Remember the Vandalized Church in South Carolina? Here’s What Happened with the Money You All Raised in Response to That

Nearly a month ago, Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Irmo, South Carolina got vandalized with atheist-themed graffiti:

I don’t know if atheists actually did that, but it definitely makes it harder for us to explain that we can be good without god when shit like that happens.

You all raised money for a similar incident last year, so I thought it would be a nice gesture if we could do that again and, with the help of the church’s pastor, find a good local (secular) charity to give the money to. Let’s show that although we disagree with each other theologically, atheists respect their right to worship as they wish, without having to fear vandalism or violence.

Ultimately, you all raised over $4,000 for the cause-to-be-named-later:

A couple of weeks ago, I tried getting in contact with the church’s pastor (via email, his cell, and through his church) so we could talk about where the money should go… but he never returned my messages.

It was frustrating, to say the least.

Anyway, I promised you all the money would go to a good local cause and I wanted to follow through on that.

I spoke to some friends in the area and they offered a few suggestions, but the one that stood out to me the most was Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, a nonprofit group based in Columbia, SC:

STSM provides crisis intervention, advocacy, and support services to female and male child, adolescent, and adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse in Richland, Lexington, Newberry, and Sumter counties and education about sexual trauma issues.

How can you not support a group like that?

I spoke to a staffer a couple of weeks ago, felt good about the organization, and sent them the check shortly after that. Yesterday, I received a confirmation letter that they received the money and I wanted to share that with you all (click image to enlarge):

If you donated to the cause, thank you. I hope you find STSM an organization worthy of your contribution. If you’d like to support them on your own, you can do that here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aeisiminger Aimee Eisiminger

    I live in this area and I donated to this cause because I know very well how important it is that we should do as much good as possible no matter what we believe.  I am proud to know you and thank you very much from me a Columbia resident and freethinker.

  • Logan Rockhound

    That first one looks closer to an anarchy symbol.

  • AxeGrrl

    Thanks for posting this, and kudos, Hemant ~ this is precisely the kind of situation we should always make a point of reacting/responding to, imo.  

    The other day (here maybe?) I just commended someone for calling out assholery on their own side (because it requires some humilitybravery), and I think we should always respond in turn.  It doesn’t matter if it was done in earnest or as a lark, what matters is how we respond to the point at the heart of it.

    The more opportunities we get to publicly demonstrate that we’re committed to the essentials like fairness, free speech and a basic level of respect in how we communicate/interact with one another, the better.

    (sidenote: ever have one of those rare moments where a usually-always contentious interaction gives way, and there’s a fleeting moment of connection/shared humanity?   I just did :)    It’s always (as Martha would say) a ‘good thing’ :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000265741517 Adam Gill

    i liked the graffiti.  i thought it added depth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Judith-Bandsma/1539649418 Judith Bandsma

    Perfect place for it to go since our esteemed governor (/sarcasm) seems to think that state money for rape crisis centers  is a “distraction”.

    • Julie Montgomery

      That was my first thought, @facebook-1539649418:disqus. This organization has directly helped people I love. It’s a wonderful place for the money to go, and especially in light of the recent budget issues.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    “female and male child, adolescent, and adult”

    So, in a nutshell, everyone?

    • Pedro Lemos

      Maybe they don´t support old people?

  • Mlcantrell1963

    “Alternative healing modalities”? Uh oh, red flag… Art therapy, yoga, animal assisted therapy and meditation are reasonable enough but I really hope there is no other “alternative” woo that is being supported by our money.

    • Kelley Freeman

      From their Facebook page:

      “STSM is committed to providing evidenced-based best practice treatment, including alternative healing modalities to the clients we serve.” 
      I don’t think it includes anything other than those listed above, but their number and email are on their Facebook page, so I imagine you could contact them in you had questions. 

    • CompanionCube

       I have to disagree – the modalities mentioned as alternative would be a red flag if they were being used to treat physical conditions (and I presume that any physical injuries/trauma from sexual assault gets proper medical treatment), but I think treatment for emotional/psychological trauma can have a wider range of acceptability.  How do you treat the feelings one might feel after a sexual assault?  If you become overly fearful of being touched at all, for example, I doubt there’s a medically approved pill or procedure for that, beside seeing a therapist (someone like a psychiatrist).   Not everybody can work through things by sitting in the therapist’s office just talking it out, though, so I would think a good therapist would make use of these therapies if they deemed it appropriate and helpful – the victim could express their fear through art therapy, release stress through yoga and meditation, and learn to be okay with physical contact through animal therapy.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

        I’d be willing to bet, though don’t know for sure, that they are using it for emotional support and healing.  The physical aspects of rape are easily treated medically but the emotional damage can linger for years (I speak from experience).  Relaxation techniques are excellent for calming the overactive mind… yoga and meditation are excellent.  And the calming that art therapy and animal therapy provide are invaluable for this as well.  I was glad to see those listed.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

    A worthy cause indeed. Good call.

  • Cicada

    Personally, I doubt that the graffiti was made by atheists (mainly because I think atheists excited  by the God Delusion book are less likely to write it in graffiti than Christians, who are more likely to react to the title than read it).

    Still it sounds like a great charity, and I’d love to hear the pastors excuse for not returning communication about the donation.

    • Glasofruix

      “We aint no need no godless heathen’s moneyz”

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

       I agree, the graffiti was probably an in-house job.  It’s awfully neat, isn’t it?  Restricted to a bit of concrete sidewalk and a few tiles that could be busted out and replaced in an afternoon, with less that $100. of supplies.  Maybe the pastor didn’t accept the money because his conscience bothered him a tiny bit.

      • Coyotenose

         It doesn’t have to be a staged event, even if the “athiesm” theme was a frame-up. For example, a lot of church vandalism is done by the teenage kids of church members acting out. They could have easily heard the adults reviling the title of Dawkins’ book and tried to incorporate it.

  • A3Kr0n

    Having been raised Methodist I find the pastor’s lack of response puzzling, but I live in WisconSIN. Hopefully you’ll send him a link to this post.

  • snicketmom

    Maybe he never got “approval from his church to participate in this endeavor”, as you mentioned at the end of the original post? Either way, he should have responded to you about it. I was looking forward to being part of an interfaith activity. (I still haven’t figured out if it is called “interfaith” if one of the groups joining is atheist?) This works though. Thank you.

  • Cdncasz

    Nice work! I hope you sent a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to ensure folks there know how the money was donated since the church didn’t get back to you. I presume the church felt the money was contaminated by the source.

    • ACN

      This is a really good idea.

  • Vivian

    In an effort to shift blame…. It looks like the vandalism came from a) an angry girl who has ties to the church or b) some kind of initiative for a sorority or frat.

  • Andrew Geary

    I am sorry to hear that the church in Irmo did not return your calls. However, I am very thrilled that you donated the funds to Sexual Trauma Services. I lived in Columbia for two years and unfortunately had to utilize their services. My interactions with them were very positive (police not so much) and I believe proved instrumental in helping my friend recover from a horrible experience. Thanks for highlighting and giving to their work.

    • ReadsInTrees

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience with the police. As the only woman working at a police department here in Maine, I am constantly working to make sure the attitude is upheld that victims are victims and that thoughts like “Well she shouldn’t have been drinking” or “She should have known not to go to his house” are not to be tolerated. Unfortunately, in a male-dominated field, the same falsehoods that fill our patriarchal society are still found here from time to time. I do think that most of the guys I work with are very good with handling sexual abuse cases (I was particularly proud when our detective encouraged a woman to go ahead with pressing charges when she was raped by her husband), but of course there’s always a bad egg or two. Maine is a fairly liberal state; I can’t speak for police elsewhere in the country.

  • Andrew B.

    I like the way “God” is in scare-quotes.  What does that actually mean?

  • Gunstargreen

    Even if the pastor doesn’t want to acknowledge what all of you did with your donations, you still did it and the money still went towards helping others even without getting any press or attention for it.

    If that isn’t being good without god I don’t know what is.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I donated to the fund, and it’s a very good choice for the money.

    That said, the pastor’s failure to return your emails is an insulting snub, and it says much about his lack of character.

    I suspect that after initially working with you on this, he faced objections from his congregation about dealing with those atheist degenerates, and he caved in.  At the very least, a decent response would be to acknowledge your efforts to contact him again, and explain his dilemma, even if vaguely. At the very most, he’d have a backbone and stand up to his congregation, and challenge them to practice the best teachings of their prophet.

    His silence shows he is craven.  I would very much like to confront him face-to-face, privately where he isn’t under public scrutiny, to ask him point-blank why he has snubbed us.

    This incident will be on my mind the next time we face a situation like this, and I’m afraid it might cause me to have second thoughts about working with a cleric. I know that we should take things case-by-case and person-by-person, but this insult, one of many, has a cumulative effect.

    • Rev. Bob Vincent

      Mr. Wade, your comments were wise, especially the portions about a “person by person” basis and like you, I would enjoy a private in person conversation.
      I don’t have time to review many blogs or comments but I thought yours were open-minded (not that others are not).
      I am completely worn out on this graffiti problem. So many folks outside our church have tried to cast a bad light upon this incident and making it more than what it is. I never thought an atheist did it and continue to express this opinion to the media and others but that doesn’t make news. I think it was a young person(s) who made some poor decisions.
      Personally, I have been impressed with the response of atheists including the giving to charity. I think the charity chosen is great! I had suggested the Harvest Hope Foodbank earlier and thought i was clear when i originally talked with the organizer (why i didnt respond) but this one is great too, especially with the recent state budget cuts.
      What impressed me the most were the many offers from around the state from atheists that were willling to come to the church and help cleanup the wall. Their personal commitment and sacrifice were heartwarming. As I mentioned before, we have taken care of the problem but just the offer was gracious.
      The damages have been a huge lesson for me and the church. I have learned a lot from it and I am a better person and a better pastor as a result of it. None of us are perfect and I am far from perfect. Life is a journey filled with lessons for us all. Community is where we live out these lessons and learn from them and each other. I appreciate a community that continues to live in peace and love for one another (of all beliefs) and continues to be open-minded as our world continues to change. Peace, Rev. Bob Vincent

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Reverend Vincent,

        I am happy to be in the position of owing you an apology for rushing to judgment. Please forgive the bitterness that sometimes bubbles up when I think that I and my friends have once again been insulted.  I think it’s an occupational hazard from reading the hundreds of letters I get in my advice column from atheists who are being severely mistreated simply because they’re unconvinced of their family’s, friends’ or employer’s religion.

        But I don’t offer that as an excuse, only an explanation. Regardless of painful experiences, I should refrain from judging people before I get to know them, and even when I do get to know them, I should not be too eager to make my judgments harsh or overarching.

        I agree that life is filled with lessons, and today’s lesson I will take from your exemplary gracious and positive attitude.

        It sounds like this incident and the aftermath have been nothing less than a pain in the ass for you, and I fully understand your need to get beyond it and move on. I hope that your parishioners do not harbor their own unfair bitterness towards atheists, and that whoever is the troubled person or persons who vandalized your church will be able to recover from whatever is their pain.

        With sincere respect,
        Richard Wade

  • Taylor F

    I agree with A3Kr0n and Cdncasz. We should definitely send a “news release” to the pastor and his congregation as well as the local paper/s. It would also be helpful if some of the folks that live nearby and commented here wrote in to the editor to tell about their experience donating to a charity as part of an atheist group. (Maybe more about how fulfilling it is, as opposed to the trouble we had with the pastor – to avoid a “serves them right” reaction that I suspect that would ellicit.

  • dantresomi

    I love happy endings…

  • Annie

    Although I’m sorry to hear about the pastor’s change of heart, I’m so glad you went ahead and found such an important organization for the funds raised. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    Excellent choice, Hemant.  I had no doubts you’d pick a good one.  :-)

  • Paul

    Great story Hemant. Well done! I am half way around the world from you, but I appreciate the difference you are making. Keep it up

  • Ken

    Humanist:  Why can’t we all just get along with each other?  

    Fundamentalist: Because you don’t agree with me and I must kill you, saith the Lord.

    Humanist:  Can we help you when something bad happens?

    Fundamentalist:  Sure.  Wait, let me check.  I’ll call you right back.

    Humanist:  Hello?

    Fundamentalist: 

    Yep, God is love.  EXCEPT…

  • http://twitter.com/BrookLaa Andrew Brookfield

    Fair enough.

    To me it was quite clear it was Christians who did it. A few little things don’t add up:
    The anarchist “A”. Christians consider Atheists Anarchists, but Atheists don’t consider themselves so – at least not most I would say.

    But the kicker for me was the capitalisation of “God” in photo #2. it read (capitals accurate): “There is no ‘God’”.

    Any Atheist who feels this strongly about his/her belief would make it clear they have no respect for the god, maybe even make the non-caps stand out EG:

    “There Is No god”

    Anyway, whatever really.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

    another vote of doubt as to the source…..note that Atheism is spelled wrong. 

    Really Hemant I would also do what some others have suggested here and contact the local paper. Seems mighty odd this avoiding contact with you and well worth seeng f the local press could elicit a response.

    Maybe the pastor found out that it was some naffed off kids from his Sunday School with the red paint on their hands and a D- in spelling and just wanted the issue to go away quietly. ;-)


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