Tag Archives: Christian charity

Why Christian Charities Reject Atheist Participation

You may have read some recent articles and commentary about what happens when atheists attempt to volunteer for Christian charities or donate money to them. Christian charities are rejecting both the service and the money atheists are prepared to give.  Atheists find this behavior quite weird, and those who pass for journalists in contemporary culture appear to find it equally dismaying. They cannot imagine that it makes any sense to reject money from any source if the intent is to do good. They cannot imagine why an atheist who counsels a pregnant teen not to abort her baby out of respect for life isn’t doing the same thing a Christian is doing in that setting.

These same people are completely baffled when Christian photographers refuse to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony, or when Christian innkeepers refuse to rent a room in a bed and breakfast to a same-sex couple. 

They are baffled, because they do not understand that for Christians, there is no such thing as some aspect of life and work that is not sacred. There is no such thing as a secular element in the life of a Christian. It is a failure to understand this truth that motivates the federal government to claim in court that when someone enters into commerce, he loses all rights to claim a conscience exemption from a law that conflicts with Christian teaching. 

Atheists who want to give money to a Christian charity almost certainly would protest if they thought their money was being used for “proselytizing.” The atheists who speak up in public all express at least mild distress at Christians who cannot keep their religion to themselves. Those who want to participate in Christian charity seem not to recognize that Christians regard every moment as a moment subject to the call of Christ to share the good news. The reason that neither the atheist nor his money is welcome to participate in what Christians regard as service to Christ is that the atheist is not serving Christ and has no good news to share.

An increasingly secular culture in the US has lured even a significant number of Christians into the belief that it doesn’t matter who hands out soup at a soup kitchen or who folds blankets at a homeless shelter. The secular culture sees serving meals and tidying space as secular endeavors. The culture asks, “Who cares?” about the credentials of service not related to “proselytizing.” The culture simultaneously scorns the very act of “proselytizing” associated with helping people in need. Secular thinking is able to classify some acts as “religious” or “spiritual” and some as “secular.” Christians cannot do that.

Christians learn from the example of Christ that life is like a seamless garment. Everything is integrated. In fact, biblical teaching says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 ESV) but a deeper translation of the Greek says, “You will be integrated,” or perhaps, “You will be fulfilled.” The usual translation of the statement sounds like a command, but it might better be viewed as a goal, because the verb is in the future tense. This statement of Jesus in his paramount sermon sets a high goal for Christians – don’t even think about separating the sacred from the secular. You are sacred beings, and you cannot live schizophrenic lives with one toe in the church and one in the marketplace. Be like God – one fulfilled and perfectly integrated being.

When we understand what Christ taught, we understand why an atheist cannot do Christian service. A Christian serves soup as part of the good news that God loves the hungry person and provides for him. An atheist serves soup as a good deed that “gives back” to the culture. A Christian folds blankets at the homeless shelter as part of the good news that God loves the homeless and cares for them. An atheist folds blankets as an expression of obligation to the community in order to “give something back.” The two objectives are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, when the recipient of the charity offered by a Christian asks, “Why are you doing this?” a Christian will respond, “Because God loves you and me, and because Christ died for both of us.” An atheist might respond, “I just think everyone should give back.” That is not the good news of Christ. 

As for atheist money, the same standard applies. If an atheist gives money without strings, it might feel good to accept it and use it any way the charity wished. However, there is no guarantee that the atheist or the government or any other non-Christian source of funds will always be silent about the use of the money. The government already asserts guidelines for use of government money in faith-based operations. How can a charity that believes its reason for existence is the good news of Christ operate with integrity and abide by rules that forbid the use of the money in “proselytizing?” To non-Christians, every mention of Christ is “proselytizing” and to tell the truth, to Christians, every mention of Christ is part of telling the good news, so there is no disagreement on that point. Where atheist donors and Christians part company is at the point where atheists or government or anyone else insists that the charity separate secular services from sacred teaching. 

A Christian must be fully integrated, just as God is fully integrated. A Christian is not sometimes sacred and sometimes secular. Christian charities are meant to be full expressions of Christ’s love and grace. They are intended to tell the good news of Christ to everyone at all times. That is why atheists must be rejected whether they try to volunteer or donate money. Christian charities must reject their attempts to participate, but it is to be hoped that the charities find loving ways to share the good news with rejected volunteers and donors as well. A new Christian is as welcome in the service of Christ as one who has served for fifty years.

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A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollBrothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
2 Thessalonians 3:13

Read the text that precedes this verse:

When we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

(2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

  • These verses have been guidelines in many Christian communities. What is the harm in being idle?
  • In contemporary culture, there are many idle people. They have no jobs, and they receive help from government and charities. What is the harm in this situation? Shouldn’t we help poor, hungry people?
  • What is the difference between being busy and being useful? Is being busy the same thing as doing what is right?
  • We usually rear children to understand that adults earn money to pay for the costs of living – food, clothing and shelter – and to pay for whatever other things they might want. As long as someone has the money needed for paying the bills and a little for the wants, what difference does it make how the money is acquired? Read the text above and ask how it may apply in society in general.
  • The first thought that comes to most people who read verse 13 is that “what is right” is “good deeds.” What other things might be included in the meaning of “what is right” when it is considered in context?

Read the text that follows verse 13:

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.  (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)

  • What was Paul’s opinion of someone who did not exert himself (or herself) to do what was right and good? When Christians contemplate a culture where millions have no jobs and depend on government for food, clothing and shelter, what does this text offer to guide them? Where else do you find guidance on this subject?
  • How does the passage as a whole shape your understanding of the key verse, verse 13? How is it related to other texts that mandate or guide charitable kindness to people with problems of various kinds?

Government is not God

In ancient Israel, citizens were persecuted for failing to honor Baal, the patron god of the government. It was considered tantamount to treason, because the government relied on Baal for success. One of the classic confrontations between government/god and heavenly God took place on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire to burn their sacrifices to Baal. The fact that Elijah succeeded after they had failed did not change the government position in the matter. The government, and all its followers, continued to worship Baal and reject the God of all the earth. Serving God became a sure way to be chased into the wilderness where a person would likely starve or die of dehydration even if the government were unsuccessful in its pursuit.

 In the first century Roman empire, emperors began to claim status as deities, and that claim led to an expectation that citizens would worship the emperor. He claimed the authority and power to take care of citizens, and he expected thankful, respectful worship. Although merely an expectation or a politically correct act at first, it became a mandate and the excuse for persecution of those who did not worship the man claiming godhood. It was tantamount to treason to act as if the emperor were not a god.

 In twenty-first century USA, our government is increasingly taking on the role and expecting the worship of a god. It wants to deliver commandments, receive offerings and dole out blessings. Moreover, it wants worship, in the form of no criticism. So far, the expectation of compliance with government thinking has not progressed to the accusation of treason for those who disagree, but disagreeable speech is not well received. Historically, governments that began by suggesting that arguments against government are thoughtless progressed to actually censoring or forbidding free speech.

 There are Christian leaders, surprisingly, who seem to believe that government can, even should, be God’s agent to bring his kingdom to pass. They applaud a government role in social services for provision of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and transportation. They believe that when the government guarantees to provide for all human needs, it is creating the kingdom of heaven on earth. They seem to believe that when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” that we are praying for the government to bring that kingdom to pass.

 The author of Revelation warns us in twenty-two riveting chapters of the futility of believing that government can replace God. John of Patmos was granted a vision that transported him into heaven where he could look back at the earth and the time/space continuum, and there he could see what becomes of a world in which people worship government instead of God. This world is full of ever-increasing chaos and destruction, all overseen by a bloated, besotted, whorish government that wants and needs the worship of the people who are being destroyed by the boulders that government oppression drags down upon them. The book of Revelation is completely relevant to our world today, not as a timeline for the end of the age, but as a real vision of what is happening right now.

 The big lesson of Revelation is that God does not call upon government to do his work on earth. He calls on his faithful followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and share his love with everyone. God rightly expects that his followers will worship him, and those who love him rejoice in the opportunity to do so. Their worship and testimony pushes back the evil that runs rampant over lives and property when government replaces God in people’s hearts.

 The sad part of it is that some Christians seem willing to pay exorbitant taxes to government under the impression that all that money will bring the kingdom of God to pass. They forget that money we give to government seldom comes back to bless anyone. All that money builds bureaucracies and builds buildings to house bureaucracies and buys computers and papers to process the rules and regulations of bureaucracies. Very little of it ever gets into the hand of poor, starving, homeless people. Those who do receive any benefit have been so thoroughly demeaned by the process that they can never do anything more than survive to apply for more aid.

 Contrast this outcome with the results of the World Hunger Project of Lutheran World Relief. People who participate in this project are the beneficiaries of giving motivated not by tax laws but by the love of God and people. Of every dollar that LWR puts into this project, 92 cents is placed in the hands of the people the project helps. That money funds deliveries of animals and plants to farmers along with water projects and training in agriculture skills that increase productivity of both plant and animal culture. Families are not simply fed three times a day; they receive livestock and training that set them on a path to self-sufficiency. The family does not become dependent on the program. Rather, the program leads them to become independent of the program. They take away skills and encouragement to help others as they themselves have been helped.

 For that matter, contrast government charity with the results achieved by the Heifer Project, a completely secular and private project that also provides livestock and training for hungry people. The people helped by Heifer Project also are led to independence and self-sufficiency, unlike the sad dependents of government charity in housing projects across the country.

 The people who are “helped” by government become defeated and dependent. The people who receive help from projects like the World Hunger Project retain their personal dignity and become independent, self-sufficient, and prosperous. It is not government that brings the kingdom of God to earth. It is God’s people following the Holy Spirit in love and service to others.

 Government has an important role on earth, a role ordained by God. It provides security and good order to allow free people to thrive and to serve God in safety. Government clears the playing field for free commerce, providing opportunity, not benefits. Government has no God-given right to supersede the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. When we try to make government an agent of charity we only beggar both the taxpayer and the recipient. As Christians, we all need to work very hard to reverse the trend of trying to replace God with government by means of social programs. We should not put our faith in government. We must  put our faith in God and serve him obediently and faithfully, doing the work he calls us to do, “love your neighbor as yourself.”