Monday, September 05, 2005


The national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Dr Martin Luther King, has spoken out strongly on BBC Radio 4's Sunday Programme, calling for a renewed civil rights drive across the USA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The radio excerpt is here. Black church and community leaders, including Jesse Jackson, have pointed out that poverty, inequality and racism are clearly implicated in the failure of the federal goverment to deal adequately with the widely-predicted disaster. Journalist Matt Wells has also written a pointed and passionate viewpoint on this and related concerns, 'New Orleans crisis shames US'.

Responding to questions about how God could have allowed such terrible suffering, characterised by fundamentalists as divine punishment, and callously pounced on by some evangelists, SCLC's Charles Steel (left) said: “God has given us everything we need, and we cannot cop out by putting the blame on God.” Indeed. Injustice doesn't drop from heaven, it is very much forged on earth.

I have previously written about the theological issues raised by natural disasters. This is a question which needs much more serious attention by the churches, who rather easily resort to sentiment or cliche in such circumstances. One natural response among those speaking on behalf on the Christian community is to stress divine engagement with suffering, which is surely right. A good, compassionate example is Katherine Torrance's sermon. But it could also be interpreted as a convenient evasion to appear to be attributing the positive to God while sidestepping the negative (though I'm certainly not suggesting that this is what Katherine is intending in her appropriately pastoral approach.)

Meanwhile, in terms of practical response, the US-wide ecumenical relief body Church World Service has also been playing a major role in coordinating aid efforts by faith communities, as have smaller bodies like Mennonite Disaster Service. [Dollar contributions to the SCLC Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund may also be sent to: SCLC National Headquarters, PO Box 89128, 591-A Edgewood Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312, USA.]

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