June 17, 2019

Hungry? Praise Jee-zuhs

African orphan

Some stories, no matter how old, continue to resonate over the years, retaining their relevance because of how little some things change. Religion is fertile ground for such stories because of its great resistance to change. An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2007. While the story it references is now quite old, I believe it is worth reviving because it is just one example of a larger trend that provokes thought about Christian morality.

According to Christian Newswire, evangelist Dan Owens and his Eternity Minded Ministries did their part to combat hunger in Africa. At first glance, this is the sort of thing that a fair-minded atheist could not help but admire. The image of Christians traveling to Africa to provide aid to those desperate for food is one of those positive images of what Christianity is supposed to be. Unfortunately, Owens and his fellow Christians attached some strings to their contribution.

First, Owens and his team arrived to preach their "good news:"

Earlier this year evangelist Dan Owens and the Eternity Minded Ministries ministry team traveled to Gitega Burundi, a small village in Africa, where they ministered to the people through five evening festivals, and daily visitations to local churches, orphanages, prisons, hospitals and military quarters. Over 75,000 people heard the Gospel message, and more than 5,000 people accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior and came forward to profess their faith.

I can't help but wonder whether hungry people just might be more susceptible to accepting any "personal savior" with which they were presented if they thought it might lead to food. The quote above makes it sound like the purpose of Owens' trip might have been something a bit different than providing aid.

The article goes on to note that Owens planned to return in May with agricultural assistance. Now we're talking! Unfortunately, we then learn that this assistance was to be provided only to those who had accepted Owens' "savior."

Each person that stepped forward during the festival will be invited to return to a New Believers Rally to receive a brand new Bible and an Agricultural Aid Package complete with seeds and hoe to grow food for their family.

I have known many Christians who become indignant when an atheist asks whether their church or a charitable organization backed by their church (e.g., homeless shelter, soup kitchen) serves people who are not Christians. "How could you ask such a question!" I think we've seen more than enough of Owens' brand of Christianity that it makes sense that we'd ask such a question.

Questions like this are especially relevant if we are talking about churches claiming to serve charitable functions to maintain their tax-exempt status. But set all that aside and consider a far simpler question. What does the notion of providing aid, meager as it sounds, only to those who convert tell us about Christian morality? For many Christians, the parts of their bible that encourage them to be kind to their neighbor are limited to those neighbors who share their religious beliefs or are willing to adopt them in their most vulnerable moments. In essence, it sounds like the aid is merely the lure and the goal is conversion.