Monday, September 19, 2005

A modern Christian ethic

I have been surprised, both in real life and in my trips about the blogosphere, at some of the reactions to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I fully understand those who have not taken the time to follow the news reports for various reasons, such as not wanting to expose their young children to such widespread tragedy. What mother would want her little ones to have nightmares because of overhearing the many stories of small children lost and separated from their parents? I also understand those who think of the gulf coast as being so far away, and thus so foreign to their own experience, and those who simply cannot comprehend the devastation of a hurricane.

What surprises me are the reactions of those who are callous, apathetic, and even derisive of those who are suffering. I am surprised by those who minimize losing home, neighborhood, source of income, all one's earthly possessions, means of transportation, friends, even family members as being but a "modicum of discomfort". I am surprised by those who think that people who have gone through a frightening storm, who have faced the very real possibility of death, who have clung to rooftops, who have seen neighbors drown, who have had their children scattered across several states, who are now huddling in shelters trying to piece their lives together --- that these people supposedly have not suffered in any way, simply because they now have food, clothing, and a shelter of some sort.

What surprises me even more, and dismays me beyond words (but that won't stop me from writing about it) is that many voicing these sorts of opinions claim to be Christians. Some even take pride in their lack of compassion.

However, I reminded myself earlier today, I really should not be surprised. I have noticed this same reaction among a number of Christians before, with other disasters and other tragedies, both small and large. Thankfully, this way of thinking is, I believe, still a minority position. There are several possible reasons for what I have come to realize is a disturbing new Christian ethic:
  1. Self-righteousness and arrogance. This attitude causes us to harden our hearts towards the less fortunate and to blame them for any disaster that might befall them. "It is clearly God's judgment!" some almost delight in proclaiming...until they suffer, in which case it is a satanic attack against the righteous.
  2. Self-absorption. If it's not about me, why should I care? Some have claimed that, since they don't know anyone impacted by Hurricane Katrina, they are fully justified in their apathy and their callousness. Others use discussions of the hurricane to whine about having to pay more for gasoline, having to change vacation plans, having favorite TV shows pre-empted by news reports, etc. It is ironic how some, while loudly insisting that people shouldn't whine about losing everything they own, whine about their own trivial and insignificant losses.
  3. Political views. I really don't think that one political party, be it Republican, Democratic, independent, Libertarian, Green, Natural Law or whatever, holds the corner on compassion. However, I have noticed that some conservatives are so afraid of agreeing with "the other side" that they are afraid to voice or feel compassion. After all, that's what all those touchy-feely liberals do! One blogger, writing about the amazing, touching story of the 6 year old hero who led babies and toddlers to safety, turned it into an anti-liberal statement! Apparently, according to some who posted comments, only liberals should care about such a story.
  4. Fear. If you don't think about how horrible it would be to suffer as many have, you won't have to think about how quickly you could lose everything and everyone you hold dear. Much easier to downplay the whole thing. Maybe it will then go away and you can go on feeling safe. If you blame the victims, maybe you can convince yourself that you, a much smarter and better person, can avoid similar disasters.
  5. Harsh theology. There are those who delight in what they see as God's judgment, and who think "love the sinner while hating the sin" is only for wimpy compromisers who are not tough enough for the real truth. These types usually have little or no interest in evangelism, almost as if they are afraid some sinner might repent and there would be one less person to experience God's wrath. (I was once told, "If God really wanted to save those sinners [mentioning a specific group] He would have already done so, without us." A friend of mine, a member of a "harsh theology" church, once told me that her pastor got an excited standing ovation with loud cheers when he preached about eternal damnation. Even he was taken aback at the enthusiasm of his congregation and rebuked them, "Don't you think we should be weeping about people going to hell rather than cheering?")
  6. Pet issues. While I believe that God sometimes gives us a passion for a particular ministry or issue, it is important that we do not become so narrowly focused so as to harden our hearts to anything else. Several bloggers, who are very vocal about being pro-life and caring deeply for unborn babies, admit by their words that they care a lot less for babies once born --- at least if the babies are hurricane victims.
  7. Racism. I hate to bring this up. Ever the idealist, I like to think that racism simply does not exist in the church today, or in the hearts of any who call themselves Christian. However, I know this is, sadly, not the case. I know too many people who weep over lesser scale disasters that impact certain ethnic groups, while not caring about far greater tragedies that have overwhelmed members of the "wrong" ethnic groups.
  8. The masculinization of the church. There was a time when the tenderness and compassion of women was admired, respected, and encouraged, when the churches in American would have mobilized their Women's Aid Societies into immediate action, when Christian women would have been issuing passionate calls for Biblical compassion. However, as many ultra-conservative churches become masculinized, women are warned against being too compassionate and are derided for being "touchy-feely". Heaven forbid that the tragedy of 2000 children separated from their parents move a young mother to tears! She needs to pull herself together and avoid such silly weakness. The masculinized church admires Jesus when he tosses the moneychangers out of the temple but grows uncomfortable when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and talks about wanting to gather His people together like a mother hen gathers her chicks. The masculinized church is all about toughness and ruggedness, viewing with disdain anything that smacks of tenderness or compassion as being a sign of "feminization".
  9. The prosperity gospel. While they don't actually use the word "karma", these people act as if anything less than success is bad karma, and thus not to be thought about. Losing everything in a hurricane? Very bad karma. Don't get involved. Don't even talk about it, or you might accidentally "claim" something you don't want in your life.
Thank God that the above is not more prevalent than it is. I have to say that I rejoice in reading and hearing about how Believers are compelled to act as Christ's hands and feet in both big and small ways.

Just one little example...a friend of mine wasted little time in joining the relief effort. She recently emailed several of us the following:
I'm at the Monroe, Louisiana shelter...the largest (I believe) in Louisiana. We currently have over 1,000 residents, but are gearing up for 3,500 as smaller shelters close and they consolidate up here. The statement you've probably heard about shelters closing by mid-October? Complete and total falsehood.
After a couple of days of running on adrenaline, the reality of being here began to hit. All I can say is that the work is rewarding....I'm so glad to be here...but the sadness is overwhelming, with the "overwhelming" being a profound understatement. The people here are the poorest of the poor. Not hit-their-limit-on-my-credit-card kind of poor, but so-poor-they've-never-had-a-credit-card-offer kind of poor. They arrive with only what they're wearing, most have rotted or missing teeth...if you've ever seen pictures of folks in Appalachia, that's pretty much the folks we serve. Many are angry, many are in complete despair, some are hopeful that they can begin life over again...they have virtually lost everything. The children are heartbreaking. Many parents are just so overwhelmed and stressed themselves that the last thing they're able to do is comfort their kids. Most parents aren't educated and are probably on the middle range of low-average IQ...parenting skills are minimal to begin with. Add on the stress they're under and the result is a whole lot of kids needing attention and affection. It's impossible to blame the folks for their attitudes; they've lost everything, they've been moved from shelter to shelter, they sleep on cots in large rooms with a hundred other people, it's next to impossible to get a shower (we just got 28 in yesterday...until then they had to be bussed to the high school at night), the food is horrible, there's no privacy. Their meager belongings (what they've gotten from our warehouse of donated clothing) are contained in garbage bags that surround their cots. Many of our folks have pretty serious mental illnesses and have been off meds since the hurricane. Walmart has recently come in and is providing free meds until funds are provided for them by govenment agencies. I sometimes feel like having a meltdown; the work goes a little bit like work a few hours...find a closet to cry for 5 minutes...pull yourself together and start again.
Our main frustration around here is the government, not the residents. Regardless of what you've heard in the nice rhetoric of our politcians, the government has done NOTHING for these folks. The shelters are completely operated by volunteer organizations (the Red Cross here), including everything from cafeteria workers to physicians, and donation from local and national organizations. The people here have not received a dime, FEMA is in the civic center miles away and the people have no way of getting there; when they do contact government agencies, it's because they have literally spent hours redialing a phone number...only to get the run around. The main affect by staff is outrage with Washington, primarily because the sunny picture that's painted is just an out-and-out lie. The statement that's heard most from the evacuees is "why do they keep lying to me?" And there's not a lot we can say....it's the truth...

Gotta run. Love to all of you. Thanks for your continuing prayers. Keep them up; they are most appreciated.

4 comments:

  1. Hi there very readable (if not long blog!) but then when you have something to say why not say it? I am a christian minister in the u.k and blog under earthlygood.blogspot.com do drop in my blogs are a little shorter but I do like to thing thought provoking.I just heard on the radio that there is another hurricane heading toward the florida coast and expected to hit New Orleans. No reason? Well maybe our stewardship of the environment has something to do with it! What do you think?

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  2. Honestly, I don't see why you need to pursue these young women just because they aren't where you think they should be in life. Have you heard of prayer? I've heard them both admit they need to grow. We don't all have the same giftings and we don't all get the same instructions from G-d. Obviously, this is something that you have been given to do. So do it with all your might, but don't put it on everyone else. That would be prideful and arrogant, too.
    I know that I have shed quite a few tears and prayed for the people that have been affected by this. I'm sure you would think I am heartless in it and that would be your opinion. I won't stand and give account to you and neither will either of these young women. Besides, if you are going to give them advice to go there and help, maybe it is time to take that advice yourself. It almost seems like you have a vendetta against them. They aren't your responsibility. They are His.

    Shalom,
    Serena

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  3. Oh,my, I'm sorry that this is becoming so personal for you. First of all, I am not pursuing two young women; I am commenting on reactions to the hurricane that go far beyond one or two blogs and that involve men and women of all ages.

    I have no vendetta against anyone.

    My concern is when those outside of the Body of Christ are speaking, writing, and acting with more compassion than some of those within. I don't expect everyone to go and help out; however, it seems wrong to make light of the suffering of others and to claim that it isn't suffering at all.

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  4. Mostly Harmless, I agree that our poor stewardship of God's creation has made, from my understanding, the effects of the hurricane much more damaging, since we have destroyed so much of the marsh land that formerly provided buffer zones against storm surges.

    As for global warming, I don't know what to think.

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