The news from Puerto Rico is all bad. The fact that this is an island that has been hit by two major hurricanes makes help and aid extremely difficult to distribute. I am guessing that it will begin to be asserted that the aid is slow and coming because these folks are minorities. In fact I think it happened already that some politician said the issue is not relief but that the island has a lot of “brown people” and you know how much Republicans hate “brown people”. This kind of foolishness has been going on for ages but it gets worse in times of disaster. New Orleans was a prime example. The accusation was the because the folks down there were mostly minorities the federal government was slow to act, when the reality was that the local mayor was incompetent.
When LCMS World Relief and Human Care went to help with clean up we were part of a pan – Lutheran response. We collected money and helped raise volunteers but we were doing within a larger organization. The politics came in when we sent volunteers to help in the clean up and they were given a list of things that they could not do. They could not pray with the people that they were trying to help. They could not pray together as volunteers in sight of the people that were being helped. They could not hand out devotions or tracts. They could not offer a witness as Christians. The reason is not theological but political. The efforts that it would take to pray and give out devotions or invite to a worship service could be seen by some as “coercive evangelism” and some who might come to church could be viewed as coerced into conversion.
I was very proud of our Board as we wrestled with the concept of human care and mercy. We struggled with a theology of mercy so that we could get rid of the politics. We went our own way and developed our own capacity to do disaster relief and we did it our way and continue to do so. Our way has been considered by many to be a model program. We work with the Pastors and congregations and then use them as a force multiplier to move into communities. Their are statements we made about coercive evangelism. WE do what we do in mercy work “because of what we believe, not so that you will believe”. Because Christ rescued us and has shown us His love we love and want to help others. If they come to faith because of our witness that is wonderful, but we help in time of disaster because that is what Christians do.
To politicize disasters is reprehensible. To take faith and theology out of our life of mercy is worse. We have spent years and thousands of dollars collecting blankets and school kits to send to the agency that wouldn’t let us pray. I wonder if they would reject those gifts if they knew that before we sent them we sanctified them with the Word of God and Prayer?
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