Opinion:‘I don’t think Jesus would’ve been a fan of Comic Relief’

PUBLISHED: 09:39 15 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:50 15 June 2019

Ed Sheeran visiting Street Child’s projects in Liberia as part of Red Nose Day 2017. Picture: Street Child.

Ed Sheeran visiting Street Child’s projects in Liberia as part of Red Nose Day 2017. Picture: Street Child.


My views about Christianity have been made clear in recent columns. They can be summed up in the words humbug, hypocrisy and hubris.

But the wise man who launched the whole operation 2,000-plus years ago did have some good points to make.

Here's one of my favourites: "So when you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, to be praised by men... but when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

I don't think Jesus would've been a big fan of Comic Relief, with its celebrities dropping into poorer countries to hug needy children and look very pleased with themselves - while back in Blighty more celebs turn up the noise, slap each other's backs and whoop and holler as the total climbs.

It smacks of: "Aren't we amazing, helping these poor unfortunates?"

Get off the stage, stop the show and put your hands in your bulging pockets, celebs. Do it in secret: help people without making them feel small.

Some of the message has got through, with Comic Relief announcing it would send fewer celebrities abroad after criticism that the likes of Stacey Dooley were going to Africa as "white saviours".

It's the right decision, but why did it take them so long to realise that this charity model has sonorous echoes of Empire? It's the superior white westerners generously giving their time to help the poor Africans.

That's "giving for glory" at its worst. But it has seeped down through society.

We are inundated with press releases from people doing good deeds or big challenges for charity.

Some of them look suspiciously like people trying to crowdfund to pay for a fun overseas jaunt like a three-month cycle ride across America. Most, though, are genuine and decent efforts to rustle up more money for something that they care about.

It doesn't quite tick the Jesus box of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. But it ticks the Downes box of doing it for the right reasons and not being a shameless glory hunter.

Recently, though, I've seen more examples that put a big red cross in the box.

One business wanted to share how it was hosting two Grenfell families. Good for you, I thought - but why get your own trumpet out and blow it? To add another bum note, they wanted us to know that this kindness coincided with the firm's second birthday.

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The survivors of the Grenfell disaster have been through so much, and hardly need to be used as an advertising opportunity.

A day later, a press release came through from a restaurant, complete with a photo of smiling staff, announcing how it was giving food to the homeless.

People living on the streets have already been stripped of much of their dignity; a piece of patronising chadvertising (charity advertising) hardly helps.

If you want to do a good deed, just do it. And keep it to yourself.

Before I'm accused of hypocrisy, I am entering a timely guilty plea.

I've been a "help in my heart, Jesus on my lips" poverty tourist. I spent two weeks in Kolkata in 2007, working with a charity to "help" street children.

We helped them by standing around in their makeshift classrooms a lot, singing songs, letting them use us as climbing frames in the yard, and telling them the "good news".

The really good news would've been that they had a home, clean clothes and a daily education. Instead, they got a dose of our religion, complete with woolly promises.

Then we got on the plane and flew back to our comfortable homes, eager to tell everyone how we'd sacrificed ourselves for the needy.

I got to boast on Facebook, tell the rest of the church about my adventure, put a pin in a city on my world map - and achieve nothing.

And now I feel embarrassed - as should all other poverty tourists and white saviours.

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