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Commentary: In the winds of Katrina, a call to repentance

 


Commentary: In the winds of Katrina, a call to repentance

Sept. 14, 2005

A UMNS Commentary
By Bishop Kenneth L. Carder*

". . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

— Micah 6:8

The traumatic consequences of Hurricane Katrina validate the warnings of history and the great religious traditions of the world. Authentic security is found only in the practice of justice, which the Hebrew and Christian Bibles define primarily as enabling the poor, the children, the weak and the vulnerable to flourish as beloved children of God.

The Hebrew prophets warn that nations that fail to practice such justice by protecting "the orphans, the widows and the strangers" will disintegrate and collapse.

Those trapped in the cauldron of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast were predominantly the poor, the sick, the children, the homeless and the elderly. Public policies in the last several years have given preferential treatment to the privileged and the powerful, while services to the poor have been gradually and piously dismantled and neglected. Safety nets have been weakened and removed by economic policies and practices of local, state and federal governments.

It is a tragic judgment upon our nation that public policies and personal and corporate priorities equip us to destroy a foreign city within minutes, but we cannot rescue the desperately stranded people in flooded communities in our own homeland within a week. We are too quick to identify those who take necessities for survival as "looters" and are blind to the ongoing looting of the poor by unjust and exploitative policies and practices by governments, corporations, institutions and individuals.

We in the United Methodist Church share in the guilt and need for repentance and renewal. We, too, have been "straining at gnats and swallowing camels" and neglecting "to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with God." We have pursued strategies of institutional enhancement, personal comfort and narrow ideological agendas while failing to extend hospitality, community and justice to those whom Jesus called "the least of these."

Our nation’s invasion and occupation of Iraq in response to the terrible destruction of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was a serious mistake, which has now contributed to our difficulty in responding to nature’s assault on the Gulf Coast and to the unleashing of flood waters on the poor and defenseless people in New Orleans. The misplaced government priorities, policies and budgets in the name of defeating terrorism have compounded the terror of Hurricane Katrina.

It is now the aftermath of another tragedy that will define President Bush’s leadership and his place in history. I urge him — and all of us as a nation — to reorder our priorities toward policies and practices that protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens and enable them to flourish as beloved children of God who are made in the divine image.

At the same time, I repent of my own failure to provide leadership to the United Methodist Church that faithfully reflects the message of the prophets and Jesus; and I pledge to reorder my own priorities toward that which brings true security — compassion expressed in justice for and community with "the least of these."

May the God who brings freedom from bondage and resurrection from crucifixion transform the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina into repentance, renewal and restoration.

*Carder is professor of the practice of pastoral formation and director of the Duke Center for Excellence in Ministry at United Methodist-related Duke University Divinity School, Durham, N.C.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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