When I think of the “Upstate Atheists,” I think of Walter Bristol’s comment, “Economic inequality is one of the most imminent issues facing Western society today. Any progressive movement that chooses to dismiss it is and will be rightfully dismissed themselves.”
In case you haven’t heard, the Upstate Atheists from Spartanburg, South Carolina has worked with Adopt-A-Highway, Habitat for Humanity, and the Generous Garden Project. Recently, the group made plans to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen. The group was rebuffed for their effort, indicating they were not welcome because they are a “place of God.”
That leads to a larger question, “Was the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen rebuke an example of the life and ideas of God?” Obviously not! It’s easy for Christ’s message of goodness and holiness to become an obstacle versus an example of simply being called to the openness and grace of God. The call to service cannot simply come from only God, there are many across the planet who serve in faith, yet are not aligned to Christ alone. Many are not forced to serve as a duty, yet many find a profound sense of love when giving to the needs of another. Serving in faith means leading in love. And that’s a large message missed by the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen.
The “Service to Others” movement must address bigger, more prominent social issues. What purpose does serving the poor mean, in and of itself, when the biggest issue of our time remains income inequality? Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income. In the past decade, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent. A mere 400 individuals own one-half of the entire nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, median household income keeps falling, and our poverty levels resemble that of the Great Depression era. In other words, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being decimated.
To know our call requires faith. If we are created in love and called to a life of service, then we must understand that the clarity of faith a Christian has can be just as powerful as that of a Buddhist, Atheist, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, etc. Christians do not own the garage door of faith.
I believe many of the poor see faith and love in those who serve. But Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Atheists alike must be willing to see the crucified, suffering Christ in all we serve. In other words, Christ’s real message was service in love. And to all who serve, we must see that love in all our brothers and sisters, broken by unemployment and enforced idleness; struggling to feed, clothe and house their children, no job, little income and constant challenges. Those beset by the demons of mental illness, constrained by addiction, or the guilt of lost family members mirror the sufferings of not only Jesus … but of all nations … all faiths … and all who serve.
Are we able to see with the vision of faith? Can each of us, regardless of faith, see the presence of the suffering in everyone? What are you open to see?
Guiding the downtrodden to a seat for a meal takes strength, but no great skill or wisdom. The real weakness is our wasted talent and willful neglect by bickering over whose faith is more righteous.