I have known the One World Centre, its staff and committee since its inception (which I was actually involved in) and they are well meaning, honest and open people. When the OWC held a tenth anniversary concert celebrating the island's hidden cultural diversity a couple of weeks back I went out of my way to get family and friends to go. At that concert the toilet-twinning idea was launched, and we left seriously intending to sign up and join in.
Then we found out who the money actually goes to, so we cannot. For the record, Cord is the trading name of Christian Outreach (England & Wales registered charity number 1070684), so actually both partnership charities here are faith -based.
Tearfund demands that both volunteers and paid workers sign a mission statement binding them to a somewhat fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity as a condition of employment. A highly respected gay Christian who runs one of the UK's most prestigious faith-based campaign groups sent me a copy some years ago. He and other liberal Christians say that, in practice, the statement weeds out dissenters as it would not be possible for any honest person practising the ideals of the UN Convention on Human Rights to sign.
Cord, while on paper run by Christians who think their faith requires them to first help the dispossessed (rather than judge or convert them) is linked by a common trustee to SaltMalawi Trust (E&W charity number 1139160) which.......well, frankly, is not. If you are at all concerned at the way Western evangelicals have stoked up folk myths about witchcraft and homosexuality in order to profit from the homegrown African money church movement you might want to give that direct debit a miss.
Returning to the OWC itself - I even briefly joined the committee at one point, in a bid to meet predominantly faith-based people halfway in efforts to move past the awful “I'm all right Jack” little islander mentality which prevails here. Too many crises of conscience caused me to resign within a month or two, and at the time I felt like a minority of one within another minority which was not much larger.
I know that, in practice, the decent Christians within the OWC fight an uphill battle against the apathy and racism of many local worshippers. From conversations with others in recent months alone I also now know the real irony: this is that is there is actually a much larger group who think like me outside the tiny OWC circle of church influence.
We share the human, rather than faith-based, aspects of the OWC vision. We think it would be counter-productive to start another version (especially when the basic idea and links with government are in place) but there is no way any of us, in good conscience, can support initiatives which do not differentiate between, say, the principled stance of Christian Aid (who sign up to UNHRC standards of employment and aid distribution) and Samaritan's Purse/Operation Christmas Child (who can fly someone in Franklin Graham's Lear jet to a disaster for a photo, then back again as soon as the world press leave, and have been known to demand Catholic or Muslim refugees convert before handing over facilities SP were actually distributing as part of a US AID program).
What is the answer?
Sadly, I cannot see long term change or an increase in public support until it is made clear that the OWC are NOT primarily there to channel overseas aid from the Manx government to international aid agencies, but an attempt to engage with Manx people and affect change from the grass roots up. Given the wide public mistrust of both the Manx government and quite justifiable mistrust of aid agencies with £100K executives I cannot see how they can succeed while the public links them to attempts to increase overseas aid, and as long as they are wrongly associated with major aid agency tubthumpers I fear the OWC are fast losing even the limited goodwill of the young and liberal.
For example, at my daughter's school she reports pupils cannot tell the difference between OWC visitors and compulsory sermons from the Scripture Union. The kids seem to regard both as “god-bothering nutters” to be slept through until the teacher can be bothered to turn up and proper lessons start.
They are, I hasten to say, wrong, because OWC staff scrupulously avoid professing any personal faith they may have in schools. The problem is, as the very few promoters of “good causes” either sanctioned or choosing to go into schools tend to be preachy, the audience no longer waits until they start talking to switch off. And if, say, they are there as part of some option intended to get kids thinking about the wider world only churchy kids tick that option box, so they never discover the difference. Self-fulfilling prophecies and all that.
Perhaps a short term compromise, and acceptable start, would be to require both partners of OWC projects and Manx government overseas aid recipients to commit to working practices that respect UNHRC standards and UK/Manx law on human rights. At present far too many can slip through the net by pleading religious belief, or are simply not scrutinised or challenged.
Churches may reasonably expect worshippers to voluntarily believe the apparently irrational or supernatural as a membership condition. They cannot expect public funds to theoretically provide goods and services to the dispossessed if a condition of that “aid” is the “right” to promote or endorse hatred. When they do that, all Manx people become a party to the ignorance, the house-burnings, the violence, the second class treatment of women, torture of children and other such crimes against humanity. That is not what foreign aid is meant to do.