Christmas special: what happens when an NGO edits the Ten Commandments?

Tis the season to be jolly; the shortest/grimmest day of the year etc etc, so here’s a Christmas scoop. As part of our ongoing discussion of religion and development, someone inadvertently submitted the Ten Commandments to Oxfam’s sign-off procedure. The result provides a fascinating insight into how NGOs think and communicate, although it perhaps lacks some of the punch of the original……. Click on the numbers in square brackets to go to footnotes explaining the various corrections and improvements. The Ten Commandments Eleven Best Practice Guidelines[1]

1. “I am your Line Manager[2], who brought you out of the land of Egypt, (where, incidentally there are some really inspiring uprisings going on[3]). You shall have no other managers before Me (apart from confusing matrix-style arrangements, but they don’t count).

2. Carved images are acceptable[4], provided they are fair-trade, but they should be seen as a stepping stone to worship of the Main Deity. For I, your Line Manager, am a jealous Manager, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me[5]

3. You shall not take the name of your Line Manager in vain, for the Manager will not hold him [or her] guiltless who takes His [or Her] name in vain.[6]

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of your Line Manager. In it you shall do no work: nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates[7] By “work”, you shall understand both paid and unpaid labour, especially that in the care economy, which is too often overlooked. Paid work in the other six days shall be subject to the ILO Core Conventions.[8]

5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which your Line Manager is giving you.[9]

6. You shall not murder[10] or commit grievous bodily harm, assault and battery or any form of unwarranted attack on the integrity of the person, so as to cause physical or psychological harm or damage to their social, cultural or economic ways of life.

7. You shall not commit adultery.[11]

8. You shall not steal land or water resources  – commonly called Land Grabs.[12] Stealing other stuff like intellectual property is more open to debate.

no this isn’t Rob from publishing…..

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.[13]

10.  You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife/husband/civil partner, nor their male servant, nor their female servant, nor their ox, nor their donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.[14]

11.  All the above shall be turned into SMART targets and subject to proper monitoring and evaluation of results, preferably involving randomized control trials of the different commandments guidelines. These will then be published on a dedicated website and subjected to desultory online discussion.[15]


[1] ‘Commandments’ are unacceptably top-down – we need to promote partnership and participation
[2] The original ‘Lord Your God’ implies an unacceptable level of upper/lower hierarchical domination (Chambers, 1997) and unfortunate echoes of feudal power structures
[3] Need to recognize that the Arab Spring has moved the debate on from the old ‘house of bondage’ discourse
[4] The previous ban on carved images, irrespective of how they are produced, ignores labour rights and the value of statuary to a range of belief systems
[5] If a risk assessment concludes that we have to keep this in, due to the possibility of Divine Wrath and the consumption of senior managers by fire/ being turned into pillars of salt etc, we should add, “…on the children. subject to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the need to convene and facilitate robust multi-stakeholder engagements between future generations and wrathful deities in pursuit of win-win solutions”.
[6] This is pretty standard performance management – keep unchanged
[7] Unnecessary editorializing
[8] Need to clarify terms here, the original is very sloppy
[9] Link between family harmony, longevity and property rights very unclear, but happy to leave in for now, pending further research
[10] The original focus on homicide ignores a range of other violences
[11] I know this represents something of a U-turn, but all this “you shall not” stuff goes completely against our new emphasis on positive frames; we have to transmit provocative optimism and possibility
[12] The original ‘you shall not steal’ formula implies an unacceptable and ahistorical reverence for property rights, which are of course social and political constructs reflecting underlying power relations
[13] Impressive early commitment to transparency and accountability
[14] Actually, we do want people to covet the ox and donkey at least; they are not selling very well this year in Oxfam Unwrapped; so can we say: “nor their ox, nor their donkey, even though these are real bargains this year”?
[15] An extraordinary oversight in the original – without proper targets + monitoring and evaluation systems, how is this edict going to achieve results? Moses very unlikely to get project funding for the roll-out at this rate.
Original document here. This is of course a living document, so feel free to suggest further improvements.
[h/t the Research Team and a great Christmas dinner at Yeti’s]

Categories: NGOs
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One Response to “Christmas special: what happens when an NGO edits the Ten Commandments?”
  1. Ha!
    On the Christmas-and-aid theme, did you see this?
    “Speaking at the launch of the single, whose proceeds will go towards teaching discipline, literacy and contraception at British schools, composer and singer Boomtown Gundane said that for years he had been irked by Geldof’s assumption that hungry Africans were also stupid. ‘Or was he just saying that Africans were stupid? Of course we knew it was Christmas.’ “