What I Tell Our Pastors In These Crucial Times

As I write, just a month after Katrina, ministers from metro New Orleans are trying to regather their flocks and assess their situations. Many are considering the offers of help arriving from every corner of the planet. A group of Korean pastors showed up in Kenner the other day to assist our local ministers. God’s people from all fifty states are sending help. A pastor search committee in Alaska asked me to recommend one of our newly displaced ministers as a possible shepherd for their congregation. Daily, I’m hearing from ministers who are not returning to New Orleans, and from those who have returned and wonder what to do next.

What is a pastor to do in these times? Here are my suggestions.

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Katrina Log: Seeking The Lord’s Will On What To Do Next

Friday’s Times-Picayune, the abbreviated version of our daily paper, carried an editorial under the title “Casting Stones.” A Montevallo, Alabama legislator named Hank Erwin who writes a newspaper column said Katrina was God’s judgment on the Gulf Coast because of the “gambling, sin, and wickedness.” “It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgement of God.” And what about the innocent victims of the storm? They would have survived if they had only heeded the warnings of “the godly evangelists and preachers.”

The editor called this kind of reasoning “ignorant,” then told of a local Catholic priest using his invocation before the New Orleans City Council last Tuesday to pronounce the same verdict. Monsignor Robert Guste of a Kenner parish evoked groans from his audience as he confessed the sins of Mardi Gras, gambling, and the Southern Decadence festival. Again, the editor was aghast.

William Willimon is a name known to every preacher, as a former Duke University chaplain, now the bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, but mostly the author of a host of great books. The editor quoted Willimon: “I expect there is as much sin, of a possibly different order, in Montevallo as on the Gulf Coast.” Then he asked, “If God punished all of us for our sin, who could stand?” (Which happens to be a paraphrase of Psalm 130:3 and a great question for anyone ready for God to judge other people.)

Early Sunday morning, I couldn’t stand it any longer and added my two-cents worth. In an e-mail, I said to the editor, “I am amazed at the presumption of those who know Katrina was God’s judgment on the Gulf Coast and perplexed by the sureness of those who know it wasn’t. As a minister of the last 15 years in metro New Orleans, it seems to me a wiser course to say: ‘It might be; we surely deserve it; let us seek the Lord.”

An hour later, when I returned my from walk on the levee, Margaret said, “Tony Campolo is on CNN.” I caught the last half of the segment in which Tony and a Black pastor were being interviewed on this subject. The African-American minister seemed to be claiming this as God’s judgment on New Orleans and the coast. The host read an email from a woman named Sandi. “I’m not in favor of spending tax money to rebuild a city that crucifies Jesus Christ.” She went on in that vein for a bit. “What do you say to that, Pastor Campolo?” the host said.

“I say to Miss Sandi, ‘Dear lady, you need to repent. Repent of your self-righteousness. You’re saying, ‘I’m righteous, and they are sinners, so God is judging them.’ What hypocrisy. The far greater sin is to live in luxury when millions in poverty barely exist.”

Oh, I thought you’d find this interesting….

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