It is hard to imagine a soup kitchen turning anyone away from helping in the ministry. But I was rather shocked to read in the RNS Religion News Roundup today that a soup kitchen in Spartanburg, SC turned away volunteers. Why? Because they were atheists. (Whole story here)
In the story above, the director of the kitchen holds stereotypical beliefs regarding atheists... She mentions the devil being with them as they hand out care packages across the street. It seems she holds a very narrow understanding of the John 15 paraphrase, "Nothing good can be done apart from Christ." There are those who believe that if people are not Christian, even if they are doing the exact same charitable work that Christians engage in, it is not a good work.
This type of thinking leads directly, in my mind, to an inwardly focused, type of mission where the only good work that can be done is by Christians, and then done only within the church. The church becomes the guardian of Christ, keeping him in our little boxes.
However, the reality is far greater. It is Christ who is out and about, working in places where we might not be aware. If we see something that certainly looks good, then Christians should go investigate what Christ is doing. Maybe the people who are doing the good aren't aware that Christ is in their midst.
The soup kitchen is missing a prime opportunity to allow people who disavow God's existence to participate in Christ's mission, perhaps causing one of them to experience a hint of God's presence. Instead, they are faced with rejection and spite, further reinforcing the notion of Christians as hypocrites. It makes me wonder at times who is further apart from Christ.