A South Carolina-based atheist group decided to hand out care packages to the homeless on Saturday, directly across the street from the Christian-based soup kitchen that rejected their volunteering services because of their differences in beliefs.
Upstate Atheists approached Spartanburg Soup Kitchen in Spartanburg, SC to help them give out food to the needy while ensuring that they would not wear shirts with labels to promote their organization. However, the kitchen's director, Lou Landrum, told them they were not allowed to because they had "ulterior motives," says Eve Brannon, president of Upstate Atheists.
"I was upset with the hateful remarks. It certainly wasn't necessary," said Brannon. "However, it turned out well. Because we were turned away, we ended up being able to give the homeless care packages that they needed. The people in need are the ones who truly matter."
The group gave out 300 care packages containing socks, gloves, deodorant, toothpaste and antiseptic wipes among other items after raising about $2,000 through an online campaign to fund their efforts.
Landrum told the Christian Post she was not able to comment by press time, adding that it would take "longer" because they would need to "engage" their entire board in discussion to respond about the incident.
"We are still taking some time to ensure a thoughtful response to the overall situation. As a small community organization without a history of controversy, we want to ensure our response clarifies the situation sufficiently and sensitively," said Landrum.
However, according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Landrum said she was willing to resign from her position as executive director before she would allow atheists to volunteer at the soup kitchen.
"This is a ministry to serve God," Landrum said, according to the report. "We stand on the principles of God. Do they [atheists] think that our guests are so ignorant that they don't know what an atheist is? Why are they targeting us? They don't give any money. I wouldn't want their money."
Brannon says her group knew the organization was Christian-based before they inquired to help out, but the rejection she received was one she did not expect.
"Being in the Bible belt, the majority of volunteer opportunities or charities are with Christian organizations. There are never any problems. Most of the Christian organizations that we work with are extremely kind and welcoming to all people," said Brannon.
Despite being denied to help, a few believers put their differences aside and decided to help the organization in handing out care packages.
"We were amazed at the support. We had a few very wonderful Christians show up and show their support. It was a wonderful display of people with different beliefs working together to accomplish something amazing," said Brannon.
Upon hearing about the Upstate Atheists' rejection, Tara Limbaugh, a Christian and a lesbian from Clemson, SC decided to support the group's community outreach efforts because she said that she knows what rejection feels like firsthand.
"I was raised Southern Baptist and I experienced my own form of rejection when I came out as a lesbian" Limbaugh told CP. "When I found out about the incident I just couldn't, in good conscious, let them [Spartanburg Soup Kitchen] be the only Christian voice in the conversation."
She added, "There are so many of us who want to work across religious lines I think that's what Jesus would have done. It didn't matter that they were atheist; in fact it showed me that even though I feel like a minority in the Bible belt, I actually felt privileged. I identified with them and their discrimination."
Limbaugh also said the atheist group was "not militant" and that they simply wanted to dispel any myths and stereotypes about themselves.
Although Landrum did not want the group's help, she did not have a problem with the group handing out care packages across the street which Brannon said was done in a "respectful and peaceful manner."