Not in the pews. Not in the pews of evangelical America. I know some of you have probably seen this quote from somebody named Michael Marcavage, who professes to be a Christian activist:
"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge," he continued.
"We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster, but let us not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," Marcavage said. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," Marcavage concluded.
And probably this from somebody named Rick Scarborough, who professes to be a minister of the Word:
After September 11, 2001, "God bless America" was on everyone's lips. But what, exactly, are we asking God to bless - a nation moving a breakneck speed toward homosexual marriage, a nation awash in pornography, a nation in which our children are indoctrinated in perversion in the public schools, a nation in which most public displays of The Ten Commandments are considered offensive to the Constitution, a nation in which the elite does all in its considerable power to efface our Biblical heritage?
We are sowing the wind. Surely, we shall reap the whirlwind.
But perhaps you think these are merely the voices of extremists. Certainly the masses of Christianity are more sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed, and duly grieved for the dying and outraged at their government for the neglect and delays.
Well, if my experience in evangelical America this weekend is any indication, you would be disappointed.
While you and I may have been cringing at the coverage of death and carnage in New Orleans last week, to the conservative, white, middle class group of church goers in rural and suburban America, the worst natural catastrophe in American history is a big, fat zero.
Around the table at our Saturday morning lesson study, when prayer requests were entertained, and after waiting for someone else to bring up the obvious, I mentioned Katrinia and its deadly aftermath.
I may have been the only concerned member of the group. Here were some of the comments that followed:
"New Orleans is a wicked city...the people were told to leave...they shouldn't be blaming others (the President).
I patiently explained that a good many of the people were unable to leave, seeing as they didn't have the means or transportation to do so.
I also suggested, as a qualification to the city's "wicked" reputation, that the city was deathly poor, and its economy based on low-paying service jobs.
In any event, for those of you wondering why the administration's response was less than immediate and overwhelming, as say, it was LAST SUMMER in FLORIDA for that state's hurricane victims, I would point you to the President's recognized base of conservative evangelical followers for a clue.
And oh, yes yes, conservative apologists will respond by listing the various religious groups sponsoring assistance to the victims of the crisis, such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, etc. And yesterday did witness TV superevangelist, megachurch superstar and best selling author T.D. Jakes aside the President in Lousiana, and maybe he and his massive organization are even doing something to help. If so, my hats off to him for putting his celebrity to a good use. And there appears to have been a legitamately generous and well organized response in the Houston area to evacuees. Again, to the extent church groups have helped facilitate that process, they are deserving of our gratitute on the part of the nation.
But I don't mean the official, non-profit entities the established churches have set up to provide social services, as well intended as these efforts are, because they don't necessarily capture the mood of the church members themselves, which is what has been the most alarming for its indifference, again if my limited experience is any measure. But if the churches are outraged at the senseless deaths and official incompetency, I haven't seen any indication of it. Stained, blue dresses. Oh, yes, we'll be angry about that. The existence of legalized abortion? Oh, yes, great moral travesty. Gays? Oh yes, what has happened to our sense of right and wrong, good and evil, moral absolutes, the need to defend the family? No officially coerced prayer in schools? Oh yes, we are outraged. What of America's renowned Christian religious heritage?
Of these the church and its pew-dwellers can assuredly be outraged over.
But the deaths and sufferings of inner-city blacks? Uh uh. They brought it on themselves. Serves them right. And don't blame our President.
It's moments like these that make me think the church is dead. Oh, it will go on baptising people, holding revivals, expressing outrage at the private, consensual actions of individuals that have no direct bearing on their own rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there will be more Justice Sundays, there will be more Christian self help best sellers, there will be new and bigger mega churches, their leaders will continue to hold the Republican Party and the rest of us hostage to its narrow and bigoted agenda, and on and on.
But the church's heart and soul, or the lack thereof, is being exposed, subordinated to the demands and ambitions of conservative politics, commercial empire, and "doctrinal purity".
Maybe David Brooks will eventually be proven right, that last week was a tipping point, a deciding moment in the future of the country's politics, a seminal event in this nation's summer of discontent, a symbol of the growing dis-ease in the country. But if our churches are any indication, the result won't be a progressive revival and maybe not even a "centrist" establishment. And that leaves some other alternatives that I'd rather not contemplate.