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CMS and schools are first charities to face benefit test

16 July 2009

by Bill Bowder



EVANGELISM and conversion to Christianity can be of public benefit, the Charity Commission found in a public-benefit assessment report on the Church Mission Society (CMS).

Last October, the Charity Com­mis­sion started a public-benefit assessment of the CMS to see whether it could show that it had met the public-benefit requirements now legally necessary for any charity if it is to retain charitable status. The CMS, now based in Oxford, operates in more than 50 countries. It has as­sets of £25.6 million and an income of nearly £8 million.

In its report, published on Tues­day, the Charity Commission con­cludes that the CMS “is operating for the public benefit”.

The report sets out the Evangelical nature of the CMS, its commitment to conversion, and that fact that some of its work is in countries where conversion could put its staff at risk. Nevertheless, in each case it finds that the Charity Commission’s rules are met.

“All the work undertaken by the charity is done in the context of their theological framework to carry forward, through deeds as well as words, the Society’s basic com­mitment to proclaim the gospel,” the report says. That includes evan­gelism, providing primary health care, creating new agricultural pro­duces, education, work with street children, and work in deprived UK cities.

Some benefits are “clear and identifiable”, it says. But in other cases it is difficult to quantify the benefits that CMS provides. Never­theless, in their totality, “they do involve significant benefits which can be recognised and described.”

CMS’s object and aim, “to pro­claim the gospel in all places and gather all peoples into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ”, is charit­able as long as it meets the public-benefit requirement, the Com­mission says.

CMS practises evangelistic mission by Christians’ living among God’s people, sharing the good news of Jesus, demonstrating the gospel through service and action, and by “the power of God, victory over evil, working for justice, peace and reconciliation”. All that can be charit­able under the law.

The benefits must be balanced against any harm it might do. CMS knows that it is dangerous and in even illegal to seek converts in some countries. But such converts are sought “on an entirely non-coercive and invitational basis”. It does not expect anything in return.

“Taking these factors into ac­count, and based on the approach set out in our published guidance, we found no evidence or indication of detriment or harm to this charity,” the Commission says.

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