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Another Atheist Group Barred From Helping Homeless

A soup kitchen in Spartanburg, South Carolina got a lot of attention a few weeks ago when they refused to allow a local atheist group to volunteer to feed the homeless. Now the Kansas City Atheist Coalition is facing identical treatment. After spending the last few Thanksgivings helping deliver meals to the needy, the mission they did this for have decided they won’t be allowed to do so this year.

For the past two years, the Kansas City Atheist Coalition has volunteered with the Kansas City Rescue Mission to deliver meals to those in need on Thanksgiving, and then later collected gift donations for an adopted family at a December holiday party…

The bad news is that we aren’t likely to have a volunteer event. The reason is unfortunate: Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided to use the meals they deliver as a chance to proselytize to its recipients by inserting religious literature into the meals. They informed us that we “would not be a good fit” (emphasis theirs) for volunteering with them, and declined to respond to any further inquiries.

Many years ago I volunteered to cook on Thanksgiving at a homeless mission run by a deeply committed and wonderful priest. When we were finished cooking and were ready to go out and serve everyone, he asked the kitchen staff to pause for a prayer and he asked me to give it. I just politely said that wouldn’t be appropriate as I don’t believe in God and he prayed instead. Afterward he pulled me aside and asked me why, as an atheist, I had volunteered to help at a Catholic mission. I explained that I think we all have a responsibility to help others when we can and that I don’t really care why others are motivated to do the same. He smiled and told me that he was grateful for my help and I’m welcome any time.

Last year I spent the day before Thanksgiving cooking a big meal for a shelter in Lansing with my dear friend Julie Powers in the kitchen of an Episcopal church. When we discovered that the group that was supplying the food for us to cook had bought pre-packaged TV dinners with turkey and dressing, we decided that just wasn’t good enough. We went and bought fresh turkeys and all the sides and made them from scratch and donated the TV dinners to the shelter so they could use them later. It just didn’t seem right to not make the effort to make them a really good meal for Thanksgiving. Not in a million years would it occur to Julie or to that church’s priest, our friend Sarah, to think it was inappropriate for an atheist to help (these are the same two friends who were responsible for getting me the opportunity to meet and speak with Bishop Tutu at that same church a few years ago). So it’s good to remember that not all Christians think or behave this way.

In a couple weeks I’m going to be speaking at an interfaith Thanksgiving service in Grand Rapids, representing CFI Michigan. I know a lot of atheists don’t like the idea of participating in interfaith events but I am not one of them. No, atheism is not a faith or a religion. But so what? It’s an opportunity to build bridges with people of goodwill and I intend to use that opportunity to suggest that we go beyond merely getting together once a year to talk about interfaith cooperation. I’d like to see our Secular Service Committee join forces with local churches, synagogues and mosques to help make things better for people in need.

I doubt those whose lives are improved will give a damn whether the help came from a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim or an atheist. I don’t think we should care either. I only wish Christian organizations like the one that is keeping the KCAC from doing a good deed thought the same way.

Comments

  1. says

    After spending the last few Thanksgivings helping deliver meals to the needy, the mission they did this for have decided they won’t be allowed to do so this year.”

    Now, look, the last thing these homeless people need is to be served by people who don’t believe in anything. That’s just common sense.
    Besides, since they can’t eat until the head of the table says grace, if you’re there they’ll never get to eat.
     

    The reason is unfortunate: Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided to use the meals they deliver as a chance to proselytize to its recipients by inserting religious literature into the meals.

    Bible soup?

  2. moarscienceplz says

    There has been some discussion about this on the KCRM Facebook page. Here’s one piquant comment:

    I say that if you aren’t Christian then you don’t need our help.
    Jesus helped people in order to convert them and if they aren’t willing to convert then they can just starve!
    What’s more is that Jesus didn’t go around with a bunch of people who didn’t believe in him.
    If you are doing charitable work of course you don’t let people who aren’t christian help you out…even if you could use that help.
    Good deeds are done solely because of Jesus and if you don’t have Jesus then you have no business doing good things for people.

    Peter von Dunkelschwanz

    Jesus is Love, right?

  3. Alverant says

    “I know a lot of atheists don’t like the idea of participating in interfaith events but I am not one of them.”
    Part of the reason is that we’re often not considered equals at those events, that’s assuming we’re allowed to participate at all. I have heard of interfaith groups that restrict themselves. Sometimes it’s just for christian faiths or Abrahamic faiths or “ethical” faiths. Atheists and pagans/wiccans often are intentionally kept out.

    I read this story on another site and this guy was insisting that the mission was mostly on evangelizing and not feeding the poor so Atheists wouldn’t fit in. If that’s the case, then the charity should be examined by experts to see if it’s classification should be changed including whether or not to give it government support.

  4. Pteryxx says

    I just read an NPR transcript (thanks to a kick-ass Cracked article on homelessness) that took calls from people who have used shelters, and this was relevant:

    NPR link

    SHAPIRO: We’re going to go to another caller now. This is Michael(ph). Hi Michael.

    MICHAEL: Hello, thanks for having me on.

    SHAPIRO: Sure, go ahead.

    MICHAEL: I was homeless for five years. And my perspective on shelters was that I was never going to give up my right to speak and to have my own perspectives on faith, and I wasn’t going to trade that to sit (technical difficulties) to what someone else had to say about how bad my life was.

    SHAPIRO: So you felt judged in a shelter, is that what you’re saying?

    MICHAEL: Oh and not just judged but told that there was only one way for me to be a better person, and that was through whatever their perspective on faith was.

    SHAPIRO: So a lot of religious messages?

    MICHAEL: Absolutely, and, you know, considering the fact that police all want to send you to the shelter, and the judges want it, your first guest, was actually told by a judge to go to a shelter, this is in fact an establishment of religion by the state, when we hand these services over to faith communities. What we’re doing is we’re (technical difficulties) people who are very often ill-adapted to defending themselves.

    SHAPIRO: OK, Michael, thanks for the call.

  5. says

    The sad fact is that much of religious efforts to help those in need are seen as selling opportunities, not as charity. They don’t want to actually help the homeless or feed the hungry, they want to prey on disadvantaged people and tell them that if they would only accept Jesus — their brand of Jesus, of course, accept no other — then their lives would turn around and they would be miraculously lifted out of the gutter. Yes, there are exceptions, but they only serve to cast a harsh light on the rule.

  6. says

    To prove our point that atheists are selfish, evil people who are uncharitable and refuse to help serve the less fortunate, we’re going to refuse and thwart their efforts to provide charity and service to the less fortunate.

  7. says

    @moarscienceplz #2 – My response to that inhumanity is to quote the Scriptures that such Christians are so bloody fond of:

    “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

    Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

    Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?”

    And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

    Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

    Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?”

    Then he will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”

    And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

    Matthew 25:31-46, Revised Standard Version

    I don’t see any kind of religious test in this story, no requirement that only people who deserve help should get it.

  8. eric says

    My experience with religious charities has been similar to Ed’s. I would never think of avoiding interfaith organizations, in part because the ones I’ve been involved with would never think of avoiding me.

  9. Alverant says

    Ed and Eric, is Outreach part of interfaith? After 9/11 I went to an Outreach service because I wanted to find out what they had to say. The preacher blamed the attack on liberals and “kicking out” god in schools and the other scapegoats (while ignoring that the terrorists were religious conservatives). If the two are connected then that’s reason enough to avoid them.

  10. Nepenthe says

    @moarscienceplz

    If it makes you feel any better, that’s a comment by a dedicated troll. Just look up his last name in a German English dictionary.

  11. eric says

    @10 – not in my experience, but the label ‘interfaith’ can cover a lot of different activities, so YMMV. In the past I’ve been involved in some food-related charity work (but more on the shelf-stocking side than Ed’s direct involvement), educational charity (helping poor kids with homework and literacy), and temporary housing for the homeless. Not once in any of those activities was proselytization even mentioned, let alone done. Now there may have been some participants who talked God when the formal organization reps weren’t around or listening, but IMO the organizations were very good at focusing on helping the poor and did not seek to proselytize either formally as part of their mission, or informally by tacitly supporting it or allowing it when they saw it.

    I guess the short way to put it is that my experience has been with charities run by religious organizations, rather than religious charities. Same words, sligthly different connotation, eh?

    I also suspect that had my early experiences been different and more negative, I might be more cynical about working with these sorts of charities now. I completely understand how a secularist or atheist could get turned off from working with interfaith groups as a general class, if they try and get a bunch of self-righteous yahoos like the ones mentioned in the OP. I wouldn’t want to support proselytization, either.

  12. eoleen says

    I have had a similar experience. I wasn’t going to help out with the dinner – I was going to make a contribution to a drive to purchase food and clothing for the homeless. One of the people at the table knew me, and knew that I was an atheist: she had come to my house and rung the door-bell, wanting to tell me all about the “Good News Bible”. It was at an extremely inconvenient time, and I may have been just a bit brusk in telling her “not this time, please”, and when she insisted on handing me a stack of Chick Comics I rejected them by saying, in effect, that I was an atheist.

    At the table I pulled out my wallet, prepared to donate $10. I had the money in my hand and was putting my wallet away and preparing to put the money in when she spotted me. She shrieked “He’s an ATHEIST!!!!!” and grabbed the donation container – a large glass jar with money in it – and pulled it away from the table, hugging it to her as if it were her child.

    The others at the table shrank back from me as if my mere presence was going to contaminate them. One of them muttered something about MY money contaminating not only the other money they had collected and (hopefully) would collect, but also their collection efforts and even themselves.

    I didn’t tell them that the three people ahead of me were also not Christians, and that, in fact, one was a practicing Wiccan.

    Maybe I should have.

    At any rate, the four of us had a cuppa and a donut at a coffee shop around the corner and laughed our heads off. I tried to buy, but they wouldn’t let me.

  13. Acolyte of Sagan says

    1.
    Modusoperandi
    November 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    The reason is unfortunate: Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided to use the meals they deliver as a chance to proselytize to its recipients by inserting religious literature into the meals.

    Bible soup?

    With a side-plate of word salad.

  14. Ichthyic says

    Jesus helped people in order to convert them

    so… he raised Lazarus to convert him.

    tell you what. If any xian can raise my parents from the dead, I’ll let you try and convert me.

    if not, fuck the hell off.

  15. Ichthyic says

    The others at the table shrank back from me as if my mere presence was going to contaminate them.

    that’s because they fear the light of reason.

    you drew blood… you should have done a finishing move.

  16. Ichthyic says

    I think we all have a responsibility to help others when we can and that I don’t really care why others are motivated to do the same.

    the irony, Ed, is that it IS the very differences in motivation between the religious and yourself that lead to the exact thing you decry in the article.

    this is exactly WHY it matters.

  17. says

    Well, now we can see WHY the KKKristianist ReiKKKwing wants them thar “Faith Biased” charities to dole out the relief, ‘stead of the gummint. Not only do they get a chance to fire up the Bullhorns for JESUS but they also stifle the insidious bleating of those gummint officials who would tell people that they are being nurtured by a caring and committed society without they don’t gotta grovel and repent to the Skydaddy du jour.

  18. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    Maybe bible bread or sacrilege soup? How about pagan potatoes? We could have such alliterative fun with this!

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