They Need Volunteers… but Atheists Need Not Apply July 31, 2010

They Need Volunteers… but Atheists Need Not Apply

In Christchurch, New Zealand, the 0800 Hungry food bank delivers parcels to people who need it. That’s all well and good.

But lately, they’ve been having problems with delivery:

[Food bank manager Kerry Bensemann] said many of the 120 orders could not be delivered on Friday last week, and he had the same problem on Thursday.

Well, that sucks.

I’m sure there are atheists in the area who could help, right?

It won’t matter. They don’t want your help, anyway.

Bensemann, a former truck driver, said that while the warehouse had adequate staff, the charity’s policy was that parcels could be delivered only by members of a church.

He said many church groups were unwilling to help when asked if they could deliver food in their area. One group had told him it was too busy.

He said he had turned down help from non-religious people.

“I know it sounds really, really stupid, but you’ve got to understand how we’re set up.”

He said the aim was to increase church involvement, and having the food delivered by non-religious volunteers would defeat the purpose.

Right… Why have atheists help out the less fortunate when your church needs more members? What’s the purpose of the food bank — to feed the hungry or to function as a church recruitment drive?

Bensemann’s right. That sounds really, really stupid.

Other food banks said they were thankful for any volunteers. City Missioner Michael Gorman said the organisation had its roots in the Anglican Church, but it welcomed any volunteers.

Good for them.

Helping other people isn’t a Christian-only value. Atheists do it, too.

Even if your mission is a worthy one, it’s silly to punish those who need your help because the potential volunteers don’t pass your religious litmus test.

I sent an email to Bensemann letting him know I would be happy to find atheist volunteers for his food bank if he changed his mind. Here’s hoping he takes me up on that offer.

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  • Dan W

    If they really wanted to help people so much, they should be willing to accept all volunteers, not just the religious people who offer to help with their food bank. But I guess if they allowed non-religious volunteers people would realize that *gasp* atheists are kind human beings who occasionally help people! They can’t have people thinking that.

  • J Cole

    I usually try to say something witty and funny, but I got nothin. This just disgusts me to the core.

  • This guy admits that this decision is “really, really stupid” and then goes ahead and does it anyway. Pretty much sums up religious belief in a nutshell doesn’t it?

  • Courtney

    They’re not really a food bank. They will give you food but I guess only after you listen to a spiritual message. I hate such organizations.

  • godfree

    This would be funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic.

  • Hugh Kramer

    I did volunteer work at a food bank run by an evangelical church. I never told them I was an atheist. I just deflected their questions about my faith. I didn’t exactly lie; I just told them my family was Jewish and let them assume that I was too. After a year of trying to convert me to Christianity, they gave it up as a bad job and told me I couldn’t do volunteer work with them any more. They said that since I wasn’t a member of their church like all the other volunteers, I was a “disruptive influence.”

  • bunnyslipperz

    Of course, because its a blessing from ‘God’, if it came from an un-godly source it wouldn’t really be a blessing and the church couldn’t take credit for it. I mean, give ‘God’ the praise.

    Geez if they were really only interested in helping people it shouldn’t matter where the volunteers come from.

  • mrzonules

    I would love to know of the 120 homes that they couldn’t give help to, and send them a little flyer explaining that the church refuses to help because they have an agenda. You would think the backlash on that would be pretty severe if the people found out why their family could not be helped. Dollars to doughnuts that the church would rescind their statements after such backlash, too.

  • Deiloh

    Sorry Mr./Ms. Starving So-n-so, just not enough loving Christians for us to help you. Those of us who are not too busy on the recruiting project will pray for you… that is if you don’t die before Sunday.

  • Jenda

    What ever happened to doing things out of the goodness of one’s heart?

    If an individual receiving food regularly tells them that they have no interest in joining the Church, do they stop delivering? How many are attending the Church simply so they can eat regularly?

    Groups with these rules to be or become Christian appear to prefer coercion and bribery to kindness.

  • Angel

    I do quite a bit of work for charity organizations, and it is often assumed by organizers that I have some sort of religious affiliation rather than hippie parents (and technically, wouldn’t my name be pretty blasphemous?), so I’m often asked to organize the church-folk.

    I can’t even begin to express how often this happens, and how awkward it is when I have to clarify that I have no idea what they are talking about. Needless to say, I’m often not asked back.

  • Pustulio

    He’s unusually up front about admitting that actually helping the less fortunate is merely a means to an end, and not an end unto itself.

  • Mike

    Would it offend the food bank if the atheist volunteers picked up the hungry and delivered them to the bank instead of the food to the hungry? That way the pious could interact with the people (who just want to be left alone while they eat their meal) while the volunteers assist in getting the hungry fed.

  • Lilly

    Wow, I guess I never realized how decent our local soup kitchen is, if that’s the predominant opinion. I’ve been volunteering there for a couple years now and nobody ever once asked or seemed to care. We make excellent food there, too (I’ll stop bragging on them now.)

    I hope one of the less insane determined charities puts those families on their list too, just to make sure they actually get something.

  • Richard Wade

    So… maybe somebody could remind me of the chapter and verse where Jesus said people should help the poor and feed the starving only if that brings them to their particular temple and fills their coffers? I kinda got the impression that Jesus wasn’t into promotional gift advertising, just helping folks who were hungry. My bad, I guess.

    From the linked article:

    He said the aim was to increase church involvement, and having the food delivered by non-religious volunteers would defeat the purpose.

    “It’s like sending someone who plays ping-pong out to play for the All Blacks.”

    (the All Blacks is a New Zealand rugby team.)

    No, Bensemann, it’s like sending someone who has love and caring for people without any requirement or strings attached, just like a long-ago Jewish guy whom you’ve completely forgotten about told you to do.

    I wonder if the bona fide church members who are supposed to deliver the food hold it just out of reach of the hungry folks while they taunt them, school bully style, with proselytizing. “Hungry? Nyah nyah nyaaahh! Gotta come to my church first. Nyah nyah nyaaaahh!”

    Not very Jesus-like, Bensemann. Oh, but I forgot, you’re a Christian. That’s different. My bad, I guess.

  • Anjie

    The whole idea behind a food bank is to help people. If other church groups are to busy to help those who are truly in need that’s sad.
    It is not easy for us to waltz into a church and try to hide who we are to help people nor should we have to. The people being helped probably could care less and are grateful to have food!

    Not like we wear Godless and Good shirts while working with a church.
    Doesn’t it say anything that despite our religious difference we set that aside for people who need us? True kindness is in your heart not your god.

  • Money is always better spend on secular charities for this very reason: religious charities have the ulterior motive of furthering their religion/preaching etc.

    Many far better, far more effective secular charities:
    * red cross
    * oxfam
    * Fred Hollows
    * gates foundation
    etc etc

    Don’t waste your money on bibles, people need help and action not books telling them they’re sinners and thus deserving of their position.

  • Luther

    I wonder how long they feed non-christians if they don’t convert?

  • Ben

    I can’t help but resent people who volunteer because Jesus says to help the poor and feed the starving. They seem to be saying that they WOULDN’T “feed the hungry” unless there was someone telling them to do so. Kind of takes away from the meaning of the word “charity” doesn’t it? In fact, I would have to say that for any person who does anything their faith tells them to do. They make me think they wouldn’t do an act of kindness otherwise which makes me think they’re not normal human beings.

  • blueridgelady

    It is clear that the church members’ motives are clearly not to do the right thing but to force their beliefs onto the hungry while dangling food over their heads.
    This is completely immoral and unChristian if I have ever seen it. How appalling.

  • ravabwlli

    typical christianity. In my (small) country, we have one bail hostel, run by the salvation army. We’ve had cases where people have been sent to prison ahead of their trial because they refused to take part in christian worship at this bail hostel.

    The government fund the hostel. This is the Isle of Man.

    Utter bastard christian attitude.

  • This is indeed a disturbing trend. There have been too many independent soup kitchens and food banks in the U.S. alone getting into the prosetylization practice lately since the Salvation Army’s financial woes began in the mid 90’s.

    I know those guys are run by the Anglican church, but at least they keep to the concept of taking volunteers from anywhere possible and see such as a blessing. Such a shame they had to shut down many of their rehab centers and homeless shelters only to be replaced by more predatory based churches with much lower rates of success.

    Many of these smaller independent faith based rehab centers, kitchens, and food work a little differently than old Sally did.

    The Rehabs for example require less in donations because they are in the practice of stealing welfare checks to fund operations, it’s not uncommon for a church based Drug and alcohol treatment program to require the addict to apply for benefits and turn them over to the churches accountants to cover the operating costs, and use these people as a compulsory source for free labor.

    Salvation Army still does such a program through genuine donations and sales at their thrift stores with the help of volunteers from their programs, volunteers walking in off the street and paid employees–they did not discriminate based on religious affiliation and self regulated with respect for the local laws.

    These modern independents on the other hand are disturbingly corrupt in such subtle ways, they are exclusionary, they get their funding from questionable sources, and skirt the law wherever they think they can get away with it in order to justify their methods.

  • Shannon

    That’s really sad. It’s definitely giving the opposite impression he was hoping for. I hope it’s getting lots of press!

  • Ray

    On their website they are asking for donations. Would they reject money from atheists? Let’s hope they are consistent.

  • anthrosciguy

    I think this is an example of why much Christian charity should be discounted; a large part of its goal is not really charity at all, but advertisement and recruitment.

  • muggle

    Ttownbeast, where have you been? The Salvation Army lost a lot of its popularity for doing just that:

    Even before that, I always stayed the hell away from the Salvation Army (I will not shop their store no matter how much money I’d be saving) due to their evangelizing.

    The guy blatantly admits that they’re only feeding the hungry to recruit for the damned church. Real caring of them, ain’t it? It’s too bad that there’s no way to find out who’s going hungry because of it so Atheist and others (I’m sure they don’t take Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or even other Christian denominations either from what they’re saying) can pick up the slack and get food to these hungry people.

  • mdizzie

    I wonder if the people they help must belong to a church to receive these food stuffs? Atheist? Sorry, you can starve to death.

  • @muggle~Evangelism was always part of their mission but primariliy through charitable acts there are different kinds of evangelism not just the “join us or else” variety–they have always had that recruitment program which is there for the purposes of recruiting the administrators (known as officers) but their hiring policies have always been quite lenient you still don’t have to even be christian to be a truck driver, a service clerk, a bell ringer, a store manager, etc there are still opportunities for advancement you just cannot become an officer unless you actually are of their flavor of Christianity because that is strictly the church side of the operation and it is a title of ordainment the same as any other church–would you bitch if you were working at a Catholic church doing maintenance work as a devout Atheist and start demanding that they make you a priest?

    The church is secondary to the purpose of charity in general, and at least they were offering goods and services to fund their operations rather than stealing welfare checks like the new crop of faith based shelters, rehabs and food banks do.

    I don’t know how exclusionary Sally is these days I do remember my pop worked for them for a number of years and he was a very vocal Agnostic (he didn’t know or care either way), I’ve volunteered my time with them off and on since I was 12 and never was forced to sit through a sermon or forced to participate in a prayer or any such thing-such activities were considered voluntary because they still helped no matter what you believed in or not. There was no preaching at the yearly company pic nics for the employees families some got into groups and prayed a little but not required. Otherwise most of the day was spent like any other company pic nic was.

    I am not too crazy about your link to the OMB article it lacks a very important thing called references. Citation of sources is s very important matter to confirm data when writing an article, at most it is nothing more than the writers opinion based on some limited data.

    I am only telling you what I have seen with my own eyes though you can dismiss and generalize all you like as is your right.

  • Crux Australis

    At this precise moment, I am ashamed to be a Kiwi. But proud not to live in Christchurch. Christchurch; does that name sound ironic, or is it just me?

  • I’m a born-again Christian in the US Pacific Northwest. I am disgusted by Bensemann’s behavior. It IS NOT Christian. Christ would have been horrified by this man’s behavior, and would harshly reprimand him as he did the Pharisees for their similar behavior.

    I have many Athiest friends, and was raised as Athiest myself, holding on to my convictions until I was 30 years old. But when I took on faith, I DID NOT TAKE ON STUPIDITY or UNKINDNESS AND JUDGEMENT. I am specifically NOT qualified to judge ANYONE of other faith than mine, and if I have TRUE interest in serving the poor, I welcome assistance from people of ANY faith or non-faith.

    What Bensemann is doing is clearly NOT ministry to anyone but “the choir.” It’s certainly NOT ministry to the poor and needy.

  • In San Diego, the County Sheriff Search and Rescue web page has a specific statement about God at the bottom of the page. I don’t know if they would want to exclude secular Americans but from their website it sure seems that way. I was thinking of organizing a volunteer drive for the other medical students in my class so we could get out there and help but since many of us (maybe the majority) are nontheists, I’m not sure they would be interested in our help. The SD County SAR site, in case you want to see a Separation problem for yourself:

  • JT

    “He said the aim was to increase church involvement, and having the food delivered by non-religious volunteers would defeat the purpose.”

    This really should have been bolded. It’s not often you catch them openly admitting that their goal is NOT to help the poor, but to increase church attendance.

    I would hope that the aim of a food drive would be to feed people. Looks like I was mistaken.

  • keddaw

    I know it sounds really, really stupid, but …

    What is wrong with the human race? Why doesn’t the uttering of this phrase cause alarm bells? When people say this they should stop and seriously consider what they were about to say.

  • The area I live in is served by an “Interfaith Food Bank” to which nearly all the churches ’round here belong. The local Salvation Army and one of the larger churches donates storage space, and all the churches and the S.A. donate volunteer help, as well as monetary and in-kind donations. Overall it’s a pretty efficient operation, with very little in the way of ongoing expenses.

    For a while, I helped them out by picking up day-old bakery items from a couple of supermarkets and delivering them to the food bank, every morning they were open, which was 3 or 4 days a week depending on the need. (I was between full-time jobs at the time and had a little spare time in the mornings.) When I offered my help, no one asked me what church I belonged to, they just asked if I had a car, I said yes, and they gave me that assignment. That was it. And they were happy to have my help.

    It wasn’t until about 3 months went by that anyone involved realized I was a godless agnostic heathen. But once that was revealed, honestly, no one cared at all. Not one person so much as blinked at my contribution.

    I continued that for another 2-3 months or so until I had a full-time job again and could no longer drive for them in the mornings. I have, since then, helped out on occasion, such as the weekend before Thanksgiving when they’re giving out holiday meals and they need a lot of hands to help assemble them. Usually I also have “turkey duty” (i.e. I’m the one who retrieves the turkeys from the freezer as folks arrive, and lugs them out to their cars) which I find quite fun — even if my hands are numb and cold by the end of the day.

    At any rate, at no time did anyone in the operation say anything about my agnosticism. I never heard any complaints or comments, and — to my knowledge — there haven’t been any comments behind my back. When they need an extra hand, they call, and if I can help, I do. That’s all there is to it.

    If the folks at my local Interfaith Food Bank can handle the contributions of this godless agnostic heathen, then I can’t see any rational reason why any other food bank can’t also accept the help of any other non-believer. If there’s work to be done, and willing hands to do it, it’s illogical to turn it away.

  • Do we need more proof that christianity isn’t about helping people but about increasing christianity and there fore power and control?

    Yes, it does sound absurd but more absurd than the entire concept of a religion founded upon lies and hate?

  • Billontherock

    Legend has it that the “All Blacks” got their name when they arrived at a match in England with some Maori on the team a stodgy old Brit exclaimed “bloody hell, they”re all blacks”.
    Being a proper team, the NZ’s took it and ran with it, rugby you know.

    This spirit of acceptance has apparently died, pity. Sad, but consider: The U.S. used to have a constitution.

  • anti_supernaturalist

    no excuse for being xian

    Ancient xian texts emerged from a marginalized urban sub-cultlure of anti-intellectuals consumed by hatred of upper class Romans.

    Today, xianity’s totally atavistic documents bear no relationship to reality — physical reality, psychological reality, or cultural reality.


  • Amanda

    I am absolutely shocked. I’ve been involved in/used several faith-based charity services, and religion and church involvement was never an issue. I even asked specifically if it was a problem if I wasn’t a member of the church. I was told no. Of course, it was a hippie mountain town.

    As far as the Salvation Army, I’ve had a relative stay in one of their shelters before and I’ve never heard if religion was considered. All he had to do was help clean up. Not that he was in his right mind to understand any religious witnessing.

  • Mike Wolfe

    In MY New Zealand?! What the hell?

  • Mike Wolfe

    As someone who lives not far awayfrom Christchurch, I’m tempted to go there and talk to these people in person but I don’t have time. I sent and email.

  • Charlie

    I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. I was really hoping we would have moved past this sort of thing by now.

  • On a related note, here’s a really good atheist store I found. Well, primarily atheist and science stuff…

    Aristotle’s Muse

    Maybe wearing an atheist T-shirt won’t change the world, but then again, maybe it could.

  • Churches are in it for themselves.

  • Nothing prevents atheists from starting their own food pantries and doing “good works.” I don’t know how it works in NZ but in the USA most food pantries are about 90% funded by government grants and the original intention (after WWII) was to keep farmers afloat. The churches (usually) volunteer do the management, buying and distribution. There are rules about evangelizing because it’s a Faustian arrangement. It certainly isn’t what God instructed us to do. It seems a small request that the volunteers at least be of the faith doing the distribution. Even so, I’ve seen Muslim students volunteering at ours (the schools all have graduation requirements for “volunteerism” which sort of defeats the concept).

  • Dani

    Uhm well I’m sorry to say that this message has been severely misunderstood and misinterpreted… Not being a member of a church doesn’t equal being an atheist. I’ve been going to tons of different churches since becoming Christian and never once have I been an actual member. That’s because usually churches will require that you be baptized or go through some sort of process before you are an “official” member.
    What the manager of this project was trying to do was get the people who frequent a church who are not members to officially join. Doesn’t mean it’s right, but he certainly wasn’t excluding people because of their beliefs.

    This is one of the biggest problems I have with atheists. I know in this case it was a misunderstanding, but too often they will jump to conclusions or make mindless accusations without listening to the other side of things.

    With that said, I hope I didn’t offend anyone here, and if I did, I’m sorry because I really just felt like this needed to be known. Thanks :]

  • Richard Wade

    No offense taken, but is your comment just your interpretation of the news story that we have all read, or do you actually have specific inside information about Bensemann’s intentions, and which priority is on top for him, increasing membership or feeding people?

    I wouldn’t want to be unfairly jumping to conclusions about him, but one more opinion from afar is of no help in getting at the truth. So is this actual knowledge of yours?

    The bottom line from the story seems to be that people were left hungry when there was help available. One way or another, I hope that Christians and atheists in the Christchurch area and around the world can work together to get the job done.

    Edit: Reading your comment again, I think you were saying that you think that Bensemann was not specifically excluding atheists as unsuitable for delivering the food; he was just getting his two priorities, promoting membership and feeding the hungry, in an order that seems upside down to most folks. I think that you could be right.

    To be clear, I’m not offended by the possibility of him excluding atheists per se, I’m offended by his upside down priorities. We must help people by whatever means presents itself.

  • Mike Mellor

    Don’t feel bad about it. Bensemann probably wouldn’t take gays or blacks either. Never mind Jews Muslims Buddhists Hindus (don’t know why I’m capitalising those names, years of brainwashing I guess) body piercing tattoos the list goes on–

  • Stephen Fraser

    This just means Christians can be as idiotic as anyone else…

  • Kelly Martin

    I volunteer at two food pantries and I think they are not looking for atheists because of the theft problems at food pantries by volunteers. The church has always been responsible for taking care of the poor but lately it is not always possible to find Christians to do it. We have had theft problems from volunteers that asked to become volunteers for reasons other than charity. Instead of going to get food once a month they can now go more often to volunteer and take food home with them. I have seen it and it isn’t just for them. They tell their friends to come in on the days they are volunteering and hook their friends up with hundreds of dollars worth of free meat and food.

    This comes out of the donations that hardworking people and corporations donate to help the poor. It isn’t meant to be abused by a few bad apples.

    Now maybe atheists have morals but I have not met one that wasn’t looking for a handout.

    For me I volunteer out of true charity. True charity is something given freely of the heart with no thoughts of recompense or recognition. The minute I expect to get paid or free food etc. It is not charity.

    If you have never volunteered in a pantry you may not realize how hard it is. You don’t stop for your 2 hour shift until the last person is served.

    Food pantries are run by volunteers interested in doing charity work.

  • BD

    @Kelley: I’m atheist, and I’m not looking for a handout… you might want to check your statistical sample size…

    BTW, did you personally ask the thieves if they were atheist or Xtian? You just assumed that if they were morally deformed enough to steal from a food pantry they were not only not churchpeople or Xtian but were atheist? Hhmmmmm…

  • Alex

    What a surprise.
    The same people who drone on about how atheists have “no morality” prove once again how little the care about actual charity and goodwill. And WE’RE the immoral ones.

  • A disciple of Christ.

    I don’t agree with that church, on turning away volunteers.

    But why don’t you all start your own food banks, instead of spending your time complaining about how others run theirs? No matter how wrong their methods may be.

    Complaining feeds no one.

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