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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Inspiration from Baptist words and deeds in Louisiana

There's been a lot of muttering among non-professional laity about whether a natural disaster of Katrina's proportions would actually summon America into some sort of reckoning with how vulnerable her needy are.

Today, released on
Addressing Baton Rouge Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden, who spoke about the
city's response to New Orleans evacuees, Medley outlined American
Baptists' relief efforts to meet the unprecedented needs caused by the
disaster, and asked how churches can continue to respond in a meaningful
way. "Katrina unearthed an ugly secret in our country," Medley added.
"How can we work toward an America that is more just and more fair? How
can we speak out for justice?"

Indeed, this is just the issue. The Baptists are speaking to rebuilding in extremely concrete ways: making sure roads are useable, levees are returned to New Orleans, reaching out to families, rebuilding homes and churches, all through the support of church communities helping other communities.

But the message Medley appeals to is the broader concern. Katrina demonstrated that the poor in America of every race dangle over oblivion by a thread.

The contingencies that separate a poor family in America from bankruptcy, starvation, unmedicated illness, unremediable unemployment, and homelessness are as near as the next contingency -- whether it comes in the form of a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or flood; or whether it appears in the sudden illness or incarceration of one of the family's wageearners.

The Baptists have taken an important step among other churches by articulating the lesson Christians must take from Katrina's damage: America is a nation which has broken with Christ's commandments by taking out of place those safety nets designed to provide relief for the most needy.

I pray that other Christians and other churches will act with similar courage in preaching and acting upon this lesson. For political change, poverty and its structural conditions need to be kept constantly in the attention of the media. Courageous action, coordinated publicity, and self-education are our communities' tools.

If we work together, we can use this moment as a platform from which to work for a real social transformation of the nation. Don't let Katrina just be another disaster in history. Let it be an event that inspired us, and showed us what we want to save our children from.