Making certain volunteers feel unwelcomed because of your language

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?

Big thanks to the Friendly Atheist for picking up the story, which resulted in the counter comments here and far more on his blog

Also see:

Time Magazine asserts there are no organized Atheist volunteers

Do you welcome people with your language?

18 thoughts on “Making certain volunteers feel unwelcomed because of your language

  1. Jordan Stoltzfus

    Heat rises, when it gets hot you kneel, crawl, get low, or whatever you want to call it to escape the heat. It’s amusing they think it has anything to do with religion.

  2. Patti

    Wow where to even start on the garbage! First off let me say this number 1 I am a believer of God, he shows himself to me daily when I watch my child run who was NEVER supposed to walk and hear her say I love you Mommy when she was NEVER supposed to talk! 2. I am a girlfriend of a man who IS a VOLUNTEER firefighter! 3. I have an opinion about your OVER RATED ATHIEST BS in this post and I’m going to state it EVEN if you do delete it!

    These men and women deserve NOTHING but RESPECT and your blog is NOTHING but DISRESPECT! Is it going to matter to you if you need their services if they believe in God or not?? Is it going to matter to you that when that pager goes off and they leave their wives at home knowing where they are going they may not come back if she prays or not??? Personally I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business! But just so you know when I know my man is heading out I pray and when he’s been gone an hour I pray again and when he’s been gone 2 hours you guessed it I pray again, I pray often and not just for him but everyone involved including the people he is helping! Let me tell you this if your stuck in a burning building your going to beg that firefighter that’s there to help you get out your not going to say but wait do you believe in God?? Oh and guess what else probably when he first approaches you he isn’t going to come running up waving his arms screaming “here I am God brought me to you to help you I’m your hero!” No he’s going to be on hands and knees crawling through flames, splintered wood and glass, he’s going to say something along the lines of “call out” and even AFTER your nightmare that’s pretty much a living hell on Earth is over your not going to hear him say I’M THE HERO THAT SAVED YOUR LIFE! Trust me, he’s going to finish his job and go back home and NEVER expect a thank you and the word HERO in his opinion doesn’t describe him PERIOD! No matter what he sees, what kinda hell he has to go through he will keep it inside because even in his own time of need he don’t want his loved ones to know that hell and fear! After all they know it enough!!

    So let me fill you in on a little secret when a fireman is in a raging hell to save someone or something they may kneel to pray but they also kneel because its what they do! It really don’t have to much to do with religion!

    The only thing this blogpost of yours has done is made you look like an idiot! I have heard a lot of STUPID things but this has to be one of the STUPIDIST CHILDISH SELF CENTERED things I have ever heard anyone say!! If you don’t like what you see DON’T LOOK AT IT!!!

    With that said I think I will pray for you, pray that you NEVER need one of the men and women who fear NOTHING to save you and pray that you realize NOT everything revolves around religion and it sure don’t revolved around ATHIESM either!!!

    A God fearing Girlfriend of a VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER

  3. Volunteer

    Get a grip and get the chip off your shoulder. It might catch on fire. No one is saying that you have to be religious to be a fire fighter, they are saying that each of us should be thankful we have the strength to keep going when all hell breaks loose. Oh, I’m sorry maybe you don’t believe there is a hell? It’s time that people were united instead of trying to find fault with every little thing that is said and then start looking over their shoulder for the political correct police when someone doesn’t like the way it sounds.

  4. jcravens Post author

    Not sure why I’ve gotten three comments on this old blog today. But two of the comments beautifully reflect the hostile work environment so many Christians create for those volunteers who aren’t such. They’re so mean-spirited – perfect examples of what this blog was trying to point out (so perfect that I’m sure someone is going to accuse me of making them up).

    A big thank you to those fire houses who create welcoming environments for ALL firefighters, regardless of their religion (or lack their of).

    1. Female Volunteer Firefighter

      First of all let me just quote you “Sadly, this blog will be used to say I’m against religion and against religiously-motivated volunteers. I’m not, at all.”….. why would you write that if you didn’t know that based on your language you are going to receive such replies as you have above? You seem intelligent enough to have expected the replies which you have, so why be so dumb as to comment negatively on those.

      Second, you seem surprised that religious people have posted the comments which they have. They have done so in response to your provocation. To say that their comments are a perfect example of the supposedly hostile work environment which Christian people create for non-Christian volunteers is absolute joke. As I have stated, the comments above are in response to your attack on them. While I do not agree with all of their comments, I understand perfectly where they are coming from. Someone being christian and sharing their beliefs should not upset another person. I am christian and I have friends who are Moslems and one who is a Buddhist. We seldom discuss religion and our beliefs because none of us wish to change the beliefs of the other, we just love each other for being the unique individuals we all are. I don’t know how many atheist friends I have, because I do not question all of my friends religious stands. But I do know that I at least had one atheist friend until recently, his constant attacks on myself and my other friends’ beliefs became too much to bear after a while and we have cut contact with him, not because of his beliefs or lack there of, but because he was an arsehole who constantly criticised myself and my friends for our beliefs.

      If you are feeling alienated by your religious friends, then perhaps you need to look at your behaviour and stop pointing the finger.

  5. SSVFD 16

    There is something ALL of us firefighters volunteer or paid. BROTHER HOOD. We dont care if someone is religious or not. We are all one family that no matter what can not be split up. Thats why that if one of our brothers/sisters have fallen the whole BROTHER HOOD mourns with the family. Religious or not….we are one.

  6. Juliet Neary

    WTAF was the woman talking about? I thought Jesus was supposed to make people happy and helpful, not angry and bitter. I’m pretty sure she’s Jesus-ing wrong.

  7. Female Volunteer Firefighter

    I am a christian and a volunteer firefighter. Your “language” has offended me and made me feel as though I should be sorry for my beliefs. How are you any bettter than the Volunteer Firefighters page?
    Why is it that as a Christian I can have my beliefs and not have to brag about them or push them onto other people, but atheists feel the need to victimise all religious people as though we’re someone disgusting and horrible who is about to ruin the world. If I was to push my religion onto other people, I would be doing it because I think it is a wonderful thing in my life and so therefore would love for them to experience the wonderful life I have because of God. But the fact of the matter is I don’t. I am sick of this garbage. Atheists, here is a message for you, how about you just have your disbeliefs and keep them to yourselves! Stop victimising people for their beliefs which is exactly what you people apparently hate about religious people. Hypocrisy.

    One last thing. My belief in God is exactly that, a belief, and I do not set out to upset or offend other people through my belief. Atheism is a belief that myself and everyone else who believes in a higher power are morons for doing so. Just have a think about that.

    1. renard

      @Female Volunteer Firefighter

      Stephen Fry has a suitable response for your being offended:

      “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

    2. PatBateman

      “Atheists, here is a message for you, how about you just have your disbeliefs and keep them to yourselves!”
      Christians, how about you heed your own advice. Keep your faith (which is a personal thing) to yourself.

  8. Jeff

    Maybe you should just take a picture like that at face value? Maybe it means only exactly what it says? Aren’t we all taught to kneel when entering a burning building?
    It’s how we train! It’s what we do!

  9. jcravens Post author

    There you have it: a simple request saying, “Could you please not assume all fire fighters are of the same religion as you”? is interpreted as an attack on religion – just as I predicted in the original blog post. As I read these comments, it just reminds me yet again why religious minorities and atheists stay silent – because of the type of reactions found in these comments.

    Isn’t it sad that these people can’t imagine what it’s like for those firefighters and others that aren’t religious, or aren’t of the same religion as them, to be subjected to proselytizing? All they know is, it doesn’t bother them, and, therefore, it shouldn’t bother anyone else. An interesting standard to live by.

    But maybe, just maybe, there’s one brave person out there who will think twice before assuming all firefighters believe in God, and will make sure that his words and actions welcome EVERYONE.

    One more thing: if you have posted a comment, great, but once you have posted, unless you have something *entirely* new to say, don’t try posting a comment again – I’m not going to keep posting the same message from the same person again and again.

  10. Kenneth

    First off I am a believer in God. But this post just simply means to me anyway, follow your training, if it is to hot and smoky get down and crawl.

  11. Pingback: Is This a Christian Message? “When Life is Too Hard to Stand, Kneel”

  12. A3Kr0n

    If the best advice they can give when you’re in a burning building is to kneel, then maybe someone should go there and help them out before someone really gets hurt.

  13. amy

    Not surprised, but sad to see the comments are exactly what you predicted. You are absolutely right, but don’t expect a Christian to realize it, never mind agree with you

  14. David

    If the original image said “If it’s too hot to stand, kneel” then there might be some justification is saying that this is good advice for a firefighter.

    But it doesn’t – it says “If Life…” so it’s not talking about the very specific circumstance of a firefighter in a fire. It means for instance, if you lose your job, or your partner leaves you, or your can’t pay your bills then you should “kneel” – a distinctly religious response to a crisis. Anyone suggesting otherwise is clearly distorting the truth.


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