The Common Good

Katrina and the uncomfortable truth

Sojomail - September 16, 2005

Quote of the Week : 'A test of the conservative agenda'
Building a Movement : Katrina pledge tops 20,000
Faith in Action : Katrina and the uncomfortable truth
On the Ground : Day two at the Hattiesburg shelter
Religion and Politics : 9/11 and the sport of God
Iraq Journal : 'These uniforms draw a lot of attention'
By the Numbers : Hurricane survivors on God and government
Media Watch : Sojourners in the news
Boomerang : Readers write
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'A test of the conservative agenda'

"Everyone is attaching their own agenda to this.... It's being seen as a test of the conservative agenda, from enterprise zones to school vouchers and the repeal of labor laws, and these ideas deserve careful thought."

- William A. Niskanen, a former Reagan White House economic adviser now at the libertarian Cato Institute, commenting on Republican plans for post-Katrina reconstruction. The Bush administration has already suspended affirmative-action and prevailing wage rules for federal contractors in the region. Bills are also being proposed that would waive environmental regulations. Source: The Wall Street Journal

Read more about post-Katrina agendas:

Bush suspends prevailing wage laws for Katrina clean-up The NewStandard

Hurricane spawns flurry of deregulation MSNBC

Bush takes responsiblity for federal failures, Republicans plan policy The Washington Post


»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge today.

More than 21,000 of you have taken the Katrina Pledge since its launch last Friday. Next week, we'll take the pledge to Congress and tell them of your commitment to go beyond immediate relief and address lasting social change. The pledge and the number of signers will accompany a letter from Jim Wallis to every senator and representative about what this time of disaster requires of political leaders. Please tell your friends about this campaign. Your commitment and action will make this message to Congress even stronger.

The Katrina Pledge: A commitment to build a new America
Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute (Proverbs 31:8).

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.

2. I pledge to work for sweeping change of our nation's priorities.

»Click here to read and sign the Katrina Pledge

»Tell a friend about the Katrina Pledge


Katrina and the uncomfortable truth
by Richard E. Stearns

Perhaps the most disturbing comment I have heard over the past few weeks, as I have been glued to the 24/7 Katrina media coverage, came from a man who lost his home in New Orleans and was living in a shelter. It came in response to the controversial use of the word "refugee" to describe the thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He said: "'Refugee?' I'm not some poor African with flies on his face - we are not refugees, we're American citizens!"

There is a profound and uncomfortable truth captured in this man's angry statement. The truth that all men are not created equal; that the 2.8 billion poor who live on less than $2 a day are not valued with equal importance; that their suffering is less important; that their pain can be tolerated; that their lives are somehow less significant; and that they don't have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the same way the rest of us do.

Hurricane Katrina exposed this uncomfortable double standard to us. It is a double standard that suggests that we don't have a moral responsibility to respond to human suffering if it occurs in a different hemisphere and it is a double standard that showed us that the poor - even in America - are the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Now our hearts have gone out to our fellow citizens these past two weeks. Their pain and suffering are real and as a nation we have come together in countless ways to respond to our neighbors in need.

World Vision is responding to those needs just as we did after 9/11. I am here today in New York to urge the world leaders meeting at the United Nations this week to not forget the world's 2.8 billion poor people. They are asking us to look upon them with the same concern and sense of moral responsibility that we have demonstrated toward our own citizens.

While in the past two weeks we have been critical of the slow response to aid all the victims of Hurricane Katrina, for the poorest of the poor, there is often no response. While we have pointed to the failure of FEMA - for the poorest of the poor, there is no FEMA to fail them.

And while $62 billion has been set aside for relief and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast - the money needed to help the poorest of the poor cannot be found.

Dear friends, let us pray this week that 2005 will be the year when the world opened its eyes to the poor; that 2005 will be the year of their emancipation proclamation - because the world finally decided to eliminate extreme poverty in this generation. And let us pray that God will continue to bless our great nation because we have chosen to be a blessing to the word's poor.

Richard E. Stearns is the president of World Vision United States. This article is adapted from a speech made as part of an interfaith delegation of nearly 20 American religious leaders calling on the Bush Administration to join other nations in committing to end global poverty and fully embrace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Organized in part by Sojourners, a memorial service, press conference, and afternoon of prophetic preaching on the MDGs marked the first day of a three-day vigil of prayer and fasting in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in New York City this week.

+ Read more about the vigil at the World Summit


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Day two at the Hattiesburg shelter
by Cheri Herrboldt

This is my second day at the Hattiesburg shelter. I will probably not be here tomorrow as things are moving fast and the areas of need keep changing. This shelter is housing about 300 families currently, mainly from Louisiana (New Orleans area) and also southern Mississippi. The shelter is a rodeo arena.

I was just told that I now have a headful of lice. This is pretty minimal compared to what others at the shelter are suffering. An hour ago I sat with a young girl (age 8) who is so depressed from losing her home and all her belongings - especially her cherished dog that was not able to be evacuated - that she told me with a face full of tears that she really wanted to die. She feels no one understands how lost she feels....

This morning I also spoke with a young man (mid-20s) who was a chef at the Hard Rock Cafe in New Orleans. He lost his house, restaurant, car, and is not able to locate his family. He came to the shelter in Hattiesburg three weeks ago. There was no organized food service, so instead of focusing on his depression, he chose to organize the food service at the shelter and started cooking for 2,700 people until the Red Cross could get a staff of folks to come in. Between preparing the three meals - from food donations - each day, he was busy trying to locate his missing family. He still hasn't found them.

+ Read the full article


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9/11 and the sport of God

Terrorists plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them.

They win only if we let them, only if we become like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant, paranoid. Having lost faith in all else, zealots have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell what's in God's mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.

So over the past four years I have kept reminding myself of not only the horror but the humanity that was revealed that day four years ago, when through the smoke and fire we glimpsed the heroism, compassion, and sacrifice of people who did the best of things in the worst of times. I keep telling myself that this beauty in us is real, that it makes life worthwhile and democracy work and that no terrorist can take it from us.

But I am not so sure. As a Christian realist I honor my inner skeptic. And as a journalist I always know the other side of the story.

+ Read the full article at


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'These uniforms draw a lot of attention'
by William Van Wagenen, Christian Peacemaker Teams

Last week I went with a co-worker to the Missionaries of Charity orphanage to help feed and play with the kids. I was in the play room holding a young boy as a large group of U.S. soldiers entered the room. Several began picking up children, as others, from the Army's public affairs division, began taking photos, which they said they would send to newspapers back home. I asked one of the commanders, "Isn't it dangerous for you guys to be here?" He responded, "It's dangerous for us, but it's more dangerous for the kids. These uniforms always draw a lot of attention."

+ Read the full article



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Hurricane survivors on God and government

The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health sponsored a poll of New Orleans evacuees living in Houston emergency shelters. One interesting result suggests that most don't blame God for their situation:

81% say this experience has strengthened their religious faith.
61% say this experience has made them feel as if the government doesn't care about people like them.

+ See more poll results


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God saves us in this world and the next. In Signs of Salvation: New Life Where Grace and Truth Meet, Ben Richmond provides the necessary biblical theology of salvation to move Christians to reconnect personal faith with Jesus' ethics: peace, economic justice, and the inclusive community that is formed by listening to God's living word. Includes resources for study groups. Here is a joyful invitation to a new relationship with God, who has chosen to come to us in love.


Sojourners in the news

Evangelical leaders declare 'new war against global hunger'
The Christian Post

American religious leaders urge governments to keep promise on anti-poverty goals
The Christian Post

Students urged to help poor
The Selma Times-Journal

Katrina Pushes Issues of Race and Poverty at Bush
The Washington Post

Hundreds mark "A Day for Darfur" with White House rally
Sudan Tribune

Can Jim Wallis save God from the Right?
Philadelphia City Paper


Job openings with Sojourners. We are currently accepting applications for SPEAKING EVENTS COORDINATOR, ADVERTISING MANAGER, MEDIA RELATIONS MANAGER, WEB ASSOCIATE, EVENTS AND OUTREACH ORGANIZER, and more. Click here for more info. The best place to get Religious Left stuff. We carry buttons, shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, etc. This week's featured item: "You must be the change you want to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

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Readers write

Rev. Ann L. Whitaker of St. Alban's Episcopal Church writes from Bovina, Mississippi:

We have sheltered several families at our small church before, during, and after Katrina (several are still with us). One of the other unfortunate realities along with poverty - which your article richly addresses - is people living with disabilities. Several of our folks came as a second wave of evacuees who were placed in the Superdome. They are people living with disabilities - confined to wheelchair, walkers, etc. They simply couldn't get out of the city. Their story is incredible. I am grateful they are safe now - I only wish my hugs could erase their continuing nightmares. Many others did not live to tell their story.

We must work together to eradicate those systems that perpetuate poverty, and we must help others understand that people with disabilities are "worth the trouble." I ask for your continued prayers for clergy living on the Gulf Coast, and all others who have been displaced by Katrina.


Steve Antil writes from Whistler, British Columbia:

Thank you for your commitment to the cause of "the least of these." After witnessing (reading, not seeing) the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I felt in my heart that our family needed to do something. I never would have thought of it myself, but my wife decided that if the family could do without her for a few weeks she would go to Louisiana and volunteer to care for these people who have lost so much. She has training, and more important, God-given gifts that will enable her to help. Our church family has been fractured by disunity this year; nevertheless, the support from our church has been overwhelming. So taking this one small (not small to my wife) step towards helping a devastated community, has been a step in rebuilding our own.


James D.Colville writes from Rochester, Minnesota:

I have read carefully your Katrina Pledge and would like to sign it, but cannot. While I agree with most of the commentary, I am unwilling to pledge to support no reduction in funding that "hurts the poor," because I do not know what you mean by that phrase. My concern is that the pledge to not reduce funding that "hurts the poor" means a pledge to continue the failed programs that have gotten us to this place. That I am unwilling to do. What I have seen in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and what I have seen around the country leads me to believe that bold new initiatives, and, yes, some tough love, are necessary to begin resolving the problems.

So, until you can assure me that the Katrina Pledge means a commitment to a total reevaluation of programs that are supposed to help the poor, the elimination or radical revision of those programs that are not effective, and the initiation of bold new initiatives in place of the current failed programs; and that it does not mean a Pavlovian commitment to current funding no matter what the effectiveness of the program, I am unwilling to sign the Katrina Pledge.


Bill Mech writes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

Elizabeth Green's article raised a good point about how we as people of faith should rise up and call on our leaders to change our nation's priorities ["Priorities for the Poor?" SojoMail 9/15/2005]. But what if it's not to shift dollars from one massive program to another, but to take dollars out of the hands of the central government bureaucracy and put them back in the hands of people of faith, who can then direct them according to their consciences? Why do we think that it's the government's job to save people from every source of suffering and grief? It's really ours as individuals. It was to individuals that Jesus spoke the parable of the Good Samaritan. When you see your neighbor hurting - help him! Not when you see your neighbor hurting, go to the temple and tell the authorities to help him.

When we cede our income to the central government, we cede control of it as well - that's reality. Let's change our government's priorities, all right - by getting back individual control of the resources it collects, misappropriates, and squanders.


Sandra Miller writes from Conway, Arkansas:

For the past two weeks, I have worked 12-15 hours a day as a volunteer helping my community provide services to evacuees from New Orleans. We are a city of nearly 50,000 people in central Arkansas. Nearly 1,200 evacuees are in our community. More than 75,000 evacuees came to Arkansas in total. Far less than Texas, but compared to our total population of 2.6 million citizens - a lot of people.

FEMA's poor planning coupled with decades of declining federal funding for our poorest and most vulnerable citizens is inadvertently resulting in the export of poverty from New Orleans to ill-prepared, well-meaning small communities across Arkansas and Texas, like Conway, who opened our doors out of compassion - not just Houston, Dallas, and Baton Rouge. Conway cannot meet the overwhelming needs with our existing infrastructure and resources. Nor can we bear the burden of providing long-term services by ourselves. Arkansas already has the second or third lowest per capita income in the United States. Our poverty rate is among the highest in the nation. We need a national consensus to address the needs not only of victims of Katrina but the poor and elderly and mentally ill who were already among us.

I appreciate Sojourners' leadership. Poverty is an issue that needs to be placed on the front-burner of the national agenda NOW while people still care.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

A Conversation with Adam Taylor: A Christian response to poverty.
Wednesday, September 21 - 5:30 Potluck Dinner - 6:30 Service

In profound ways Hurricane Katrina has generated desperately needed attention and urgency surrounding the crisis of poverty in the U.S. At the U.N. World Summit in New York City, September 14-16, religious leaders and people of faith have shone a spotlight on the moral and religious imperative to stop the deaths of 30,000 children that die every day due to poverty-related causes. Join us to learn about and discuss these events at Sojourners/Call to Renewal's new office, 3333 14th St. NW., Suite 200. Rooftop and street parking is available. For more information, call Robin at Sojourners, (202) 328-8842.

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