian Church Limited. I have family in the Hales Exclusive Brethren. They are not the open brethren who are churches or other closed brethren groups.

      The Hales Exclusive Brethren hold to the doctrine of separation, so exclusives cannot live in semi detached houses as this has a party wall with non brethren, cannot eat with non brethren, cannot have friends who are non brethren, cannot join membership groups like trade unions, or the AA. No TV, radio, cafes etc. Attendance in brethren schools only now and work for brethren business. Attending university is banned.

      Is it not contradictory to give gift aid to charities to encourage young people into university and also to groups whose beliefs prohibit that choice for their young people.

      This is a very controlled environment to live and grow up in, and unsurprisingly the preliminary findings of Andrew Mayer’s from Bournemouth University and Jill Mytton are that mental health outcomes are poor. I await with eager interest their full report.

      I spoke to a man last night, who told me of someone currently in the Exclusive Brethren,

      “ Unfortunately the man had been to a pub and been spotted by Brethren brother. He was shut up, for a few months now, so to keep the assembly pure nobody from the brethren can live with him, so the wife and family were moved out by the leadership and they have stopped doing business with him.”

      The man had left but his parents are still in. The only contact is a five minute conversation and he said they will not even have a cup of tea with me. He told me My Lords “I miss my parents so much.” But what about his children, that was the position I grew up in, cut off from your only living grandparent living 8 miles away because I was not Exclusive Brethren.

      This is why the Former Australian PM, Kevin Rudd, once said

      “I believe this is an extremist cult and sect, I also believe that it breaks up families”

      “If this is Christianity it is not as we have known it before.”

      So I thoroughly congratulate the Charity Commission for seeking to deal with this Christian sect but many who would give evidence fear for the implications for family still in. The Charity Commission must ensure that victims can give evidence and tell their story anonymously.

      Groups where there is credible evidence that they harm health, split families and send no one to university can exist in a liberal society but should they be charities, I doubt.

      Religion and public benefit need clarity but we also need clarity on the outer limits on what is acceptable charitable behaviour of religious groups.

      But the Exclusive Brethren is a matter for the church collectively and I believe there needs to be a church led enquiry into the Exclusive Brethren, this Christian sect, a theological and psychological enquiry. Perhaps chaired by a former Archbishop. It is not a noble or honest response to seek to deal with fudgy law but turn a blind eye to these victims. The Exclusive Brethren maintain these assertions are without foundation so they should welcome such an enquiry.

      Victims can be hard to find, but I hope many ex-Exclusive Brethren will hear this debate so please check my website as I will host an event in parliament early next year for ex-Exclusive Brethren so parliamentarians can hear their stories. Parliament is open to all and you do not have to have the riches of the Exclusive Brethren for your voice to be heard.

      My apologies to the noble Lord Singh not to have a celebratory type speech but I cannot get out of my mind that a young person might be listening to our debate, in a brethren school who might want to go to university and it is important that we say this is not wrong.

      End of Speech

      To watch the speech on Parliament TV visit:

      For a transcript of the speech please read the Hansard for the day:

      Full article:

  • Suzie Best

    Actually this is a far more balanced view of the real truths behind why the Charity Commission refused the Exclusive Brethren. It is more their practice of total separation and breaking up families in the name of God, something I am sure even the RC Church could not possibly condone:

    From Third Sector:

    Regulator provides further explanation as Garth Christie, a Brethren member, apologises for misquoting commission statements to a select committee of MPs

    The Charity Commission has said that its refusal of the application for charitable status by the Preston Down Trust, a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Devon, was based on the church’s doctrine of separation from the rest of society and on “insufficient evidence of meaningful access to public worship”.

    An initial explanation of the decision was given by the commission in a letter to the trust’s lawyers in June last year. The trust is appealing to the charity tribunal and the issue has been taken up by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the regulation of the charity sector and the Charities Act 2006.

    The commission’s further explanation of its reasons came in a recent written response to the committee, which had asked it what public benefit was provided by the Druid Network, which does have charitable status, and why the Preston Down Trust did not meet the same requirement.

    The commission said the Druid Network reached out to the wider community, that there was evidence that membership and involvement in ceremonies was open to all and that the opportunity to learn about Druidry was available to the public through the Druid Network website.

    “The Druid Network supports the provision of public rituals and ceremonies and engages in inter-faith activities and community projects,” the commission said. “The Druid Network is not exclusive and confirmed it does not support events or organisations that are exclusive or accept exclusive groups into membership.”

    It was evident that the Preston Down Trust was a religious organisation, the commission said, but the point of contention was whether it was established for exclusively charitable purposes for the public benefit. “Preston Down Trust promotes particular beliefs and practices, in particular the doctrine of separation, which is central to their beliefs and way of life, and this has the consequence of limiting their engagement with non-Brethren and the wider public,” it said.

    “The evidence we were given showed that the doctrine of separation as preached by the trust requires followers to limit their engagement with the wider public, and there was insufficient evidence of meaningful access to participate in public worship. The commission concluded that the evidence of beneficial impact on the wider public was not sufficient to demonstrate public benefit. This was a finely balanced decision.”

    The commission added that any alleged harm or detriment must be balanced against the benefit, and it was aware of some criticism of the practices known as “shutting up” and “withdrawal” by the Plymouth Brethren, and of the effect of the doctrine of separation on family and social life.

    “At the time of making our decision we had no evidence of this and it was not a factor in our decision,” it said. “Since our decision was made public we have received submissions on this point and will be putting these to the tribunal to consider, but it is for the court to decide what weight to give these. Hearing and assessing evidence of this kind is a role much better suited to the courts as it is done under oath, than to a body like the commission.”

    Meanwhile, Garth Christie, a Plymouth Brethren representative, has apologised to the select committee for misquoting commission statements when he gave evidence to the committee last year. He had earlier corrected what he had said, which conflated parts of the refusal letter from the commission with statements made by its head of legal services five years ago, but had not apologised.

    In a new submission to the committee, Christie said the quotations were correct but he had repeated them in a way that gave the impression they were stated at the same time. “This is clearly not the case,” he said. “The mistake was entirely inadvertent and a result of notes that I should have better prepared. Nevertheless I apologise fully for this error and for any confusion it may have caused.”

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