Exclusive Brethren/Plymouth Brethren Christian Church and the UK Charity Commission
On 3rd January 2014 the UK Charity Commission (CC) issued a major document (http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/media/591398/preston_down_trust_full_decision.pdf) in which they set out their reasons for originally refusing charitable status to the Preston Down Trust (PDT)and subsequently for agreeing to accept a future application.
It is not known if the Exclusive Brethren/Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (EB/PBCC) has yet made an application. All EB/PBCC trust applying for charitable status would have to comply with the conditions set out by the Charity Commission.
The CC document is a powerful indictment of the EB/CC. The proposed trust deeds require that a comprehensive rewrite of EB/PBCC teaching and practice is required. The CC has made it clear that granting charitable status is provisional iethat it is subject to review in approximately one year to ensure that all aspects of the proposals have been fully embraced.
It is quite evident that the CC has long thought that the EB/PBCC do not fulfil the requirements of providing, on balance, a public benefit which would enable the church to enjoy charitable status. At no time has the CC tried to tell the EB/PBCC what they can or can not believe or practice but as the statutory guardian of registered charities it is entitled, on behalf of the UK public, to be careful about endorsing by way of public subsidy activities which are considered harmful and detrimental.
In making its conclusions the CC considered the evidence of independent experts, ex-members and other interested parties as well as the trustees of the PDT. It is quite clear that there has been a huge body of evidence which has informed the CC view and which has formed the basis of the restrictionsimposed upon the EB/PBCC. The CC also took into account the recent activities of the EB/PBCC in its attempt to demonstrate that it carries out charitable activities. The CC has a statutory duty to consider all aspects of applications which come before it.
I apologise for the length of this document but it is important to avoid over-summarising. I also recommend that if possible people should read the entire CC judgement. I acknowledgethat this may not be possible in all cases so I have attempted to make this paper reasonably comprehensive whlst retaining some level of brevity.
In its review, the CC have highlighted the following concerns(the words in italics are the CC’s own words):
i. eating/drinking with non-members;
ii. joining in worship with another faith;
iii. joining in association with non-members, joining professional bodies, unions, owning shares in a company, being in a business partnership with non-members;
iv. living in adjoined premises;
v. voting or holding positions in town councils;
vi. marrying outside of the PBCC;
vii. children participating in a number of school activities including school dinners and religious worship; and
viii. as a result of other restrictions, not attending university.
Unusually, the PDT deed of variation to their trust includes a statement of “Faith in Practice” and below are some details:
i.The principle of separation is set out which confirms that it “involves drawing away from the world in a moral sense, rather than in a physical sense” and “permits inter-personal communication and social interaction with non-Brethren (including former Brethren) and service to them because we seek to do good to all in the world, as opportunities arise.”
ii. Living a Christian life is upheld “We seek and are encouraged to live exemplary lives in all our relationships with others in the wider community (including former Brethren), in accordance with the teachings of Holy Scripture.” “Holy Scripture commands us to be good neighbours to others, and deal with all other people (including former Brethren) openly, honestly and fairly and consistent with these principles, we should give our time and money to assist those in need in the wider community, in so far as reasonable given our abilities and available resources.”
iii. The concept of showing compassion to others is set out: “As Christians, we are to follow the example of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and show compassion to others… We are expected to care for those who are receptive to such care in our own community, but then also in the wider community (including former Brethren), to the best of our abilities and within our resources.”
iv. Compassion is to be shown in relation to Disciplinary Practices – “When church admonition is necessary, due provision will be made for the welfare of the church member who is under review. This should cover emotional, health, family and financial considerations… The Holy Scriptures require the practice of admonition and discipline to reflect justice and fairness
Compassion is to be shown more generally in the treatment of individuals – “No action should be taken in any way to treat vindictively, maliciously or unfairly persons whether within or outside the community, including those who were within the community and who are leaving or have left the community
Support for those who leave the PBCC is expressly provided for – “Where persons seek to leave the community, reasonable assistance should be afforded to them in terms of support and/or financial assistance relating to employment or other matters, where they have been dependent on the community for that support.”
The importance of maintaining relationships when a person leaves is recognised – “Reasonable steps should also be taken in these cases (consistent with and subject to any legal requirements applying to the persons involved and the human rights of the persons involved) to allow the continuation of family relationships where a family member has left the community, including providing access to family members, in particular children.
The ability of former Brethren to attend funerals is confirmed – “Where a person within the community dies, the principle of separation allows members of the extended family of the deceased, including former Brethren, to attend their funeral service.”
Where young people do decide to attend university there may be a severing of ties so individuals are not in fellowship for the period of their studies. They may decide to return as members following their studies
If the trustees do not comply with the trusts, the Commission will be able to regulate on the basis of a breach of trust. If the trustees are unable to comply with and carry out the trusts, the Commission may regulate on the basis that a cy-près occasion has arisen and the trust property will be applied for charitable purposes of a similar nature.
This means that in the event of a failure to comply, the trust once established cannot simply revert to a private organisation without oversight but would be taken over and operated in a way which does operate for charitable purposes.
It is essential that compliance is monitored. It is not known what systems and processes the CC has in place to monitor compliance. It is therefore important that a channel is established to compile report all known breaches.
The following information would be needed as a minimum:
1.Your name (this will not be revealed)
2. The name of the person making the breach
3. Time, place, date of the breach
4. A brief description plus copies of any written documentation (please retain all written communications)
5. What your expectation of the contact was if the breach arose from personal contact.
Since it is quite possible that this will lead to presentation to authorities it must be capable of being said under oath at a tribunal/court. Whilst UK charitable law clearly applies only within the UK, the behaviour of the EB/PBCC anywhere in the world indicates whether or not they are complying with the requirements of their own trusts, especially since the individual with the deciding voice on all things belongs to their universal leader who is an Australian citizen.
The person who provided you with this information sheet will be able to verify that this is bona fide and will be able to vouch for the credentials of its author.
Responses shoud be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org