Sunday, November 10, 2013

Helping the poor or helping ourselves?

From time-to-time I work with a Christian group from a church in Long Beach whose mission is to feed the poor. They do so with no agenda. They simply feed the poor. They do it in another church's multi-purpose room, but that church sits in the heart of darkness and despair and is dedicated to helping the poor too. Neither party has an agenda. They are called to serve and for decades they have put together good meals and care packages, all without a single religious handout or prayer session.

I stood in a circle with these people while they prayed before letting people in the door to eat. Two other atheists stood with me. The Christians simply asked that the people they were about to serve be shown that somebody cared about them. They assumed that showing people that they are loved through their actions is the heart of Christianity. I love these Christians. I'll do anything for them.

It's easy for atheists to think of Christians as the enemy. They are not. I judged them by their actions. Some Christians are simply good people who try to help. Some Christians have an agenda that gets in the way of helping. I don't think of them as bad, but the word misguided comes to mind.

I was prompted to write this morning by a post I read on Patheos: Kansas City Atheist Coalition Turned away from feeding the poor. Atheist volunteers were turned away after years of volunteer work because the Christians running the mission have an agenda that is at odds with feeding the poor. They want to proselytize along with feeding the poor, therefor atheists cannot help. In my book they are misguided. They are adopting an agenda that can result in a less effective event. They do this to win souls, of course this assumes that the people they are feeding are not already Christians, which I think is the height of arrogance.

On my last visit to Long Beach to feed the homeless, I stood near the door talking to a small group of men who had just enjoyed a meal. One of them said to me, "I prayed for help last night. I prayed for somebody to listen to me. I prayed for somebody to see me. Thanks man." He gave me a hug before walking back out on to the streets. We are all capable of showing other people love without an agenda.