Public figures should stop blaming God for hurricanes and claiming divine approval for their political agendas, Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Tuesday.
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson drew criticism lately for blaming Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke on divine retribution for transferring land in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. Robertson, a former Republican candidate for president, also said residents of Dover, Pa., forfeited God’s protection by refusing to teach “intelligent design” in public schools.
On Monday, New Orleans’ Democratic mayor Ray Nagin said that Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters are a sign that God is “mad at America” and at black communities for tearing themselves apart through violence and divisive politics.
“Surely God is mad at America,” Nagin said in a Martin Luther King Day speech quoted in the Washington Post. “He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it’s destroyed and put stress on this country.”
“Surely he doesn’t approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses,” Nagin said. “But surely he is upset at black America also. We’re not taking care of ourselves.”
“Blaming God for natural disasters, diseases and destruction is far too popular in American culture, and especially within faith circles,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Parham said Christians “would do well to remember the words of Jesus, who taught us two things about judgment in the Sermon on the Mount.”
In the New International Version of Matthew 5:45, Jesus says that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” suggesting that weather-related phenomena are unconnected to morality.
Matthew 7:26 describes a man who built his house on sand, where it was unable to sustain storms, instead of a rock. The man in the parable “brought judgment on himself for his foolishness,” Parham said. Likewise, failed levees blamed for much of the destruction in New Orleans were caused by human failure, not God.
Nagin, who is African-American, also promised that New Orleans will be a “chocolate” city again. Many of the city’s black neighborhoods were heavily damaged by Katrina.
“It’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to rebuild New Orleans–the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans,” the mayor said. “This city will be a majority-African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be. You can’t have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn’t be New Orleans.”
Conservative pundits termed the “chocolate” reference racist.
On Tuesday Nagin apologized, saying if he could he would take back some of his comments the day before.
“I used some analogies and probably didn’t hit the mark on my message. But I never intended to offend anyone,” Nagin told FOX News.
Nagin’s “Bring New Orleans Back” Commission has been criticized for a rebuilding plan that would prevent mostly working-class and poor residents in some of the hardest-hit areas from moving back to begin rebuilding their homes for at least four months. In the meantime, residents would have to prove existence of a “critical mass” in their neighborhoods or have properties bought out or seized by eminent domain and turned into wetlands and green space.
Critics call it a scheme to depopulate low-income parts of New Orleans, while building up tourist districts and more affluent neighborhoods.
Nagin isn’t the first to suggest a theological explanation for Katrina.
Franklin Graham blamed looting in New Orleans following the flooding on lack of a “moral standard” brought about by removing God from America’s school’s and society. Graham also predicted God would use the disaster to spark a revival and turn the city away from its reputation for Satanism and sexual sin.
Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, wondered aloud said at meetings of the Texas Restoration Project if God sent Hurricane Katrina “to purify our nation.”
“They have devil worship. They advertise ‘Sin City’ tours. They celebrate Southern decadence. Girls go wild in New Orleans,” said McKissic, a founder of the “Not on My Watch” coalition against gay marriage. “Sometimes God does not speak through natural phenomena. This may have nothing to do with God being offended by homosexuality. But possibly it does.”
Chuck Colson, the former Watergate felon who now heads Prison Fellowship, suggested God attempted to get the nation’s attention with the hurricane to get it better prepared for possible terrorist attacks.
“Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call to this country,” Colson said on his Sept. 12 “Breakpoint” radio broadcast. “[Did] God have anything to do with Katrina? people asked. My answer is: He allowed it, and perhaps He allowed it to get our attention, so that we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do is put things back the way they were and life will be normal again.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.