The timing is pretty special. Shortly after releasing a report that dared, once again, to ask why poor people remain poor while the rich get richer, Oxfam has come under fire over what papers are calling a 'cover up' of sexual exploitation. The media furore comes, interestingly, as nineteenth century cartoon landlord and would-be prime minister Jacob Rees-Mogg released his latest bid (with the Daily Express) to reduce UK spending on foreign aid. The attack, we should be clear, is not just on Oxfam. It is a co-ordinated, ideologically motivated and political attack on one of Britain's proudest traditions: our charitable efforts to use our blessing to bless the world.
As a Christian, as a supporter of many international aid organisations and an employee of a Christian mission agency, I find the attack appalling. More than that, though, I am horrified by the idea that some of my brothers and sisters might fall for the narrative that charities are not to be trusted, and that they would stop supporting them.
Most Christians will be unfooled by this latest callous attempt to push our country further away from biblical values of mercy, justice and neighbourliness. We are not stupid. We notice that this 'scandal' happened in 2011 and yet is in our headlines now; that this 'cover up' involved public statements from Oxfam about the investigation into misconduct and resulted in several high level members of their staff losing their jobs (or quitting before they could be fired). We can see the wrongdoing of the people involved, yes, but we can also see the agendas being served by newspapers publishing this as 'news' half a decade later. At least, this is what I hope.
The Church in Britain, generally, gives me hope. We have, over the last few decades, rejected the blasphemy that 'charity begins at home' and to hell with all the rest. We've helped developing world debts to be forgiven, our mission agencies have brought life in its fullness to people of all faiths and none, and we have supported overseas aid agencies, like Christian Aid and Oxfam, who have tried to address both the causes and the symptoms of global poverty. As far as a Baptist like me believes in tradition, I believe this is a proud one.
I just hope that we will not be taken in by the cynical and ideological ploy to undermine our (and the nation's) faith in charities like Oxfam, by associating them with sexual exploitation. The fact that this has been the tone of the attacks has been a masterstroke by whichever think-tank or publicity company came up with them. Progressives and feminists, Christians both liberal and conservative are all so horrified by sexual predation that we tend to be quite quick to presume guilt, assume corporate wrongdoing and generally punish the wrongdoing as much as we can. Taking a serious crime seriously can too often mean we fail to check the facts for fear of being left behind by the mob – or turned upon. It's a kind of pitchfork FOMO.
But we mustn't be fooled. This is an attack on Oxfam. It's an attack on a proud tradition of foreign aid. It's an attack on charities generally, in an era when they seem to be a lone voice holding government and big business to account for their all-too-cosy relationship and the inequality it breeds.
As it stands, over a thousand people have been fooled enough to cancel their giving to Oxfam. Many of them may be motivated by the best intentions. And nobody should be guilted into giving to any charity. Give or don't give. But let us be very clear. If, in anger, you stop giving to Oxfam – because some of its staff did things you disagree with – and you still fill up with Shell after what they have allegedly done in Nigeria, you may be a hypocrite. If you stop giving to a charity fighting global poverty because of allegations against it but continue to drink Coca Cola products considering the allegations against them in the USA, India and Colombia, you may have to admit to being a bit selective in your outrage. In fact, if you stop supporting Oxfam over this, knowing full well that huge numbers of the globalised businesses you continue to support have staff doing pretty much the same thing every day, it's just worth being honest. You aren't outraged at the scandal. You would just prefer to keep your money.
And hey, that's fine. Just come clean. Be honest. Accountability is what we're all after, isn't it?
I don't think Oxfam is perfect. I don't think any charity is. I don't think everything that has happened is somehow okay. But pretending charities like these are a force for harm rather than good in the world is a lie. And accepting it will only please the father of lies.
Jonty Langley is a recovering fundamentalist and reluctant progressive who works for a mission agency by day and argues with people on the internet by night. He also writes. Find him on Twitter @JontyLangley