Christian Persecution: UK Commission Refuses Charity Status to Church Over Communion

The UK Charity Commission is refusing to grant charitable status to a church because it restricts communion services to members only.

Parliament is currently holding hearings on the matter.

In a letter to Plymouth Brethren church leaders, the Commission cited a recent court decision to suggest that religion does not serve the public good.

“This decision makes it clear that there was no presumption that religion…is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England,” the Commission said in the letter.

A conservative member of Parliament said the Commission is, “Committed to the suppression of religion.”

A LifeSiteNews article reads in part:

LONDON, November 7, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Conservative Party MP has accused the government’s Charity Commission of attempting to suppress Christianity after the group denied charitable status to the Plymouth Brethren, a small denomination of conservative evangelicals. MP Charlie Elphicke has said that the Charity Commission has stepped outside its mandate telling the Brethren that their religion is “not necessarily for the public good”.

In a letter to the community, the Commission wrote of a tribunal decision that found “there is no presumption that religion generally, or at any more specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England”.

The Plymouth Brethren, of which there are about 16,000 adherents in Britain, have said they intend to pursue their dispute to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary. They have been embroiled in the dispute with the Commission for seven years since the Commission refused charitable status to one of the group’s churches in Devon. The group engages in street preaching, distributing bibles and visits hospital patients. These activities, said Garth Christie, an Elder in the group, more than qualifies them for charitable status under the “advancement of religion” clauses.

The matter became public when the Public Administration Select Committee discovered the letter as part of materials released as part of their investigation into the decision-making processes of the Commission.

The Charity Commission alleges that the group’s rule of only giving Holy Communion to full members means that their services are not open to all, a charge which the Brethren deny. The Brethren say that their public services are offered to everyone regardless of religious affiliation. If it is upheld, the rule could be extended to the Catholic Church which also officially restricts Communion reception to members.

The letter has promoted Elphicke, a member of the Select Committee, to call the Commission’s policies “anti-religion” and said that it is more evidence that it is a waste of public funds. Members of the Plymouth Brethren were giving evidence to the committee and Elphicke asked, if they thought the Commission was “actively trying to suppress religion in the UK, particularly the Christian religion”.

Christie responded, “I think we would share those concerns.” He agreed with Elphicke’s suggestion the Charity Commission’s decision could be seen as the “thin end of the wedge” with concern to other small religious groups.

Elphicke told the Brethren representatives, “I think they [the Commission] are committed to the suppression of religion and you are the little guys being picked on to start off a whole series of other churches who will follow you there.” (Read more here.)

  • Bill S

    What is the Church’s teaching on restricting communion to members only? It seems to be against everything the Church stands for. Yet it’s not for the government to decide.

    • Ted Seeber

      This article is about the Plymouth Bretheren, but we have a similar teaching you can read on the front page of the missal. We’re just not draconian about it.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    I found the following comment at another website:

    “This is a small sect separated long ago from the Plymouth Brethren, commonly and rather appropriately known as “Exclusive Brethren.” As much as possible they avoid all contact with other people, including Christians. Since UK law requires that organizations requesting tax exempt status have some level of public engagement, it is not clear how the Charity Commission could have ruled otherwise when the organization by its nature shuns any public engagement.

    The application for tax exempt status was not denied merely because the group practices what we would think of as closed communion. But since that notion is what is making the rounds of reactionary internet sites, of course it eventually shows up here.”

    Dcn. G.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Deacon. I’m not sure how to evaluate this, since I’m looking at it through American eyes.

      • Jane

        I don’t know what website that came from, but it is absolutely untrue, total rubbish. You might like to have a look at http://www.plymouthbrethrenchristianchurch.org, which is the official website for this group – there is a lot of nasty stuff on the internet about them which is a pack of lies.
        Thanks
        Best regards

  • Indy

    What is the definition of “closed communion” – my church requires members to attend a confirmation class and to be baptized to receive communion. Is that closed communion? And honestly – why does merely having standards about who receives communion become an issue? Do we want our Christian faith to be watered down to the point of becoming meaningless? This is the problem with allowing a government dictate who we are and what benefits we can receive from the government. Here in Australia, Christian schools receive government funding but in exchange for the money – they are banned from “proselytizing” to the students. And that definition is becoming more and more broad to the point now that many Christian schools are very secular. I think its a slippery slope that we cannot afford. I’d rather tell the government to stuff it then to compromise my beliefs. Thanks again Rebecca for being a beacon of God’s light in the world.

    • Suzie Best

      Actually, here is a far more truthful article about why the Charity Commission denied the Exclusive Brethren (newly named Plymouth Brethren Christian Church) their charitable status. It was more to do with their damaging, extremist, separation doctrines than anything else. Until you have seen or heard the hurt and pain and suffering inflicted on those who have left this cult, you will not have the least bit of understanding what they are on about. I suggest you can find out more at: peebs.net

      From Third Sector: http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/Governance/article/1165267/Charity-Commission-reasons-refusing-charitable-status-Plymouth-Brethren-included-doctrine-separation/

      Regulator provides further explanation as Garth Christie, a Brethren member, apologises for misquoting commission statements to a select committee of MPs

      The Charity Commission has said that its refusal of the application for charitable status by the Preston Down Trust, a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Devon, was based on the church’s doctrine of separation from the rest of society and on “insufficient evidence of meaningful access to public worship”.

      An initial explanation of the decision was given by the commission in a letter to the trust’s lawyers in June last year. The trust is appealing to the charity tribunal and the issue has been taken up by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the regulation of the charity sector and the Charities Act 2006.

      The commission’s further explanation of its reasons came in a recent written response to the committee, which had asked it what public benefit was provided by the Druid Network, which does have charitable status, and why the Preston Down Trust did not meet the same requirement.

      The commission said the Druid Network reached out to the wider community, that there was evidence that membership and involvement in ceremonies was open to all and that the opportunity to learn about Druidry was available to the public through the Druid Network website.

      “The Druid Network supports the provision of public rituals and ceremonies and engages in inter-faith activities and community projects,” the commission said. “The Druid Network is not exclusive and confirmed it does not support events or organisations that are exclusive or accept exclusive groups into membership.”

      It was evident that the Preston Down Trust was a religious organisation, the commission said, but the point of contention was whether it was established for exclusively charitable purposes for the public benefit. “Preston Down Trust promotes particular beliefs and practices, in particular the doctrine of separation, which is central to their beliefs and way of life, and this has the consequence of limiting their engagement with non-Brethren and the wider public,” it said.

      “The evidence we were given showed that the doctrine of separation as preached by the trust requires followers to limit their engagement with the wider public, and there was insufficient evidence of meaningful access to participate in public worship. The commission concluded that the evidence of beneficial impact on the wider public was not sufficient to demonstrate public benefit. This was a finely balanced decision.”

      The commission added that any alleged harm or detriment must be balanced against the benefit, and it was aware of some criticism of the practices known as “shutting up” and “withdrawal” by the Plymouth Brethren, and of the effect of the doctrine of separation on family and social life.

      “At the time of making our decision we had no evidence of this and it was not a factor in our decision,” it said. “Since our decision was made public we have received submissions on this point and will be putting these to the tribunal to consider, but it is for the court to decide what weight to give these. Hearing and assessing evidence of this kind is a role much better suited to the courts as it is done under oath, than to a body like the commission.”

      Meanwhile, Garth Christie, a Plymouth Brethren representative, has apologised to the select committee for misquoting commission statements when he gave evidence to the committee last year. He had earlier corrected what he had said, which conflated parts of the refusal letter from the commission with statements made by its head of legal services five years ago, but had not apologised.

      In a new submission to the committee, Christie said the quotations were correct but he had repeated them in a way that gave the impression they were stated at the same time. “This is clearly not the case,” he said. “The mistake was entirely inadvertent and a result of notes that I should have better prepared. Nevertheless I apologise fully for this error and for any confusion it may have caused.”

      • Suzie Best

        And in answer to the above question about closed communion, you are not allowed to have communion in with the Exclusive Brethren cult or its members unless you are yourself a member of their group. They do not take communion classes or offer teachings on communion, you are forcibly baptised as a child and made a member and given no choice in the matter. You are then given communion as soon as you are old enough to grab it yourself as a young child. Then when you grow up and realize how unChristian and unBiblical all this is and want to make your own decision, they banish you from your family forever. I know this as I was bought up by them; this happened to me and also to many others.

        You will find it is due to these arbitrary and questionable practices that the Charity Commission has rightly refused the group Charity Status in that it breaks a number of the rules/guidelines set by them.

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