Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How the British tax payer is funding Televangelists

The three largest UK based Christian television networks are all funded from donations from viewers and supporters. These are channelled into them through registered charities which the channels have set up for this purpose.

By running as registered charities these organisations receive a number of benefits that amount to taxpayer funding of their operations, which includes evangelism and in some cases campaigning against evolution and environmental concerns like global warming.

The benefits that Christian TV channels receive from the taxpayer through their charitable status include:
  • the ability to reclaim tax on donations given by individuals through Gift Aid.
  • business rates relief for any buildings they are using.
  • exemption from paying corporation tax on their profits (surpluses)

The value of these to the organisations is difficult to determine in full, but Gift Aid alone can amount to a substantial part of their income.

Gift AID is a reclaim of tax from the government on donations made by UK tax payers. I have examined the accounts of three UK based Christian Television networks to try and estimate how much they are earning from Gift Aid. One (UCB) state explicitly in their annual accounts how much they receive in Gift Aid. The others I have estimated.

At least two of these channels (God TV and Revelation & Genesis TV) are not in the mainstream of the Christian religion and speak out against evolution and environmental concerns.

Channel: UCB TV and various radio channels

A staggering 16.3% of their donated income came from the government through the Gift Aid scheme - a total of £859,000 in state funding.

From their Accounts for year ended 31st December 2007
Total Income £6,819,108
Total income from donations £5 241 108
Total gift aid (according to their annual report @ 16.3% confirmed) £859,000

Charity: THE ANGEL FOUNDATION, Registered Charity 1079501

God TV is not regulated by OFCOM. It operates under a foreign broadcasting licence and is outside OFCOM regulation allowing them to use fundraising techniques which would probably not be permitted if they were under a UK licence.

We do not know how much they are receiving in Gift Aid donations as they do not separate it out in their annual accounts. However, if we conservatively estimate it at 10% then it would mean they received at least £1M per year from the government to fund their operations. The figure could be much higher.

From their Accounts for year ended 31st March 2008

Total Income £12,174,673
Total income from donations £11,166,574
Estimated gift aid @ 10% of donated income £1,116,657
Estimated gift aid @ 15% of donated income £1,674,961

Charity: REVELATION FOUNDATION, Registered Charity 1100573

We do not know how much they are receiving in Gift Aid donations as they do not separate it out in their annual accounts. However, if we conservatively estimate it at 10% then it means they are receiving at least £167,000 from the government to fund their operations.

From their Accounts for year ended 31st March 2008

Total Income £1,740,988
Income from Donations £1,677,136
Estimated gift aid @ 10% of donated income £167,713
Estimated gift aid @ 15% of donated income £251,570

Issues this raises

Should taxpayers money be going to fund religious broadcasting organisations whose principal aims are evangelism?

If the government is to continue funding organisations like this, should this not be conditional on them operating under UK broadcast licences so they are regulated by OFCOM? For example, God TV gets money from the UK government but does not have to abide by UK broadcasting restrictions. This means they can use fundraising techniques which would be dubious under UK broadcasting regulations, but still get Gift Aid on those donations from tax payers.

The other side of the coin

It could be claimed that Gift Aid us a reclaim of the tax the donors have paid on their earnings, but the reclaim is at a notional "blended rate" which may be more than the donor has paid in tax. If the money was not given to them by the government then the government could spend it on things that would benefit the wider community.

Changes to charity law in the UK

The Charities Commission has recently published new guidance to charities that they must be able to show "public benefit". Its not clear how they will apply this to existing charities, but it will be interesting to see how religious charities and in particular Christian television stations will be able to prove a public benefit when they have such narrow sectarian aims and objectives. I suspect they will get round it by having very broad aims in their charity memorandum and articles of association, but in reality pass the vast majority of the funds raised straight to the TV channels they are operating.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why are Christians so uncomfortable with the idea of evolution?

Why do some Christians trust creationist opinions over scientific ideas that have been worked out by many scientists over many years? Presumably they are quite happy to take medicines that have also been developed by scientists over many years, without feeling the need to question its effectiveness.

I think the answer is that just as Galileo showed that the sun does not revolve round the earth, evolution challenges Christians to accept that they are not the centre of the universe. A rather humbling notion, especially for the self exalting kind of Christians who tend to be the ones who are very pro creationism.

Can you be a Christian and believe in evolution?

I would say a definite yes to this question. It is a clear demonstrable fact that most Christians do believe in evolution but there are a vociferous minority of fundamentalists who do not, and who intend to convert other Christians to a belief in creationism (a belief that the earth is 6500 years old and was created in six days with all its life forms fully formed).

Therefore in the tradition of Plato's conversations I present this fictional discussion between a fundamentalist and an enquirer which is based on the sort of reasoning that I heard regularly during my time as a fundamentalist.

Do you have to believe in creationism in order to be saved and go to heaven?

No, you just need to have faith in Christ. This is all that is required.
See Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9.

Most professing Christians do believe in evolution. For example, the teaching of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches all allow for belief in evolution, so why do we need to believe in the biblical account of creation?

Those people are not true Christians.

So you would say they are not saved then?

It is possible they are saved, but it is not certain as they have rejected the bible as being the word of God.

So you are saying that I do have to believe in creationism to be saved?

No, I didn't say that.

Yes you did!

Well its an issue of living the best way possible.
Those who are closer to God and more conformed to his will for their lives will receive a greater reward in heaven.
See Matthew 16:27 and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.

So there are different classes of salvation?

No, I didn't say that.

Yes you did!

Well if you want to be a true Christian and be absolutely sure of receiving your maximum reward you do need to believe in a lot more than the basic gospel message. This includes creationism, premillenial dispensationalism, the special status of Israel and a number of other things. Believing in these things is God's will for the Christian. They are revealed in his word and will be confirmed to you if you get into a church that preaches the whole word of God and you pray about it.

So if I don't believe in those things I am not a proper Christian?

No, I didn't say that.

Well you seemed to imply it.

Well its what I believe, and what all my friends believe. The bible does seem to say these things so they must be true. Therefore if you don't accept them you are rejecting the whole counsel of God and not living in truth. You therefore run the risk of being rejected by God.
See Matthew 7:21-23.

That's very interesting but I am not sure I agree with you.

I will be praying for you, that God will reveal the truth to you.