Many volunteers are motivated by religious reasons to donate their time and expertise, and enjoy religious messages in association with their service. But many of these volunteers don’t realize that their messages regarding their belief and volunteering, made to other volunteers, can make those that are not of the same religion, or not religious at all, quite uncomfortable – even unwelcomed.
Take this message posted to the Volunteer Firefighters Facebook page, which assumes all volunteer firefighters are religious or, if they aren’t, they should be:
In case you don’t get it, the message literally means if a firefighter is faced with something challenging in his or her firefighting or in life in general, that person should pray to God (or Gods or Goddesses, perhaps?). The responses to the message are mostly “amens” — confirming the religious nature of the message.
Remember, this isn’t a Facebook group specifically for Christian firefighters or Muslim firefighters or Jewish firefighters or Hindu firefighters, etc. – the group is called Volunteer Firefighters. The assumption from the title is that it means ALL volunteer firefighters, not just religious ones.
What does this message say to non-relgious firefighters? It says: “You should believe in God. If you don’t, you should. Religion is how you can handle tough situations.” Imagine, for a moment, how that makes non-believing volunteer firefighters feel. If you can’t, then can you imagine if the administrators posted a message that assumed all volunteer firefighters are atheists and, if they aren’t, they should be? If a message was posted saying that the best way to handle challenging situations in life was to NOT believe in a god? Can you understand how that kind of message would be completely inappropriate for a group for all volunteer firefighters, not just religious ones?
As I noted in my earlier blog, Do you welcome people with your language?, inspired by a similar incident: most people who have been made uncomfortable by the mixing of religion and volunteering at an otherwise secular event or in an otherwise secular group are probably never going to say anything about their discomfort when the activity is infused with religion, particularly from the group’s organizers or administrators. No one wants to be seen as ruining an event or a feeling for others, even if the activity makes them feel less a member of the group – and they also don’t want to be singled out for “saving” later. Also, if you haven’t heard any complaints about these type of religious messages on your group, could it be because you’ve created an atmosphere where non-believers/other-believers don’t feel welcomed to be a part of your group – or to volunteer at all?
Sadly, this blog will be used to say I’m against religion and against religiously-motivated volunteers. I’m not, at all.
May 6, 2014 update:
The administrator of the Volunteer Firefighters Facebook page didn’t notice the link to my blog post that I made on his group until just a few days ago, and decided to repost it to encourage people to comment. And comment they did – as you can see below. The comments started off overwhelmingly negative – just as I predicted, I was accused of being anti-Christian. Which is fascinating, as, today, I once again did a presentation for a Christian-based nonprofit regarding volunteer engagement, per their request. They do great work regarding social justice, human rights and poverty alleviation, in my opinion, and as their stated motivation is their religion, they do a lot of praying and references to their beliefs in their work with volunteers. And I have no problem with that at all – they are a religious organization and, as such, they know they are exclusionary, they are honest and upfront about that, and I respect it – and am still able to give them advice about how to improve their volunteer engagement. If I were anti-Christian, I’d refuse to work with them.
If the Volunteer Firefighters Facebook group isn’t going to focus on welcoming ALL volunteer firefighters, and is going to assume that, because most of their members are religious, then promoting religion is just dandy, then I hope they change the name of their group to Christian Volunteer Firefighters or the Religious Volunteer Firefighters. Why not be truthful and upfront about what you will – and won’t – include in your organization?