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FIRST-PERSON: Let’s stop the blame game

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McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Ideologues of every stripe are using Hurricane Katrina as a platform to advance their particular points of view.

Some liberals blame global warming for the intensity of the storm. Others claim the delayed response to those ravaged by Katrina’s wrath is due to the war in Iraq and/or tax cuts. Some on the left have shamelessly accused the Bush administration of indifference toward minorities, specifically black Americans.

There are conservatives that point to a lack of preparedness on the part of local and state governments for the problems that occurred in the wake of Katrina. Some blame welfare programs for undermining the self-sufficiency of New Orleans’ poor.

Segments of the Christian community are weighing in on the causes for Katrina’s ferocity. Some believe the storm is God’s judgment for America’s support of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Others believe the storm was the Almighty’s wrath aimed at the immorality of the Crescent City.

Not to be outdone, some Muslim imams credit Allah for Katrina’s devastation. They contend the storm was a holy warrior striking a blow against America, the great Satan.

To all of the above, I say, “So what.”

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When I was in college, I spent a summer as a lifeguard at a YMCA camp. I was taught that if I saw someone drowning, I was to do what was necessary to rescue them. I was not instructed to wonder about who pushed the person in or why they were not wearing a lifejacket. Neither was I encouraged to lecture them for not knowing how to swim. My only focus was to get them out of the water alive.

Concerning Katrina, the time to fix blame, debate policy, reform welfare and assert God’s mysterious ways can come later. The immediate task at hand is to salvage as many lives as possible.

It has even been suggested that some of the evacuees from the Gulf Coast do not deserve compassion. The insinuation is that if they had only worked harder or planned better, they would not be in the position they are in today. Besides that, some say, many of them seem to possess an attitude of ingratitude.

To those who believe the poor are suffering because of a lack of initiative, again I say, “So what.” This “so what” is especially for those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The Bible recounts a time that Jesus encountered 10 men afflicted with the devastating disease of leprosy. They cried out to Him for mercy and He healed all of them. Nine of the men rushed off, anxious to re-enter society. One, and only one, returned to thank Jesus for restoring his health.

It could be argued that the nine did not deserve the healing they received. However, Jesus healed them just the same.

Those who believe life-sustaining services should be provided only to the deserving do not understand the heart of God or the nature of the Gospel.

God does not provide salvation to those who deserve it; rather, He extends it to those who do not. If God only allows people into heaven that deserve it, then hell is going to be standing room only. And I will be one of those that are standing.

Jesus taught His followers to treat people the way they themselves wanted to be treated. If you suddenly found your life devastated by a catastrophic event, wouldn’t you want someone to reach out with a helping hand?

Is there blame for the delayed response to Katrina’s devastation? Probably. Do welfare programs need to be overhauled? Absolutely. Is God trying to get America’s attention? Perhaps. However, all of these issues take a back seat to the reality that people need help now.

For some, Hurricane Katrina represents an opportunity to promote an ideological agenda. But for the followers of Christ, the storm is an opportunity to exhibit compassion of the first order. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,” Jesus said, “ye have done it unto me.”
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Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.