During the past few weeks, massive relief efforts have been underway, intent on helping hurricane victims in Texas and Florida. Paul Singer, the Washington correspondent for U.S.A. Today, recently informed his readers, “If you donate bottles of water, diapers, clothing, or any other materials to hurricane victims in Texas or Florida, your donation will likely pass through the hands of the Seventh Day Adventists before it gets to a storm victim.” Singer says the S.D.A. churches, over several decades, have “established a unique expertise in disaster ‘warehousing,’ collecting, logging, organizing, and distributing relief supplies in cooperation with government disaster response agencies.” Of course, Adventists are not the only “faith based” group involved in aiding communities and individuals devastated by these powerful hurricanes. Samaritan’s Purse, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Catholic Charities, Convoy of Hope, and many other organizations are all playing a significant role in relief efforts.
Singer goes on to explain how these faith based groups do not merely supplement government relief efforts, but in many cases are the government relief effort. FEMA and state level emergency response agencies often play the role of simply coordinating the work of various private relief organizations. According to one official, “About 80% of the recovery effort happens because of private, non-profit groups, and the vast majority of these are Christian based.” Recently a photo of a chainsaw-wielding, habit-wearing nun (Sister Margaret Ann, principal of a Roman Catholic School in Miami) has gone viral. The media mostly treat this as a heart-warming oddity, but it seems, in many ways, she is the face of what actually happens in disaster relief.
Perhaps the stories of the generous contributions of faith based groups and individuals in hurricane relief will help dispel a couple of myths that have become pervasive in recent years. The first myth is that the positive contributions of churches and other faith based groups are not very significant in our society. One survey found that nearly half of Americans think “that the government could replace religious organizations and the charitable services they offer with no problems and nothing lost.” As John Stonestreet says, “To see just how wrong this is, we only need to look at South Texas and Florida.”
A second myth which should be dispelled is that having Christians and other religious people bringing their faith into the public sphere is somehow a negative thing. A couple of U.S. Senators recently expressed fear that a federal judicial nominee might allow her “religious dogma” (religious belief or teaching) to influence her perspective as a judge. We should note, however, that those sacrificing so much time, energy, and resources in hurricane relief efforts are often people whose (paraphrasing one Senator) “dogma lives loudly in them.” These are folks who believe deeply in God, and that human beings are made in His image. They are committed to Jesus’ summary of Christian dogma, that they should love God with their entire being and love their neighbors as themselves. Some would prefer that religious beliefs were kept private, spoken out loud only in churches or other religious settings. If that would happen, however, the road to recovery in places like south Texas and Florida would take much longer. All Americans should be grateful for people who allow their faith to influence not just what they do in church each week, but how they live their lives each and every day.
Rev. Dan Erickson, Senior Pastor, Chisholm Baptist Church