Lyndon Bowring of CARE Meets the Social Issues Team

On 7 October 2002, Rev Lyndon Bowring, Executive Chairman of CARE, met with members of the FIEC’s Social Issues Team for a question-and-answer session.  This meeting had been arranged a long time ago and was prompted by concerns expressed by several people about CARE’s approach to its work, and the content of its resources.  The following are some of the edited exchanges covered in the frank, but amicable, meeting.

Q:  We were surprised that Care for the Family now has a deliberate policy of playing down Christianity, not ever quoting the Bible, never mentioning God, and so on.  Why is this?
A:  Care for the Family is now a separate sister organisation with a separate leadership.  I represent CARE on the board of Care for the Family, but that is about the limit of CARE’s influence.

Q:  What is the extent of CARE’s work?
A:  CARE had a remit that covers five main areas of social concern - citizenship, education, family, media and medical ethics/life issues.

Q:  CARE makes frequent mention of ‘Christian values’, but it never spells out what these are, and so people, whether users of its services or Christian supporters, are never informed of the biblical rationale behind all its activities.  Most people are looking for something ‘distinctively Christian’, but do not find it in the work of CARE.  Is this a change in CARE’s direction?
A:  No, it has ever been thus.  Much of the work of CARE is the work of ‘pre-evangelism’.  Everything CARE does is consistent with biblical principles but these are not trumpeted, though they are never negated.  One of the reasons for this policy is that if CARE led with its biblical basis, say, in the subject area of sex education, and came with only a chastity message, then CARE would not be allowed into schools to do the good work it does.

Q:  But does not this policy short-change your readers and supporters?  Instead of instructing them, and helping them develop a thoroughly biblical worldview, CARE publications often read more like Woman’s Own or Reader’s Digest, little more than a touchy-feely form of secular humanism.
A:  Each of the five areas in which CARE is involved needs a clear biblical foundation.  One of our new initiatives at CARE is that we are setting up a theological ‘think-tank’ to establish a sound basis for the work undertaken in each of these five areas.

Q:  Who is responsible for policy and strategy within CARE?
A:  Responsibility for policy and strategy rests with me, as executive chairman, and Charlie Colchester, as executive director, with some input from others.

Q:  CARE’s sex education material is based on abstinence, rather than chastity, and on self-esteem, rather than a thoroughly biblical approach.  Is this correct?
A:  CARE stands for the biblical principle of sex within marriage and nothing outside that.  CARE is promoting and supporting the Love for Life programme, which has its roots in Northern Ireland, and it has been quite effective among many hundreds of teenagers in the Province.  Yes, Love for Life is based on the value of self-esteem, which is also the root of most of the contemporary, secular programmes.
Q:  Does this worry you?
A:  No, not when used in a ‘pre-evangelism’ context.  There would be other opportunities within the Love for Life context to expand on Christian values.

Q:  In a video produced by CARE in 1995 on the theme of sex education, reference was made to a teenage magazine called Just 17.  This magazine promotes promiscuity.  Is there not a danger that reference to Just 17, in such a Christian resource, was a signal to people that Just 17 is acceptable.  People could say, ‘It must be all right, since Christians promote it.’
A:  The reference to Just 17 had been included in order to strike a contemporary note.  It is a magazine that many teenagers would know about.  Yes, CARE was ‘taking a risk’.  The Lord only knows whether that was wise or foolish.
Q:  But does not this approach create confusion between the Christian message and the world’s message?
A:  It would certainly be easier to take the narrow view.  We walk a difficult road.

Q:  It has been questioned by some whether CARE’s position with regard to expressing Bible truth reflects a lack of confidence in the truth of God’s Word.  Christians need to be encouraged to see the biblical foundation for what is distinctively Christian morality.  This message is needed because there is much which is not right in the church, as well as in the world, and it is for organisations like CARE and others to remind everyone of that.  God’s law is ultimately for all men, and needs to be declared to all.
A:  Let me give you one example of a clear Christian testimony resulting from the basic work of CARE.  Paul Boateng, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had spoken at a CARE function in connection with CARE’s new initiative on remand fostering.  Mr Boateng had spoken from his own background of the benefit of the gospel influence of Christian missionaries, and compared this with the work of CARE as a distinctively Christian organisation.

Q:  Is does seem to many that the Christian Institute has superseded CARE in boldly defending and upholding Christian morality.  Would you say that is true?
A:  CARE began as a campaigning organisation, always speaking out on issues.  Subsequently it wanted to complement this campaigning role with practical initiatives providing social benefit.  We see the Christian Institute as a rottweiler.  I think they see us as a bit wet.  The Christian Institute is so ‘in your face and harsh’.  I think that they would see all this caring as a waste of time.

Q:  In a letter you wrote to CARE supporters in November 2000, entitled Judaeo-Christian Truth, you warmly endorsed some questionable statements by Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi.  One of these statements was, ‘When religion tries to explain the world, it fails.’  This statement seems to imply that the Bible is inadequate in explaining the world, and yet the footnote added by CARE referred to ‘the reality of this truth’.  Why did you choose to promote the views of the Chief Rabbi in this way?
A:  I found the general tone and spirit of the message that Jonathan Sacks gave at the meeting I attended more inspiring than any number of Anglican bishops.

At the end of this meeting, members of the Social Issues Team were somewhat confused, and certainly disappointed.  It seemed to us that CARE is in danger of losing its way.  We appreciate how hard it is to communicate with our godless neighbours and decision makers – practically all of us are pretty hopeless at it.  But, in striving to forge such communication, there is a real danger of compromising the Christian message, of seeking to ‘chummy up’ with those in power.  Many of our greatest charities once had the firmest of biblical foundations, but they wanted to be more fashionable, more acceptable so they ditched the Christian tag and became secular – think of Barnados, The Children’s Society, YMCA, and so on.  There is a great danger for Christians in the chasing of ‘success’.

Furthermore, CARE does seem to be unaware of the dangers of the ‘style over substance’ movement, and of the perils in focusing on consequences rather than principles.  Lyndon Bowring gave us several examples of CARE’s ‘success’.  For instance, he told us that Rob Parsons had been paid £5,000, though not for personal gain, for an hour’s presentation to top businessmen.  And he told us that a huge number of secondary schools had now bought CARE’s sex education material.

It is all too easy to become grouchy and pull down other men’s houses.  This was never the intention of this meeting.  We would be the first to back any Bible-based organisation responding to our nation’s plight.  We also know that many FIEC churches and individuals support CARE, financially and prayerfully.  Over the years, the Social Issues Team has kept a watching brief on the work of CARE and has seen amber, if not red, lights.  We have previously communicated some of these concerns to CARE.  This meeting was arranged to enquire of ‘the boss’ whether our concerns were mere misunderstandings, misrepresentations, or whether there were grounds for our unease.

Our conclusion is that CARE is in danger of abandoning its biblical moorings.  At least, we were given no convincing reassurances that CARE was planning any reform of its current objectives and methods.  Though we recognise Lyndon Bowring as a brother in Christ – we prayed together, twice, at our meeting – we fear that the CARE machine is becoming an organisation with the least common denominator in terms of biblical doctrine and teaching.  If our, and CARE’s, worldview is not driven by Christian doctrine, then our Christian distinctives disappear.

Perhaps much of our disillusionment with CARE is but a reflection of the current state of evangelicalism in our land.  We see the triumph of the ‘style over substance’ motif everywhere.  Gospel music is taking over from Gospel preaching, Christian ‘personalities’ hog the limelight, the cult of self and self-esteem is de rigueur, new initiatives are seized upon in the hope of energising a tired church, Christianity is becoming just a lifestyle rather than a discipleship.

The true Christian life is such a delicate balancing act – ‘in the world, but not of it’.  Who of us gets it right?  Who of us does not wobble and fall, often?  That’s why we need the constant correction and instruction of the Word of God to percolate into our minds, to keep reforming us and bringing us back onto The Way.  Our hope for CARE is that in the near future it will become a significant, biblical bell-wether in the nation.