Over the last two months or so I’ve been attending a weekly Bible study with a group of men at my local coffee shop (Yes, they all know I’m an atheist) and one of the recurring themes we’ve been going over in our study is the purpose, structure, and call of the Christian Church as established and described in the New Testament Epistles.  Last week I mentioned to the group that it was worth noting that when Paul wrote an Epistle to a group of believers he wrote it to “THE Church at (Thessalonica, Phillipi, Collosae, etc)” as opposed to “The Second Baptist Church on 4th Avenue”.  I think this not only highlights a problem with the modern church when compared to the Church of the Bible – but also a slap in the face to the ideas of charity and caring for widows and orphans (James 1:17).

 

Please don’t misunderstand me, there aren’t very many things that I agree with in the Bible – but of the few things I find agreeable is the mandate that those that believe should provide ministry (or help) to those in need – the homeless, the poor, the widows, and the orphans.  Managing to forget for a moment all of the fire, brimstone, rape, and genocide – these initiatives are worthwhile and respectable – if not largely forgotten and considerably less possible considering the current state of the Christian body as a bloated and  inefficient bureaucracy.

The Reality

Dodge County Georgia, the county I live in, has 271 different Christian churches and according to the 2010 Census around 22,000 people.

Each pink dot is one church.

1:80 - the ratio of churches to people in Dodge County, GA

1:80 – that’s the ratio of churches to people in the county I live in. The poverty rate is %23.4.

Each of these churches has to take up monetary gifts from congregants to pay for electric bills, any loans on the buildings, taxes, various other expenses,  and staff. These things must be paid before a dime goes to charitable causes – for many smaller churches it’s nearly impossible to pay the monthly expenses alone, much less use any leftovers for the benefit of those that could use the assistance.

One of the most sickening things about the way these churches are organized is the fact that in large part there are “white” churches and there are “black” churches – the lines of segregation in the South are most well visualized by looking at church attendance. One instance that I find particularly infuriating is with two little country churches that I frequently pass by (one of which I attended when very young) – these Southern Baptist churches are less than 100 feet apart yet one has white attendees and the other has black attendees…this seems to me like insanity.  The church I left wasn’t like this, that much I’m glad for – we had people from all backgrounds; white, black, wealthy, poor,  and furthermore we – our tiny church – had one of the only food pantries available to the public in Dodge County at the time.

My point is that millions in potential aid are being wasted on overhead because the Christian Church is divided into so many fragments that achieving a worthy net benefit is nearly impossible.

The Fantasy

The Epistles of Paul and the book of Acts called for a unified church, a body of believers made up of different people holding only their faith in common – the churches he described were regional, efficient, and handled squabbling without splitting into a hundred different pieces. What was originally intended is unrecognizable in today’s church and I’ve been sure to point that out frequently at the Bible study I’ve been attending.  In the US Christians make up at least 60% of the population – most of whom believe that they should tithe 10% of their income to their church, the amount of money being raised by Christian churches in this country is staggering yet the potential net benefit of these numbers is far from achieved.

The Challenge

271 churches in Dodge County, GA should be able to ensure that every belly is full and every home is warm instead of  making sure that the church lights are on, the stained glass windows are clean, and the pastor is paid. 271 churches is supposed to be one church – or so I hear. Saying these things might upset a few, especially if you depend on a congregation to pay your salary – but I think that most Christians that have actually read the Bible know that I’m right in this…I just don’t know what anyone is willing to do about it  as the status quo seems to be comfortable and easiest to maintain.

If Secular Humanists had the type of money and influence that Christian churches do we’d be able and willing to do the things they aren’t – unfortunately we are but a few. I  think that poverty is on all of us and when writing something that condemns the lack of action of so many I must now point back at myself and ask why I’ve not done more with the little I have…and so I will.

I discussed the contents of this post with a friend of mine today over lunch, this friend is a pastor and he agreed with me on a lot of these points – it turns out that there are believers that recognize the problems within their faith and that really believe in the charge to care for those in need. I suggested to the pastor that given the opportunity I believe that many  atheists and Secular Humanists would be inclined to work with churches and ministries that were trying to meet these needs, I know that I would be glad to give my time and the funds I could spare to work with a church if I could be certain that the efforts were truly helping people in need. I believe that people who disagree over religious beliefs can work together to meet common goals, I think doing so is something to be desired and I’d like to see our two respective communities work together for the benefit of those around us. The challenge will be finding churches and believers willing to do that.

Discussion Questions: (comment below)

Christians:

Aside from telling me if you agree with what I’m saying here, would you personally be willing to work with non-believers for the good of your community? Would your church?
Also, I dare you to share this with your church or pastor!

Atheists/Secular Humanists/Non-believers:

Would you be willing to work with a church or Christian ministry that focused on feeding and clothing the poor in your community? What stipulations might you put on an organization before committing your time or money?

 

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