Americans have witnessed a barrage of heart wrenching images from Haiti. Images of collapsed buildings that have entombed people, who were unable to escape the earthquake's fast fury. Images of bloodied yet resilient children caked with dust, full of sorrow, searching for what may be left of their family. Images of countless mangled corpses strewn on the city's sidewalks like trash toppled by a strong gust of wind. Haiti was a nation already teetering on the brink of survival and the 7.0 earthquake sent the country plunging off the ledge.
Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Zoroastrian, many of us who believe in God are asking why did God allow such devastation to befall Haiti, an already impoverished and vulnerable country? This is the same question many of us asked ourselves after the devastating Indonesian Tsunami in 2004, and after other natural disasters that have erased thousands of lives in one short brush of time. In the aftermath of disaster, we wonder where God is.
I attended Reverend Jesse Jackson's 20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast in Chicago and asked Christian leaders in attendance to share their perspective on the conundrum. I first asked Reverend Gregory Livingston, National Chairman of Rainbow Push Coalition's Ministers Division, whether God had turned His back on Haiti. He responded with a resounding "no," arguing:
Human history has known catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti through its entire existence. The devil and God are found in the response. Who we are as a people is defined by how we deal with the earthquake.
Carlton Pearson, Interim Minister of Christ Universal Temple in Chicago, also vehemently argued that God has not turned His back on Haiti. He stressed:
God does not have an anger management problem; he does not throw tantrums by way of acts of nature. That is a mythical, pathological God that does not exist except in the minds of those who create it. The earthquake was not an act of God, it was an act of nature. When we belch or urinate, these are acts of nature and no one calls these acts of God. Likewise the earthquake was an act of nature. The earth was belching, (he giggles) so to speak.
Aaron McLeod is the Minister of Social Justice at Trinity United Church of Christ, which was the church President Obama attended during his politically formative years in Chicago. Reverend McCleod also echoed the sentiments expressed by Pastors Pearson and Livingston when he confidently stated that God has not turned His back on Haiti.
Reverend McLeod stated:
We as the human race have turned our backs on God in allowing the country of Haiti to remain the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere for decades with no chance of having the adequate infrastructure necessary to sustain a 7.0 earthquake. We have not engaged the country with proper foreign direct investment and we have not come to its aid despite the fact that 65% of its population is unemployed. God is displeased with that. In light of this tragedy, we should embody the compassion of Christ and give of our resources unselfishly to rebuild the country and ensure that this natural disaster does not shape the country going forward.
In contrast to these three perspectives, Reverend Pat Robertson expressed his belief that God has turned His back on Haiti. Americans of all political, ethnic and racial backgrounds were deeply revolted by Robertson's comments broadcast on The 700 club. Robertson explained:
Haitians "were under the heel of the French... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'okay, it's a deal.'
Clergy from virtually all denominations have condemned Robertson's response, declaring it was fundamentally un-Christian.
Nevertheless, let's think about Robertson's response for a minute. According to Christian folklore, people who make a deal with the devil give him their soul and are damned in the life hereafter in exchange for a specific request such as power, wealth, youth or various luxuries and comforts.
But wait a minute Reverend Pat, many Americans come home from work in our SUVs and watch the devastation in Haiti on our flat screen TVs while we relax in living rooms where the furniture costs more than the average Haitian makes in a decade. We have power, wealth, and live lives full of luxuries and comforts. Could it be that if we stand idly by while our fellow man succumbs to untold anguish, that we are putting our souls in danger?
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