It’s collection week for Operation Christmas Child, the high profile project of Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse, and while shoeboxes are being packed for kids across the world, they’re also being unpacked of any religious message. According to the Daily Mail Samaritan’s Purse has banned any religious items from the boxes, including Bible stories, images of Jesus and any other religious items (though these don’t make the list of other banned items on their web site, which also includes war-related toys, chocolate or food, breakables, medicine and liquids).
Shocking, isn’t it? A Christian charity banning its own message. But it’s part of making sure the message gets through. They need to respect local cultures where the boxes will be distributed–which are often primarily Muslim. Giving a Jesus doll to a Muslim boy could cause problems on the scale of a certain cartoon that caused worldwide riots. Samaritan’s Purse hopes the simple act of giving will speak for itself, followed up by the ongoing interaction with the organization. The idea is that there will be other, better avenues to spread its message, so they voluntariy opt not to put the message in the shoeboxes. Instead the shoebox itself is the message.
So is it political correctness gone amuck? (Seriously? Since when was Franklin Graham politically correct?) Or is it a good example of carefully considering when and how to communicate the gospel?
And that’s where this becomes an apt lessons for churches and how they do outreach. While the ultimate goal is telling people about Jesus, sometimes how we do that is more important than simply doing it. A message communicated at the wrong time and the wrong place and in the wrong context is often worse than not communicating at all. And for those who say we need to rely on God, I think it’s clear that he also relies on us to do it right and not just wing it. Communicating the gospel in the right time and the right place and the right context all relies on God. (The other danger here is to never communicate the gospel because we can never figure out how to do it just right. As always, a balance is important.)
Sometimes sticking to that conviction means you take flak from the faithful. And in the case of Operation Christmas Child, I wonder if the flak comes from those who are more interested in feeling like they’ve carried out the great commission than actually doing it.