Associate President's Column: Help!

By Eric Jayne

eric.mug.1 origIf you are thumbing through this month’s newsletter looking for the President’s Column, you’re not going to find it. Since August was busy with other adventures, including a debate with theists in Canada, I agreed to fill in with an “Associate President’s Column.” I’m going to use this platform to make a public confession followed by a plea for help.

First, the confession: I’ve been regularly attending church lately and I’ve been joining others in prayer. That’s right; the associate president of the Minnesota Atheists has been going to church…a lot! It’s a little bit of a personal existential crisis but before you demand a recall election, please allow me to explain.

As a full time licensed community social worker, I work with many agencies—both public and private. I feel fortunate to be employed at a terrific secular nonprofit but I don’t necessarily enjoy the fact that I have to collaborate with churches and faith organizations due to their vast influence in the social service industry. Two significant reasons for their influence are because faith organizations get oodles of money from government grants and because there are often many thousands of church congregants in one single neighborhood church that volunteer their time and donate their money to social service causes in the name of their church or faith.

Since church congregants include lawyers, social workers, doctors, IT professionals, and accountants, churches can relatively easily build a large network of money and resources. In fact, an argument could be made that it’s shocking that there aren’t more churches directly giving back to their community. Unfortunately, because churches and faith organizations hold so much power I often have to meet on their turf with their members. In a room where pastors and parishioners outnumber secular-based social workers 10 to 1, I have to hear about how we’re “doing God’s work” and that we’re “modeling the work of Jesus.”

I feel that I must make it clear that I really do enjoy many of the God-fearing people I work with, but listening to comments that compare my hard work to the fictitious actions of a capricious, infanticidal, maniac is frustrating.  Bbegining and ending meetings with a prayer to said maniac leaves me wanting to run for the nearest door. Instead, I silently protest by keeping my head up and leaving my eyes open. I know it’s not much of a protest, but for now I’ll be keeping my atheist identity in the closet while working with people that I don’t want to rock the proverbial boat with for the sake of my job.

All right, now that I’ve disclosed and explained my confession it’s time for my plea: If you would like to organize a volunteer event, please let me know so I can help you promote it. I can be reached via email at apres@mnatheists.org. Examples of recent volunteer events include gift collections and donations to Children’s Hospital, highway clean-ups, and food donations to a local food bank. Please remember that we will want to volunteer and donate to secular, non-faith organizations.

It truly is a good feeling to help community organizations and neighborhoods. Since we’re a partner of Volunteers Beyond Belief, our good deeds are featured on their blog, website, and Facebook page! Help me show our communities that the Minnesota Atheists do humanity’s (not God’s) work and that we model the work of human kindness (not Jesus).

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