The Common Good

What Does God Expect of Us?

Sojomail - September 13, 2005

SPECIAL ISSUE: What Does God Expect of Us? 09.13.2005


As our nation grapples with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we offer these daily SojoMails with reflections on deeper moral and spiritual issues, links to recommended news and commentaries, and on-the-ground stories of how people of faith are responding - and ways you can respond - to the immediate needs of survivors and to longer term issues of restoration and justice for the poor and marginalized communities that always suffer the most when tragedy strikes. We encourage you to share these messages with friends and family who share your concern for the well-being of our sisters and brothers in the Gulf Coast region.


The Katrina Pledge: A commitment to build a new America

»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge today.
Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute (Proverbs 31:8).

The waters of Hurricane Katrina have revealed fault lines of race and class in our nation, washing away our national denial about the large number of Americans who live in poverty and about its disproportionate impact on people of color. We have now seen, and so has the rest of the world, the effects of public policies that sacrifice the common good to private interests and misguided priorities.

In the aftermath of the storm's destruction, a new America must be born in which compassion and conscience reshape our society's priorities at all levels. Together we can transform our country into one where economic security for all is an essential part of our national security.

As a person of faith, I believe that the poverty we have witnessed on the rooftops of New Orleans and the devastated communities of the Gulf Coast is morally unacceptable. Therefore, I join my fellow Americans across the barriers of race, religion, class, and politics in the following commitments:

1. I pledge to be personally involved in helping those whose lives have been affected by this natural disaster - by praying for the victims and their families and by offering my time, talents, and resources to relief and recovery ministries that are meeting their needs.

2. I pledge to work for sweeping change of our nation's priorities. I will press my elected representatives to protect the common good - especially the needs of our poorest families and children - rather than supporting the twin social disasters of tax cuts for the rich and budget cuts that hurt the poor

>>Click here to sign the pledge.


In the light of Katrina, what would God expect us to do?
by Chuck Gutenson

A question to be asked in every situation is: What would God expect of us in these circumstances? The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is no exception, and Christians ought now to be reflecting upon God's expectations in light of what the disaster has revealed. Initially, reflection should lead to immediate action. For example, we must bring to bear whatever resources we can to ease the suffering. The fact that so many victims were those on the margins of society, those for whom God consistently expresses deep concern, should cause particular alarm. Initially, then, God expects to do whatever we can - pray, offer financial support, house victims, call upon governmental agencies to step up, etc.

While we should focus today on saving lives, we must also ask: What things ought we do to prevent future recurrences? How can we act pre-emptively to minimize suffering in the future? Well, we know enough to discern important aspects of God's expectations.

1. God consistently expresses concern for those who are poor and on the margins. Consider Amos 2:6-8:

For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.

Those under judgment have failed in their obligation to care for those who are poor, and they exploit them by charging them unjustly and then seek to keep them out of sight. The "garments taken in pledge" refers to an earlier command that when a poor person gives a garment as collateral, it is to be returned at night. God is more worried that the poor have protection from the elements than that a loan be adequately collateralized.

Here the lenders have failed to keep the command and instead use the garment for their own leisure. For these failures regarding the poor, the nation is being judged. What is it God expects? That we understand God's priorities and change ours until they, at the personal, corporate, and national level, match God's.

2. God also makes clear how we are to organize our economic lives. Concern for the poor is front and center. For example, God commands the observance of years of release (every seven years, all debts were to be forgiven) and years of jubilee (every 50 years, all lands were returned to their ancestral owners). God also gives laws regarding gleaning (farmers were to leave some produce for the poor). In all these, God is keenly concerned to avoid the rise of a permanently dispossessed class. What is it that God expects? That we understand God's priorities and change ours until they, at the personal, corporate, and national level, match God's.

3. God offers warning about the punishment for those who fail to align themselves with God's priorities. In the second half of Matthew 25, Jesus describes the final judgment. Did you care for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned? The answers determine our fate - those who lived out God's expectations are rewarded, those who did not are turned away. What is it that God expects? That we understand God's priorities and change ours until they, at the personal, corporate, and national level, match God's.

So, what are we to do?

First, we must see the extent to which poverty is a problem in the world and, yes, even at our own back door. We must begin to understand the limits imposed by poverty. Many in New Orleans simply had no means either to evacuate or to care for themselves. We left them behind. Recognizing God's expectations must drive us to corrective actions.

Second, it must become a national priority to fund the projects needed to provide safety for all, with special attention given to those most at risk. Tax cuts for the wealthy funded at the expense of Medicaid, food stamps, and affordable housing must be seen for their immorality. Cutting funds for projects that strengthen infrastructure, especially infrastructure for things such as flood control and the like, must be rejected.

In a nutshell, we must begin to act in ways that meet God's expectations, moving from the current laissez faire individualism to a deeper sense of inter-dependency. And that means putting those who are at the margins first when it comes to allocating our personal, corporate, and national resources.

Chuck Gutenson, on loan from Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, works on strategic planning and resource development for Sojourners and Call to Renewal.


'We need to strengthen not dismantle the safety net'

PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban, and rural communities, held a Sept. 12 press conference in Washington, D.C., to press for a stronger federal response to the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast region. Scott Reed, PICO's national director of organizing, wrote:

With leadership from our brothers and sisters in Louisiana, PICO is calling on Congress to put aside efforts to cut Medicaid and other safety net programs and focus on passing a comprehensive Family Relief plan to protect displaced families and support communities that are overwhelmed by sheltering victims. ...[A]s much as faith-communities are doing, saving lives and protecting families requires a far greater commitment from the federal government than PICO is seeing on the ground...
Now more than ever we need to strengthen not dismantle the safety net upon which we all depend. ... We are developing a federal agenda that includes: provision of temporary housing and transferable housing vouchers; financial and job assistance, college aid, and vocational training; suspension of mortgage and other debt; access to federal health insurance; education and counseling for children; direct federal aid to states and communities sheltering victims; crackdown on price gouging; rebuilding New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities for all their citizens; and a thorough congressional investigation of the catastrophic failure of the federal government to save lives before and after Katrina struck.

For more on PICO's work on Katrina and other issues, visit


Recommended news and commentary

Some articles may require free registration.

Scarcely Heard Question: How God Could Have Allowed Catastrophe to Occur
by Peter Steinfels, The New York Times

Katrina Pushes Issues of Race and Poverty at Bush
by Michael A. Fletcher, The Washington Post

Our Rules vs. The Poor
by William Raspberry, The Washington Post

D.C.'s Compassion Stretches Only So Far
by Courtland Milloy, The Washington Post

Exiles from a City and From a Nation
by Cornel West, The Observer

End of the Bush Era
by E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post

If you wish to make a contribution to help with disaster relief, contact one of the agencies recommended by the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster or the relief organization of your choice.

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