By Billy Hallowell, Deseret News
A Christian-owned children's home is landing in the headlines after refusing to accept a $100 donation from an atheist group — a decision that sparked a viral crowdfunding campaign that has now raised more than $25,000.
It all started when a man named Matt Wilbourn said that he donated $100 to the Murrow Indian Children's Home in Muskagee, Oklahoma, a group that is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches Association.
The home's mission is "to provide a safe, nurturing environment, spiritual foundation, and cultural experience to Native American Children in crisis," according to its website.
But Wilbourn said the organization called him and rejected the gift after he asked that it be placed in the name of the Muskogee Atheist Community — a group that he founded along with his wife, KJRH-TV reported.
According to the Friendly Atheist blog, Wilbourn reportedly gave the money after a representative for the children's home came to his workplace to print fliers. Typically, his employer would print programs for an annual charity event for free, but Wilbourn learned that the organization would be charged this year, so he felt bad and donated.
But Wilbourn said that he received a phone call an hour later from the Murrow Indian Children's Home and learned that they wouldn't be keeping his gift.
"(A woman) called my desk phone at work and told me that they would not be accepting our donation because it would go against everything they believe in," Wilbourn told the outlet.
While Murrow Indian Children's Home would have reportedly taken the money if he had changed the atheist organization's designation on the form, Wilbourn wasn't willing to do so.
Instead, he said he upped the amount and offered $250, but never heard back.
Wilbourn — clearly not willing to give it up — then turned to GoFundMe and set a goal of $1,000 to offer even more money to the children's home. Within just a few days, the effort garnered more than $25,000 — a shocking figure considering the time frame and the story at hand.
In an update message posted to the GoFundMe page, Wilbourn said that he plans to give the majority of the money raised to Camp Quest Oklahoma, an atheist summer camp, but that he plans to give $5,000 of it anonymously to the home.
"If they find out that I've said this and they know that it's me anonymously donating it and they still won't accept it, we will donate it to a local church who will then donate it to them," he said. "We've had support from churches all over this nation today and I'm sure that one of them would be glad to donate the money to Murrow and I trust that they will."
He continued, "Whether the Murrow Home likes it or not, they are getting $5,000 for those children from all of this."
The Huffington Post reported that at least one pastor and another Christian supported the atheist fundraiser and were disheartened that the money was not initially accepted by the home.
The Murrow Indian Children's Home responded to the controversy on Wednesday, posting a message on the group's Facebook page which has now been removed that offered appreciation to Wilbourn, but that also laid out its reasoning for refusing his gift.
In addition to noting that the home was "founded on biblical principles over 100 years ago," leaders explained their decision not to accept the donation.
"To accept money for an advertisement which would indicate 'In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community' in the advertisement, would be contrary to those Biblical principles upon which we at Murrow stand," the statement read. "We are Christians, believing in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit."
The statement went on to say that the situation had nothing to do with money and everything to do with honoring the organization's religious beliefs. The mention of an "advertisement" raises questions as to whether the home's opposition to the donation was rooted in being forced to then advertise the atheist organization.
"Mr. Wilbourn asked that his donation be noted in the ad, "'In Honor of the Muskogee Atheist Community,'" the statement continued. "Murrow cannot Honor the atheist non-belief in God our father, and honor God our father under our biblical principles. Those two positions are totally opposite of each other."
It is unclear what is meant by "the ad." While the home is being critiqued for simply refusing the gift, if there is, indeed, an advertising factor at play and conflicting messages, the situation might be more complicated than it has been represented as thus far in media.
Two separate representatives for the children's home declined to comment when reached by Deseret News National by phone.