Kansas City Homeless Shelter Tells Atheist Group They Can’t Volunteer on Thanksgiving

What’s with religious charities turning away atheist volunteers lately? It happened in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago and it’s happening in Kansas now.

For a couple of years now, the Kansas City Atheist Coalition has volunteered with the Kansas City Rescue Mission to deliver meals to the hungry on Thanksgiving.

This year, the atheists have been told their services won’t be needed:

Josh Hyde explains:

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.

In short, cleansing their building of atheists is more important to KCRM than receiving help from atheists to feed the poor.

JT Eberhard says it well:

It… highlights a difference between atheists and Christians: our primary goal is helping as many people as possible. Often, their primary goal is spreading their faith, with alleviating suffering coming in somewhere behind that.

I wonder if KCRM also bans gay people from volunteering? What about women who have had abortions? Divorced people? Jews? Do you have to adhere to a particular brand of Christian faith in order to help other people?

And what about the homeless people? Are they not served if they are Muslims? What about lesbians? Can they get food?

I’ve never heard of a soup kitchen or homeless shelter or food pantry that suffered from having too much help. To tell a group of people their services won’t be needed on account of ideological purity seems to me the least charitable thing they could be doing.

KCRM cites “Integrity” as one of its values. If only the Christians running the place cared enough to follow their own advice.

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.

  • Paul (not the apostle)

    Theological purity is more important that people or anything else for than matter. Children can die, people be enslaved, the earth destroyed, it does not matter. Theological purity is the highest priority (their brand of it of course)

    • observer

      Well of course, otherwise we’d be evil, immoral creatures, causing havoc and chaos on the world.

  • LesterBallard

    Wherever possible, we need to do this stuff ourselves. Have our own organizations, no matter how small. And anyone can volunteer, even asshole Christians, as long as they keep it to themselves. And needless to say, we won’t be handing out tracts based on The God Delusion or Why Evolution Matters, or what have you. It’ll just be for helping people. Fucking Christians.

    • smrnda

      This is also important since people often need help but don’t want to get proselytized as a condition. Using people in need as a captive audience to promote your opinions is just a shitty thing to do.

      I actually got involved in prison literacy to counter the fact that so many religious organizations, particularly Christians, are so often the only people working with those populations, and a ‘learn to read and write’ session quickly becomes a Bible study.

      • LesterBallard

        Glad to hear it.

      • LutherW

        Don’t teach the Bible, you will be accused, appropriately, of warning them about the negative aspects of religion.

        • smrnda

          Plus, the Christian notions of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘everybody is a sinner’ can be convenient rationalizations for severely antisocial behavior. ‘Yeah, I know I killed some people, but Jesus forgives me and aren’t we all sinners?’ I can’t think that’s going to provide meaningful rehabilitation.

  • tubi11

    “And what about the homeless people? Are they not served if they are Muslims? What about lesbians? Can they get food?”
    Really, if they wanted to be true to their principles, they would ONLY provide meals to Muslims, gays, atheists, etc… The primary purpose is to proselytize, right? And Christians, even homeless, hungry ones, already have God. So visiting them would take away opportunities to provide the Gospel…er…hot meals to those who really need it.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    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.

    Quick cut to closeup of a homeless man biting into a sandwich and discovering a piece of paper between the bread and between his teeth. He pulls it out of his mouth and sees that it has god babble printed on it, and he says, “WTF? I thought this was gonna be ham and cheese, not ham and Jeese.”

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein offering to help at the Kansas City Rescue Mission.

    • CultOfReason

      Then, after looking around suspiciously to make sure no one is watching, he puts it back in his mouth, chews, swallows, and lets out a small burp.

    • The Buddha From Dimension X

      Oh you and your Joe Klein jokes. You crack us up Wade.

    • Rain
  • Pete

    It does suck that the Missions were such idiots. But Thanksgiving is the “wrong time” to help.

    Often thanksgiving and xmas is when everyone and their uncle wants to help out. Show that holiday spirit and exactly how concerned they are for their fellow man. I’d be interested to know if KCRM would have turned down KCAC in the middle of February?

  • A3Kr0n

    Luckily, the homeless shelter I work at is secular. However, it is in an old nun convent, has a Catholic school across the street, and the Mother Ship right behind us. Oh, and it’s run by Mercy hospital. Yes, it’s really a secular homeless shelter. I was there just yesterday, and the only religion I heard was from one resident who God blessed me (twice).
    I don’t volunteer for the faith-based organizations in town.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    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.

    I have long argued that this needs to be taken into account when calculating the charitable activities of religious groups. They’re not doing it just to help people, the are actively marketing their brand.
    I know someone whose child volunteered to help with a publicly-funded disaster relief project. A church group got involved, and passed out T-shirts to the volunteers. So they were trying to get the marketing done on your dime.

    • Savoy47

      Just like Al Capone running a few soup kitchens. Capone did what was in his self-interest. It was good PR in the neighborhood and made him look like a somewhat good guy. Open your mouth for food not to the Cops.

    • mdoc

      Didn’t the atheists who volunteered wear atheist t-shirts? Aren’t they also promoting their message by wearing the shirts? I am an atheist but I can understand the church’s discomfort at having an event where atheists are promoting a contrary message, even if only through t-shirts. However, given the past history the courteous thing to have done was to let the atheist group know well ahead of time.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    I used to do volunteer work with a church-run food bank. They didn’t boot me for being an atheist because I never told them I was one. Instead they booted me because, as they put it, I wasn’t “moved by the Holy Spirit.”


    • Matthew Baker

      Why does “moved by the Holy Spirit” sound like a prelude to a BM?

      • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

        The Holy Spirit was Martin Luther’s favorite laxative. It is a historical fact that Luther suffered from constipation and composed his famous 95 Theses while straining at the toilet. So you see, if Martin Luther hadn’t been moved by the Holy Spirit, the Protestant Reformation would never have gotten off the pot.


  • Henk Um

    Yup that sounds like something Jesus would do….

  • primenumbers

    The Kansas City Rescue Mission should have their charitable status removed because of this.

  • James

    Just to play devil’s advocate (er, what would that be in secularese?), I can sort of see why they made this decision. It is a Christian organization, and of course proselytizing is part of their mission. And if they are including literature, it wouldn’t really serve their cause if a recipient asked a question about the literature to an atheist.

    That said, I agree that it would be great to see more charitable organizations set up by secular groups, so we could avoid this issue entirely. And I would hope that such organizations would gladly welcome anyone who volunteered to help in good faith (er, you know what I mean).

    • richardschimelfenig

      There is already a growing Humanist organization

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

      Here’s a bit more devil’s advocacy to counter the quoted words from JT Eberhard. Those Christians, trying to spread their faith, probably consider Christianity to be helpful to others.

      • James

        Exactly. We atheists often (and rightly) complain that Christians are close-minded, but we need to be open-minded ourselves. Even though we don’t believe in their doctrine, we have to acknowledge that Christians believe they are helping people by “saving their souls.” So while we may not agree with their tactics, we have to at least admire their motivation (if it is pure).

  • R Bonwell parker

    First of all, I think Eberhard is being too generous. Alleviating suffering is not the reason they choose to help the homeless, though it may be for other churches. They are using the food as a promotional tool to attract vulnerable people into their ranks.

    Second, I would be that the church greatly prefers feeding Muslims and gay people, and even atheists (ESPECIALLY atheists). Those are the people that they are doing this for—the people who can be converted. They have little to gain by helping people that are already in their corner.

    • smrnda

      I wonder if they’d feed or help someone if they flat out said “I am an atheist/Muslim/Jew/pagan/Hindu/Buddhist/etc. I just want some food, I’ve studied your religion and still reject it so please don’t waste your time trying to convert me.” If recruitment is the goal, they probably want non-Christians to come, but what if they know recruitment is a lost cause?

      Something of note – I find some Christians use the term ‘unchurched’ to describe the people they are looking to recruit, and for me, the use of the phrase ‘unchurched’ rather than ‘unbelievers’ may be that they’re looking for people who already profess some degree of Christian belief but just aren’t part of a church. It may be an admission that those who are unbelievers will almost never be recruited.

      • R Bonwell parker

        To paraphrase Amy Dickinson: “everybody believes they can resist the sales pitch. The best salesmen even anticipate it.” If someone says “I reject/oppose/hate your religion” it means they care, and people who care are within reach.

      • UWIR

        “I’ve studied your religion and still reject it”, to some extent, applies to everyone who isn’t a Christian. Looking at Chick tracts, proselytizing Christians generally aren’t operating with a realistic understanding of the persuasive power of their arguments. If you tell them you won’t convert, they’ll probably just figure they know better than you do. After all, if that’s why they’re doing it in the first place.

  • OhioAtheist

    “Hungry? Here, have a sandwich.” (Terms and conditions apply)

  • skyblue

    I volunteered serving dinner at a shelter that had the Ten Commandments painted giant-sized on the wall. Well, whatever, it’s run by a religious group…but the deal-breaker was when I talked to the people eating dinner – and several complained about having to watch “that Jesus video” before they would be allowed to eat. There are plenty of other places needing volunteers in town that provide meals to people without proselytizing (some of which are run by devout Christians but without discrimination) that I saw no need to return to that particular place.

    I think the key is, is the purpose to help people, or is it to proselytize? I think we can see which kind of place this Kansas City Rescue Mission is.

  • denrus

    Has any atheist group been refused their help by Habitat for Humanity? I know of one group which put in volunteer service with that organization, their physical help was accepted, but the atheist group’s name was not included in the list recognizing the various organizations that pitched in.

  • squinney

    WWWRHJD (What Would White, Racist, Homophobic Jesus Do ?)

    • blah

      Except Jesus wasn’t white

      • Mitch

        What? BLASPHEMY! Everyone knows Jesus was approximately 6 feet tall, white, had blue eyes, and sported long, flowing blonde hair.

        • kanehau


      • squinney


  • Donald Zepp

    It is exactly this sort of thing that led my wife and me to start “Human Beans Together,” a secular organization that feeds the homeless or otherwise hungry in Raleigh, NC. While most of us are non-believers of one sort or another, some of our volunteers are people of faith who join us in our efforts simply to help, not to proselytize. Please take a look at our Facebook page to see what we’re up to.

    We encourage anyone, anywhere to just jump in as we did: Make some food and take it where it’s needed. We’re happy to offer advice or help in any way we can.

  • SJH

    I don’t understand where the problem is here. It is obvious that they have two goals for their ministry. One to help the homeless in a material way and the other to help them in a spiritual way. If one of their purposes is to evangelize then why would an atheist want to help anyway and why would an atheist complain that they are being allowed to help?
    Should they not be allowed to integrate their spirituality and their material help?
    I think the atheists should try to volunteer for a different organization.

    • doghealedmydyslexia

      I wholeheartedly agree.

    • Diane

      I don’t understand why atheists wouldn’t look for a secular organization also, but ultimately this was where they thought they were needed, and they were OK with the proselytizing, because ultimately it would get people fed. When religion comes into an issue, it’s wise to be able to choose your battles–the atheists have the right idea (feeding people matters more), the ministry here does not (feeding people is not the priority here).

      • SJH

        So, not every charitable organization chooses helping the homeless as their priority. I’m sure their are many organizations that have other goals and choose to help the homeless on the side. Why can’t this organization do the same?

  • doghealedmydyslexia

    In good conscience, I cannot volunteer my time, money, or service through an organization that proselytizes, because in doing so I am promoting the very message I so firmly oppose. I absolutely feel secular, humanitarian volunteerism is important. Working side by side in cooperation with those of faith to help others is different from actively participating in service that promotes a religious message, whether overtly or implicitly. Service with a religious agenda, with any ‘mission’ other than helping those in need, is anathema to me.

    If the Kansas City Rescue Mission is a religious organization with the purpose of proselytizing, and the atheist group wears shirts identifying themselves as non-religious, of course that’s going to contradict the Mission’s purpose and I don’t blame them for rejecting the Atheist Coalition’s assistance. KC is a pretty big city–I have to wonder if there aren’t other opportunities for service for the atheist group. If so, I would hope they would seek out, or create, an alternative. Otherwise, their motive for ‘service’ and volunteerism through an explicitly religious organization could seem questionable and be perceived as no less agenda-driven than the Rescue Mission’s. If the purpose is truly to help others, then there are plenty of opportunities to do so. If the purpose is to deliberately create a situation where ‘atheist volunteers’ would knowingly be rejected, then it becomes self-serving rather than other-serving, which rather defeats the purpose.

    • Diane

      There’s no indication that they were insisting on identifying themselves as atheists during their food deliveries, and in the last case of this sort, the group explicitly said they wouldn’t do so. It’s also possible–not likely, I grant, but possible–that they only revealed they were an atheist organization when asked.

      • 3lemenope

        It’s also pretty implausible that the Mission didn’t know the nature of the atheist organization, seeing as how they had volunteered with them in past years.

  • Happy, happy, happy

    So why do Christianphobes have such a problem with a a religious organization doing what they would consider religious work?

    The picture doesn’t have a caption for it, but presumably, a group of atheists were trying to “mark their brand” on some Christian donor’s dime if this is a picture of an atheist group trying to volunteer for KCRM.

    People in the area now and understand that when they donate, they are donating to a Christian organization. Some donors I’m sure donate despite this, but I would assume that some donate BECAUSE of this.

    If Christianphobes want another option, then make one. That seems simple enough.

    • 3lemenope

      Who are the “Christianphobes”?

    • Pitabred

      Nobody’s got a problem with them doing religious work.

      We’re just calling them out on the hypocrisy, that they claim to want to help people, but first and foremost is the proselytizing, not the actual help. They’re actively refusing help in their mission because spreading the religion to the vulnerable comes before actually helping them.

      If you’re cool with that, that’s your problem. I’m not cool with it, and I will speak up against it.

  • spikejnz

    Well then, it appears I have some testing of the waters to do. I’m a Jew-ish (converted to get married by my wife’s Rabbi, so only kinda Jew), I’m an athiest, and I live in KC. Usually my wife and I host Thanksgiving dinner at our house, but my parents moved to Florida, my sister and her girlfriend will be in Chile, and my wife’s sister’s family will be on vacation somewhere. I was planning on going to a Chinese restaurant, but this seems much more rewarding.

    So, will they accept help from a “Jewish” Pastafarian atheist? MUST FIND OUT.

    • Josh Hyde

      You’re more than welcome to swing by our Thanksgiving dinner, too. :)


      • spikejnz

        Thanks for the offer, but my wife is very much Jewish. She accepts that I don’t believe, but she doesn’t like it. If I were to try to convince her to go to that, I might start WWIII.

  • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

    gotta love these stupid places worrying about losing supernatural fucking brownie points for allowing sinners to help people in need. jackasses!

  • NG

    I noticed that too! Kansas can be terribly backward but I want to make sure to spread the “love” to the correct state.

  • FreeToBe

    I’m not really sure why you need to associate yourself with ANY group in order to do charitable work. If that is your true purpose then leave your tshirts at home and help the people that you claim to care about. Showing up in your atheist tshirts is no better than showing up in your christian tshirts. You are promoting your agenda. Period. My atheism is important to me and I will fight for my rights, but I don’t believe a food shelter on Thanksgiving is the place to do it. If an atheist group was organizing this, they would be none too please if local churches showed up wearing their tshirts promoting their beliefs. Karma is a bitch but so is hypocrisy.

    • Thin-ice

      Spot on!

    • Josh Hyde

      We were never, ever told that our shirts were a problem in the two years that we volunteered with them. Had they asked us to not wear our shirts, I cannot say whether or not we would have accepted those terms, but we would have at least considered them.

  • Thin-ice

    This gives us atheists a bad name. It’s plain stupid to complain of persecution and unfair treatment when a religious (evangelical) organization turns down the offer of help from a group of atheists. They have every right to decline help from atheists.

    Quit whining and find somewhere to volunteer that isn’t associated with religion. And there are LOTS, even in Kansas City. This is so incredibly silly.

    • KelpieLass

      Yeah, ’cause pushing Jesus is sooo much more important than feeding people…..

      • Derrik Pates

        I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about helping the poor, but “only if thou object of thine charity believeth in me, otherwise they can get fucked.” Don’t check or anything, I’m sure it’s in there.

    • Josh Hyde

      It isn’t surprising that a religious organization turned us down; it’s surprising that, going into our third year with this organization, we’re suddenly getting turned away, followed by the silent treatment.

      • Thin-ice

        Here is my honest question: why did you guys choose an obviously christian organization to help (and thereby meaning THEY get the credit for the work YOU do) than choosing a secular organization? I really would like to know.

        • Josh Hyde

          We volunteer with non-religious organizations throughout the rest of the year – we like to take this opportunity to show that religion isn’t a boundary that prevents people from working together.

          • Thin-ice

            Fair enough. That’s a good reason . . .

    • Anathema

      You are absolutely correct when you say that they have every right to decline help from atheists. Just remember that we are also well within our rights when we criticize them for doing so. The fact that they view proselytization as more important than actually helping the homeless speaks volumes about their organization. That’s a disturbing attitude, and it deserves to be criticized.

  • Zdis%xy

    I”m curious why they wore t-shirts to volunteer? I’m agnostic and close to atheist but when I volunteer I keep my opinions to myself–so as not to detract from the cause itself.

  • WallofSleep

    “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

    That’s the long and the short of it right there. They don’t want the atheists involved anymore because they don’t want the atheists handing out their christian literature. And I can only assume that they don’t want the atheists handing out their literature, because should any of the recipients begin to ask the atheists questions about what’s in the literature…

  • The Other Weirdo

    Oh, the irony of a redheaded atheist.

  • creativerealms

    Helping people less needy for the sake of wanting to should be enough. There are times when personal beliefs matter less then doing what is right.

  • Morality is not a condition!

    No matter what all of you say, the most organized, impactful, well-funded, and influential groups in all the world is the religious – more definitive…Christian organizations. They are rich, organized and make the most impact on the homeless, and the needy. Therefore, it would make the most sense to go through these organizations to do the deeds! I am disgusted to see this kind of treatment of any group to be declined for volunteering. No conditions should be put on any help.