After reading several stories about the recent dust up between the Muskogee Atheist Community and the Murrow Indian Children’s Home it has become clear the popular narrative is misinformation. The popular narrative, repeated in many stories and the comments section of those stories, is that the children’s charity refused a donation simply because it came from atheists. But that was not the sticking point. The problem was that the donation was tied to having the children’s charity publicly recognize the donation “in memory of” the Muskogee Atheist Community (which, as it turned out, is a small secret FaceBook group).
Now, assuming the stories were accurate in their description, I would seem to me the Murrow Indian Children’s Home could have been more diplomatic/tactful when returning the money. They could have approached the donor something like this: “Mr. Wilbourn, I think we have a little problem here. While we greatly appreciate your donation, are you aware that you are asking us to publicly honor your group in a section of a future publication that we like to keep as apolitical and non-controversial as possible?” And proceed from there. That said, I am having a very hard time empathizing or sympathizing with Matt Wilbourn’s position. Let me explain why as I attempt to put myself in Matt Wilbourn’s shoes.
I imagine myself working at a printing shop and a staffer from Camp Quest comes in hoping to have us print some free flyers for their upcoming summer season since we have done this in the past. My boss then tells me we are no longer doing that and when I see the disappointed face of the staffer, I decide to donate $100 (actually, if it was me, I would have offered to pay $100 toward the printing fee; I’m not sure why Matt did not think of that).
The staffer is appreciative and hands me a form. At the bottom of the form, I read:
“is any person or organization you want to put it in memory of”
Here’s where it becomes hard for me to empathize/sympathize with Wilbourn. In my world, “in memory of” donations are meant for loved ones who recently passed away. You are paying tribute to someone that was special to you and/or who loved the charity and long valued their work. It’s a public gesture of kindness, recognition, and appreciation and the charity itself is offering to facilitate and share in it because of the supportive nature of the donation. It would never occur to me to list the donation in memory of some FaceBook group I was part of. For me, that’s, well, “no class.”
Anyway, let’s say that, like Matt, I do fill out this part – “in memory of Ex-Camp Questers Who Now Praise Jesus.” For Ex-Camp Questers Who Now Praise Jesus is a secret FB group I run that has about a dozen members, most who once attended a Camp Quest and since growing up, have become Christians.
Now, an hour later, I get a call from someone at Camp Quest. They tell me they are not going to accept my donation because their organization values reason and science and they prefer not to have to “Praise Jesus” in a future newsletter.
It’s at this very point where I now have a choice.
1.) If I was truly focused on trying to help kids, I would happily agree they could remove the honorarium, as it was no big deal. Money gets to kids. End of story.
2.) If I was focused on myself and my tribe, I would be offended and refuse to remove the honorarium.
Speaking again for myself, the choice is a no brainer – Option 1. If I was serious about wanting to help out the kids, the need for some honorarium to my FB group is easily dismissed. Yet Matt Wilbourn chose option 2.
So now there is a chasm between us.
But even if I was all offended, Wilbourn and I continue to drift apart.
I would not occur to me to set up a GoFundMe page to prove “everyone has a price” (as Matt told Hemant Mehta). I’d have to be more than offended – I would have to feel the need for “payback.” The GoFundMe campaign comes across as an attempt to stick it to the children’s charity. To humiliate them and rub their faces in it. All because they didn’t want to honor my secret Ex- Camp Quester FB group. This is alien thinking to me.
But then the distance between us just keeps expanding. Say I help shape a narrative with a popular fundamentalist blogger that paints Camp Quest as an organization that doesn’t want to take donations from us mentally ill, child-abusing religious people. It’s as if our money is infected with some faith virus! Say this angers various religious people all over the internet and they show up, in mass, on Camp Quest’s FB page. There is so much mocking, hostility, and vile commentary that Camp Quest decides to shut down their FB page (a place where they solicit donations).
At this point, I would be horrified and feel partly responsible, since it was the false narrative fueling all this anger. I would feel the need to issue a public condemnation of the behavior of my fellow religionists and publicly apologize to Camp Quest. I would not be using all this controversy as a platform for setting up new twitter and web pages to help promote my no-longer-so-secret FB group.
Look, I am not arguing whether I am right or wrong. I’m just explaining why I simply can’t empathize/sympathize with Matt Wilbourn and his atheist FB group. At each step along the way, I would have chose differently, even if I was in his shoes.
As regular readers of this blog know, I am not an activist. In fact, as you probably know, activists rub me the wrong way. For them, every choice has to be a political statement as they find the smallest of mole hills and spin them into huge mountains.
I never thought I would see the day where the “in memory of” portion of a donation sheet for a children’s charity would become such an heated issue. I guess now even that small part of life is no longer safe from the manipulative hands of the preening activists. And I don’t have to like it.