Time to derail this ‘hate train’
The train line that inspired an Edwardian clergyman to write Thomas the Tank Engine is at the centre of an unholy row, thanks to a much nastier contemporary televangelist.
In the Reverend Wilbert Audry’s day, the Isle of Man Railway was a small gauge working steam railway connecting the island’s major towns. Audry was pals with the Bishop of Sodor and Man, and asked him one day where Sodor had gone.
The answer is that, back in viking times, Sodor and Man was a church diocese roughly covering the viking Kingdom of the Isles. When the vikings vanished, so did dominion over the area previously known as Sodor.
The Isle of Man changed hands between the Scots and English a few times, but the church retained the name anyway. So Audry invented a mythical island, twice the size of the Isle of Man, named it Sodor, and used Manx trains and locations as the basis for a series of children’s stories.
Thus, he quipped, the Bishop got back the missing majority of his diocese, if only in fiction.
These days, the Isle of Man Railway runs only in the south of the island, and as a summer tourist attraction, but, for additional income it runs themed specials.
For about a decade now, the local organisers for Operation Christmas Child (the infamous “shoebox” appeal run by Samaritan’s Purse) have benefited from one such “special” picking up the shoeboxes from the station closest to their collection point at a southern fundamentalist church and taking them to the main town to put on the ferry.
Obviously, a paying trainload of kids also swells this odious charity’s funds considerably.
Officially, Operation Christmas Child has now been thrown out of Manx schools, but links via sympathetic teachers remain. Last year one attentive mum read a note brought home from school by her small daughter, bothered to check out Samaritan’s Purse, and she went ballistic.
She wrote to the Education Department and the local press to ask why such a vile scheme was still being plugged by teachers.
She also wrote to the new Minister for Infrastructure, Phil Gawne, MHK, above, who has responsibility for public transport. As Phil Gawne is a liberal politician, she struggled to understand why he was allowing a racist, sexist, homophobic throwback like Franklin Graham to profit from small kids, and effectively being subsidised to do so by the Manx government.
To his credit, the minister made enquiries, and despite the inevitable fundamentalist backlash offered a reasonable compromise.
It was too late to cancel the November 2015 Shoebox Special, but before it could run in 2016 he wanted an assurance from Samaritan’s Purse management that it does not share Graham’s prejudices.
I am delighted that Minister Gawne has taken the time to contact us and gain a deeper understanding of our mission and objectives. Samaritan’s Purse is a non-profit, Christian organisation providing emergency relief and development assistance to suffering people around the world.
The aid and assistance are given without regard to the race, creed, gender, religion or ethnicity of the beneficiaries.We are serving these people without any strings attached.
Samaritan’s Purse, as an organisation, is not anti-Islamic or homophobic and has no anti-gay agenda. While Franklin Graham has come under attack for his personal views, he does not speak for Samaritan’s Purse.
He didn’t go on to confirm that the Tooth Fairy was real, the moon landings were fake or that the moon is made of cheese, though he might just as well have for all the credibility he carried.
Such reassurances are doubly void when a simple search of the admirably open and helpful England and Wales Charity Register website reveals that all nine SPI trustees (including Franklin Graham) are also trustees of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, an organisation where Mr Bennett holds exactly the same role.
Incidentally, I was amused to find that Bennett previously carried out similar duties for United Christian Broadcasters, because this too has an odd Manx connection. UCB’s startling brand of late night misanthropy was once pumped out from the studio of Manx Radio, the national radio station.
For UCB, this avoided older UK broadcasting restrictions on taste and decency. For Manx Radio, which is partly state and partly privately funded, it was additional income without the hassle of staffing costs.
Despite some very bizarre and twisted material being aired nobody complained – or even noticed. Because when it went out between 10 PM and 2 am hardly anybody would be listening.
Sadly though, this is an election year, and Phil Gawne – a rare and decent politician who also, for example, has vastly transformed the Manx government’s Overseas Aid Committee for the better since chairing it – has to get re-elected in the island’s equivalent of the Bible belt.
I can only think that he is allowing the hate train to run again because the chances that his own philanthropic plans will be derailed if he doesn’t are too great this close to an election.
But we do now have the ridiculous position where one Manx government department feels obliged to help an organisation which, if subjected to even the standard checks on Manx overseas aid bids, would fail at the first hurdle.
Even the Bush regime, which Graham boasted of advising, distanced itself after the Catholic Church accused Samaritan’s Purse of misusing US aid resources to evangelise during a 2001 earthquake in El Salvador.
In March 2001, The New York Times reported that Samaritan’s Purse had “blurred the line between church and state” in the way it had distributed publicly funded aid to victims of the earthquake.
Residents from several villages stated they first had to sit through a half-hour prayer meeting before receiving assistance.
Several years ago, Samaritan’s Purse’s head honcho also had a run-in with the IRS over the $1.2 million annual salary he hadn’t been declaring on his tax forms. This suggests he has enough spare cash lying around to pay the full commercial rate for his hate train to run, if it is so important to him.
Until he does, the Isle of Man Railways website is at www.rail.im, and the Isle of Man Tourist Department website is at http://www.visitisleofman.com/. Do be sure to tell them that you won’t be visiting or using their services until they choose a better class of charity.