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July 2nd, 2010
08:36 AM ET

Hankering to serve in Gulf Coast, missionaries at a loss

Pastor Jack Kale leads a 'Worship at the Water' service organized last month by Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in Pensacola, Florida.

The phone calls keep coming at the United Methodist Committee on Relief offices in Washington. National volunteers who turned out by the tens of thousands to help clean up and rebuild destroyed homes after Hurricane Katrina five years ago are desperate to lend a hand again in the face of the Gulf Coast oil spill.

But the problem with this oil disaster, explained the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who directs UMCOR’s disaster response for the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, is that his organization doesn't know what to tell the would-be missionaries.

“Our phones are ringing, people are wanting to do something, but there’s nothing for them to do,” said Hazelwood, who attended Wednesday’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Oil Spill Disaster Recovery Summit in Long Beach in search of answers.

Hazelwood’s wasn’t the only logoed shirt in the room that featured a cross. Other members of Christian groups, including representatives from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and pastors from regional churches came out to see how they might help.

“Our real opportunity, I guess, is to talk about creation care or caring for our world,” Hazelwood said. “We’re all talking about pollution – and this is a tangible, teachable moment.”

Rabbi Myrna Matsa, who was sent to the region by the New York Board of Rabbis and through a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America, agrees. She came to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and has been doing interfaith work in the area ever since.

“Faith-based groups really made a difference post-Katrina. Spiritually it feeds their sense of being purposeful,” to do a “good deed,” get their “feet in the mud” and assist in the rebuilding process, she said. “But what does it mean to roll up your sleeves? One of the invitations here (during the oil disaster) is to rethink or reframe what it means to help people.”

Perhaps, she suggested, it’s time for faith-based groups to get more involved in, say, environmental advocacy or other organized efforts that don’t fit the traditional definition of mission work.

Rather than doing what makes a volunteer feel good, it’s time to “be open to where the needs are,” she said.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Environment • Interfaith issues

soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. David Johnson

    btl_driver

    The God I believe in may not bring the dead back to me or cure my cancer or replace a lost limb but He gives me the strength to overcome losses, tragedies or trials. I may not get everything I want but that He will make sure I have what I need.
    ##########################################################################################################

    Hmmm.... god must love you way more than the mothers who "need" food or medicine or clean water, to keep their children alive. Remember, for every good thing god gives you, he is handing someone else a bad thing. You got that promotion you were praying for. Someone else's child is heading for Chemo. A lot of this needs satisfaction stuff depends on where you live.

    You have hit upon the reason for religion. Belief in a god helps you to "survive" adversity. It even makes your own death palatable. The odd part is that any religion, any god, will do that for you. The god you are praying to isn't special.

    I just read a book on religion. It had 3 pages of single spaced names of gods people have worshiped throughout history. People prayed to these gods. They believed they affected their lives. They loved and feared them. All these gods are now forgotten. They died when people's faith in them died.

    July 7, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • btl_driver

      David
      Not really sure why you believe the way you do but I don't really think that God is like that but that's your belief not mine and it works for you.
      And while many of the gods whose names are in your book may be gone with their belief, I would think the billions of people who believe in a deity with all of their might, mind and strength (to use a New Testament phrase) would probably disagree on all of the gods disappearing. I think that while many gods have fallen out of favor, many have been replaced with the boat, the house, the job or some other temporal thing. Humans like to worship something.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
    • David Johnson

      btl_driver,

      That's the point. People like to worship. The pages of forgotten gods shows that just because a god is believed in, it doesn't make 'em so. I don't know what you mean, "replaced with a boat,a house or a car". I don't think too many people have worshipped these items.

      You say, god is not like that. Like what? Never mind.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      "I think that while many gods have fallen out of favor, many have been replaced with the boat, the house, the job or some other temporal thing. Humans like to worship something."

      You have a very perverse definition of 'worship'. Having goals is not the same as worshiping. It's called "being an adult," something that Christianity never truly allows (as it glorifies childlike credulity and sloppy thinking).

      Regardless of which god you hold to, you are asserting that there are MORE people who are wrong than are right. It's only going to be a matter of time before you realize that you can't all be right, but you can all be wrong.

      July 7, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
    • David Johnson

      MikeTheInfidel
      It's called "being an adult," something that Christianity never truly allows (as it glorifies childlike credulity and sloppy thinking).

      Regardless of which god you hold to, you are asserting that there are MORE people who are wrong than are right. It's only going to be a matter of time before you realize that you can't all be right, but you can all be wrong.
      ###########################################################################################################

      Well said, and quite true. God bless you! LOL

      July 8, 2010 at 5:41 am |
  2. Zola

    Yes Jon O, that's what Jesus would do!

    July 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  3. dave_mcclain@hotmail.com

    Completely useless...

    July 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  4. btl_driver

    For all of you who complain that prayers don't work and are never answered must not have children, or if you do you must give them everything they want. You must also replace all of their pets because you don't want them to experience grief, maybe you replace the toys they broke because they were misusing what was given them. Maybe you don't mind if all they do is demand things with out giving thanks for what they have and have received. How about your children only speak to you when they want something and the rest of the time complain you don't give them anything.
    And if you don't think He helps out, what about the accident that you didn't have because you thought to wait one extra second at a light when you would have normally gunned it when the light turned green. Or maybe you were in the right place at the right time when you saw a beautiful sunset and you were having a bad day. Maybe you prayed for what you thought would be your dream job and then didn't get it only later to find out that it was really bad and you would have hated it. I could go on.
    The God I believe in may not bring the dead back to me or cure my cancer or replace a lost limb but He gives me the strength to overcome losses, tragedies or trials. I may not get everything I want but that He will make sure I have what I need.
    I try to be thankful for traveling in safety or seeing the beautiful sunset as well as receiving more temporal items. I also realize that sometimes the answer to my prayers is "no" and I have to trust that He knows best.
    For those who have not learned this, I am sorry for you and hopefully it won't take a tragedy to learn it. For those who think that God should give you everything you want or fix all of the problems must have, or will have, children who will live at home until you die because they won't be able to live in the real world or maybe they'll be the most spoiled children around, but In any case you misunderstand understand His role.
    While I believe BP must own up to their choices and the gov't must not go off the deep end and over-regulate, let's not blame God for our choices and actions or the actions and choices of others that went wrong. Let's solve the problem, clean up the mess and then to see who or what is to blame and take actions from there.

    July 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • nOT Trash

      I blame super satan.

      July 7, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      "The God I believe in may not bring the dead back to me or cure my cancer or replace a lost limb but He gives me the strength to overcome losses, tragedies or trials."

      Guess what? There is no god! You're doing that all without any divine help!

      "I may not get everything I want but that He will make sure I have what I need."

      Until you stop getting lucky and realize that you DON'T always get what you need!

      July 7, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  5. Michael Schulze

    Hey, that's a great idea; let's pray the oil away! Wait... it was an act of God, so perhaps we should trust his divine knowledge? No, it was the DEVIL. It must have been all those non believers who are at fault. Wait, maybe it was due to human negligence..? NEVERMIND!!! Sorry God, I didn't mean to question you... I'll just stick my fingers in my ears, recite the Bible aloud, and leave the thinking to preachers, who go to psychologists for to better understand how to manipulate my feelings... WAIT!

    July 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Spearwielder

    VOtres, you should really try reading before you make an inane post like that. Christians don't like dirty hands? Try looking up the statistics regarding the work faith-based groups do int he US, and the world for that matter. Their numbers compare *very* favorably to others.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  7. JPT

    I'd recommend these groups find a nearby animal rescue shelter and get busy.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:37 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Fundies do not believe in animal rights. But they'll work all day to help save the Michael Vicks of this world from sin.

      July 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • David Johnson

      Selfish Gene,

      I really do enjoy reading your comments.

      July 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Micky

      Gotta say here: I certainly do believe in animal rights. Not only that, but environmental concerns are very important to me. One thing that does baffle me about Christians is why they seem totally unconcerned about the earth, the animals, even their health in generall. We may believe that we have eternal life in heaven waiting for us (which I DO believe), but we are also supposed to do our best during THIS lifetime, to minister where the need is, to take care of the earth (for heaven's sake, it's God's first command to man), to be compassionate and helpful. I SO wish Christians would open their eyes to where some of the real need is. It's not in an air-conditioned sanctuary with beautiful stained glass. It's not on your couch with Sunday afternoon football on. Come ON, people!!! Oh, lazy, selfish, racist pew-warmers absolutely drive me nuts! 😛

      July 9, 2010 at 1:33 am |
  8. BGJ

    What does it profit someone to gain the whole world, but lose their soul?

    The greatest help that Christians can be to others is to help them have a relationship with the Creator.

    Caring for material needs is important and is commanded in the Bible; however, it is always a secondary concern.

    July 7, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • David Johnson

      And besides, it is always easier to get hungry and sick people to listen about the baby Jesus, before you take care of those not as important material needs.

      July 11, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  9. Wimbler

    My church sponers aid all around the world. We had food banks setup in Haiti before the earthquake even happened, they were able to start giving food and aid the day of the quake.

    July 7, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  10. thr2

    Thanks Pastor Erin. That was a well-written, thoughtful letter. Now I understand why my Mom, who was born in 1915 and is still with us, became a UM member 10-15 years ago, after being a life long Baptist. She saw UM people helping other people where they could, without proselytizing and wanted to be a part of that. Good luck in your endeavors to help in the Gulf.

    July 7, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  11. pastordonna

    I think it was clear from the article that the many, many would-be volunteers who have contacted UMCOR deeply desire to get to work in the Gulf. While prayer is one piece of that, it certainly isn't the only thing that many of us would like to be doing. And as for the politics of the situation, the United Methodist Church has always been diverse politically. Not all Christians are "right-wing". Many of us understand that caring for God's creation is important work.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
    • Jon O

      unfortunately, those that we see all over the television are the "right-wing" and if you ask me, they absolutely do not represent the beliefs and practices of Christ on a daily basis.

      No where in the bible does it say that God created the world for us to abuse and use up. It is a matter of respect to protect what he built for us, not our right to destroy it because someday we believe he'll come down and fix it all.

      That is irresponsibility and laziness, end of story.

      And that same kind of thought has permeated Christianity, corrupted it for the masses.

      I would challenge every single Christian to carry both their bible and their WWJD bracelet, and really stop and think before they say or do anything, and decide what Jesus would have done.

      Because I can guarantee it wouldn't fall in line with a lot of what comes out of the generic "right" these days.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:33 am |
    • David Johnson

      And as for the politics of the situation, the United Methodist Church has always been diverse politically. Not all Christians are "right-wing". Many of us understand that caring for God's creation is important work.
      ###########################################################################################################

      I think the Christians that are not right-wing, should openly oppose the right-wingers. I don't see a great deal of difference between the right-wing Christians and the Taliban. Both would rule with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

      If the right-wingers come into power, like they did in the Bush years, we are all in trouble. Social Security, Medicare, Child Care,Civil Rights are all at risk. If the methodist won't take a stand, then what good are you? As god would say, I would rather you be hot or cold! He will spew you from his imaginary mouth!

      July 7, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
    • btl_driver

      Hey David Johnson,
      Since your on the right-wing bashing tour and feel that many of the problems are the Bush admin's fault, don't forget the Carter years where we had double digit interest and forgiveness for all of the draft dodgers from the Vietnam war. Maybe you'll look at the Housing problems which started with the Clinton Admin. Not to say they didn't have their good points but no one administration can be blamed for all of the nation's ills.

      July 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @unfortunately, those that we see all over the television are the "right-wing" and if you ask me, they absolutely do not represent the beliefs and practices of Christ on a daily basis.

      Then, why don't the fundies get out of bed with the Republicans? I'm hearing lots of talk about doing away with Social Security, Medicare and Child care programs. What would Jesus do?

      The Republicans don't want the unemployed to have extended benefits. Benefits that would not be needed, if not for the Republicans. What would Jesus do?

      The Republicans are for the corporations. Screw the poor and the middle class. Many Republicans have agreed with Joe Barton's apology to BP. Sharron Angle is a nut, calling BP's escrow account a slush fund.

      Are the right wing religious in favor of these ideas? Is this what Jesus would do?

      July 10, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  12. Gary

    I say drill baby drill. I blames the liberal democrats for BP oil spill. It is ridiculus that they have to drill so many miles offshore so deep. This oil spill is all the liberals fault. Liberals who voted in Barbara Boxer Nancy Pelosi and Barak Obama should apologize to B.P. and pay out of their own pockets for the cleanup.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • Ryan

      uh huh. Who deregulated the industry for his own vice-president's greed?

      July 7, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • Jon O

      Gary – there's a reason we drill deep like that – because that's where the oil is. These corporations lobby for the rights, we're not FORCING them to drill out there – THEY WANT TO.

      Learn a little something and grow up, get past the "I hate anyone who doesn't agree with me" stage and have a little respect for the truth.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  13. because I said!

    Vel – just because God doesn't answer the prayer the way YOU want Him too, doesn't mean He doesn't answer prayers.
    God does answer prayers.
    We can not blame this oil spill on God...this was all "Man's" doing. God gave us free will...and as humans we use our free will to do things that are outside of God's divine plan but you can not sit there and blame Him because of the inadequacy of BP.
    Prayer does work..maybe not how we all want it to and maybe not at the exact moment but prayer changes lives. Maybe not right now but someday...when your back is against the wall and you have Nothng left..and you have no one to turn to...He will be there for you. Until then..you and your negative self... should go swim in the ocean 🙂

    July 6, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • Gary

      God answers all prayers. Usually his answer is no.

      July 6, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • David Johnson

      If god is all knowing, we don't have free will. Remember when Jesus told Peter he would deny him 3 times before the cock crowed? Peter did just that. If he hadn't done it, the Jesus/god would not be all knowing. Jesus also predicted Judas would betray him. Judas did as predicted. Again, he could not do otherwise.

      If god is all knowing, he would know if you would be saved or damned even before you were conceived. He would be allowing you to be born, knowing you would be burned forever. Seems cruel to me.

      If god is all knowing, he can't be all powerful. The two qualities can't occur toghther. Think about it.

      July 6, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
    • Bob

      David, it goes one further. If God is all knowing we cannot deviate from our chosen path. But it gets better. God created the universe knowing where everything was going to be and what everything was going to do. Therefore he intended and is responsible for all the good and evil in the world. By that reasoning, people aren't responsible for their sins, God is, for they are as he determined them to be and he created them.

      July 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You are wise Bob. That is exactly true. I don't see why the fundies can't see it. God Bless you man!

      July 7, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Gary

      God answers all prayers. Usually his answer is no
      ##########################################################################################################

      Gary, I'm puzzled. How does a "No" to a prayed look different than a prayer not answered? I've heard this argument before and was baffled. God could also be telling you to WAIT. Then, if the prayer comes true at some future time, prayer works. If it doesn't, god decided to say, "NO". But wait Gary. You can get the same result from by praying to a rock. If your prayer comes true immediately, then the rock said, "YES". If the prayer does not come true, then the rock said, "NO". And, the rock may tell you to WAIT. So, your prayer is always answered. WoW, if I wasn't a Christian I'd say that was lame. LOL.

      July 7, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Prayer does work..maybe not how we all want it to and maybe not at the exact moment but prayer changes lives

      You have hit upon the only way that prayer may help. By a congregation supporting and praying for one of its members, the member may be able to overcome an adversity, in their lives, better. But, there is nothing supernatural about this. Its people caring about each other. Its the "clan" thing. The troubled member feels loved. If the problem is one of addiction, the group has leverage on the individual. The troubled member doesn't want to disappoint or anger the group that loves them.

      If the individual happens to believe in god and prayer, all the better. The individual certainly wants to please his god.

      But, again, it has nothing to do with magic. Every relligion, no matter what god they pray to, can claim changed lives. A lot of religions add strength to the leverage they have with the individual, by offering to excommunicate, shun or beat and kill.

      July 10, 2010 at 7:24 am |
  14. RexRegalis

    What the heck does Jesus have to do with an oil spill. Praying is not going to stop anything. Thousands of tons of mud, & rock were in place over the oil before we humans decided to intervene in the natural order & drill there. Standing in a circle & asking a god to help is not productive in any way. The old saying 'god helps those who helps themselves' comes to mind.

    July 6, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • Gary

      As an agnostic I totally agree with you.

      July 6, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
    • Jon O

      As a Christian, I totally agree with you.

      We're really, really good about making bad decisions and then expecting God to come in and save us... personal responsibility is not one of the cornerstones of the overall Christian faith.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:42 am |
    • Alan C Brown

      God is doing his part thru nature. The sunlight, microbes, and the warm sea water of the Gulf of Mexico are chemically and biologically breaking down the oil spilled into the Gulf. Please note, that the oil has not moved much further east than the panhandle region of Florida. This is because the oil broke down naturally and is no longer oil. The last part or final part of the oil to break up naturally are the "tar balls" which are asphalt not tar. These tar balls will take a couple of years to break down in the warm Gulf waters/beaches. They need to be picked up.

      The well will be plugged and shut in by the relief wells being dug in a month. Nature will easily clean up the spill over time; lighter components of oil will be gone in less than six months; tar balls could wash up on beaches for 5 to 10 years from deep water that is not as warm as the surface/shallow waters.

      July 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Alan C Brown

      God is doing his part thru nature.
      ##################################################################################################

      So, are you saying none of those cleansing processes would occur if there was no god?

      July 8, 2010 at 6:39 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Alan,
      oil is not water solvent.

      July 8, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  15. Michael Wong

    Unfortunately, a lot of the churches in America have spent the last 30 years creating an unholy alliance with right-wing conservative politicians, who happen to be anti-environmentalists. Just two years ago, these people were at political rallies chanting "Drill Baby Drill".

    They can't bring themselves to admit they were completely wrong about environmentalism and corporate disregard for the public good. So they're trying to figure out ways they can help WITHOUT admitting error or throwing in their hat with liberals that they've been demonizing for three decades.

    July 6, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
  16. vel

    there's "nothing they can do"? Now, I've heard of various parish presidents screaming bloody murder that they don't have enough people to clean things up. Why can't these missionaries get a shovel and a plastic sack and join in? or is this just too much real work? I've also read about how Christians are busy praying for the oil to just go away. How is that working out, folks? When that prayer fails, like ever prayer does, what excuse will you give for your god's inaction? Does God want the people and animals of the gulf to suffer in that great mysterious "plan" of his that you trot out when you want excuse this supposed loving benevolent deity? or is it human "sin" that is the reason for the spill, which darn if your god can't harm the actual people sinning rather than constantly causing collateral damage like a drunken golfer.

    July 6, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Ana

      God doesn't cause the suffering; man does. We do it to ourselves and others through our choices. It's called: Free Will. The lesson we can take from this, and hope that corporations and governments will do, is to make responsible decisions for the betterment of all and the well-being of the whole planet. I know, "good luck with that." Well, we'll need only 10% of the population to shift gears, give up driving internal combustion engines and embrace alternative energy sources, and it will work to change the paradigm. 10% is all it will take. Oil is necessary for many purposes, but we don't have to choke on it.

      July 7, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      "God doesn't cause the suffering; man does. We do it to ourselves and others through our choices. It's called: Free Will."

      And who gave us that free will again, according to you? Oh, right – your god did. So who's to blame again? And why is god so incompetent that he can't figure out how to give us free will WITHOUT the suffering? I mean, honestly, the guy's an all-powerful magical deity, what's holding him back? Why create a universe where *ANY* choice could lead to suffering? Why not just make suffering nonexistent as a potential consequence?

      What absurd nonsense you believe!

      July 7, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Ana
      God doesn't cause the suffering; man does
      #####################################################################################################

      Even if I agree some of man's suffering is the direct cause of man's stupidity and inhumanity, what about earthquakes and floods and hurricanes? Man has little control over these so-called natural disasters.

      If god is all knowing, we don't have free will. If god wants to stop the pain and suffering but can't, then he is not all powerful. If god could stop the pain and suffering and doesn't, then he is not all good.

      July 8, 2010 at 5:30 am |
    • David Johnson

      Vel,

      You silver tongued devil! I agree with every word. God Bless You! LOL!

      July 8, 2010 at 6:30 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Why did god put the good oil under so much water?

      July 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  17. Nate

    After years and years of being ridiculed for having "liberal" views regarding our overuse of petroleum (and the accompanying apathy towards developing alternative energies), I am glad to see that "conservative" groups may finally awaken to the fact that conserving is what the Green movement is all about. It is sad that it takes a disaster of such magnitude to do so.

    July 6, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
    • So Sad

      Sadly many seem to just use this as one more reason to 'get Obama out' .. most still support Drill Baby Drill and don't boycott BP because they employ Americans and we don't want to anger them and make them go overseas with their rigs. At the end of the day, most have the mentality that if it isn't in their back yard it's just a 'news story'.

      July 6, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • So Sad

      @ Scott I do use less fuel.. I try and cut where I can, when I can. It's not like there are alot of other options out there.. I can however choose to not go to BP stations (nor do I go to Exxon or Shell) yes I'm sure some mom and pop stations get their gas from the same places and I realize this .. better to support them I guess...lesser of two evils. I don't see a boycott as punishment but my personal choice to not support that company to not give that company and I'm sorry but employees of that company my money. It's like choosing to be a vegetarian... it doesn't' necessarily make anyone else not eat meat, it won't put the meat industry out of business but I can choose to not give them 'my' business, my money. It's about choice and sometimes.. just sometimes when enough people make the same choice.. we make a difference, we make some change. I'd rather do something, even if other don't think it matters, than do nothing.

      July 6, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  18. Pastor Erin

    UMCOR is not about forcing belief – it is about sharing God's love through tangible, needed service. Go to umcor.org if you want to see what UMCOR is actually about. VOtres, I think that if you do that you will see that we don't have any problem getting our hands dirty.

    vjack, I agree, there should be some clean-up that can be done, but there are also quite a few restrictions on what we can do until they (BP?) get this whole mess figured out. I would like to see UMCOR get more creative about what we can do rather than what we can't do, but they are also still reeling after the loss of a number of their top officials in the Haiti earthquake. I think he was trying to move in that creative direction by saying "One of the invitations here (during the oil disaster) is to rethink or reframe what it means to help people." I'd like to see more of that – but also the realization that people are affected (suicides, fishing businesses, the destruction of the natural world, etc.).

    I like Paul Harris' ideas of what we can do – but I would say that most United Methodists are much more concerned about compassion and service than "indoctrination."

    I can't speak for all people who call themselves Christians, nor would I want to. However, I do know that Jesus would want us to put our faith into action. And that's what UMCOR is all about. You can see that in the response to the earthquake in Haiti, or flooding in Tennesee, or AIDS epidemic or malaria epidemic, ... the list goes on.

    In regard to the oil spill, this is what UMCOR's website has to say: "Almost five years after hurricanes wreaked havoc on the US Gulf Coast, residents thought they were reaching recovery. But when a British Petroleum oil rig ruptured, taking the lives of 11 workers and leaking millions of gallons of crude each day into the gulf and onto beaches, new troubles set in. Congregations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Florida are mobilizing to provide the affected with spiritual and emotional care and with special attention to children. School kits for children returning to classes in the fall are in demand, as parents struggle to meet family needs and deal with the loss of livelihoods in the fishing and tourism industries. Given the specialized nature of the cleanup, volunteers are not being asked to mobilize. As UMCOR works with Annual Conferences in the affected areas to assess needs and appropriate responses, your prayers and solidarity are requested."

    But I will say that while we "wait," and at least collect the school kits for kids whose families are affected economically, we should be talking about the things that have led to this disaster in the first place. For instance, our own arrogance that we can use up the world's resources without any consequences. The idea that the "bottom line" (financially) is more important than planning ahead for problems such as this. Our addiction to oil in this country. The question is, how can we take care of God's earth better than we have been, so that this sort of things will never happen again?

    And in the meantime, let's pray for some guidance in how to respond to this disaster, not just for UMCOR, but for BP, and for all of us.

    July 6, 2010 at 6:35 am |
    • So Sad

      I came here expecting to make a negative comment... and while I still have many issues with many Christian groups and their idea's of 'helping' ... or preaching I have to say .. Pastor Erin has shut me up... well said Pastor Erin, I hope other groups follow your example.

      July 6, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
    • John

      Pastor Erin has me on board.

      Our use of oil has many obvious costs but there are other less obvious costs and and very expensive risks. These things are debated but many have not devoted the needed attention.

      Let's leave the politics aside and make sure we completely understand the problem.

      July 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • David Johnson

      But prayer doesn't work. If it did, the oil would not be gushing. If it did, the coal miners wouldn't have perished. If it did, children wouldn't die of diseases a loving god would not give a child. If prayer worked children would not go to bed hungry.

      Jesus said we could ask anything in his name and it would be given to us. Through prayer, a mountain could be moved.

      A missing limb has never been restored. Richard Roberts does a really good "show" of healing through prayer. He even pauses to listen to god.

      July 6, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
    • davec

      God's love? How can something that does not exist love?

      July 7, 2010 at 9:16 am |
    • Shutterbug77

      @David Johnson
      God's word says weeping may last for the night, but joy will come in the morning. We can only see a snapshot but there's a much bigger picture. Psalms 30 explains this, but I agree it is often hard to understand.

      July 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Shutterbug77 – Why evil exists, is one of the hardest (imposible) problems for fundies to address. If god is all good and doesn't do away with pain and evil because he can't, then he is not all powerful. If god can do away with evil but chooses not to, then he is not all good. Fundies usually point out that god will do this in his second coming. Okay, but its been 2000 years and counting. Lots of pain and suffering have occurred, with no end in sight. It is almost like there is no god. In fact, how would life be any different if god didn't exist? Sorry man, there is no sky daddy.

      July 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      Shutterbug77, that's the most inane possible response you could give to the problem of evil.

      It does nothing to excuse the existence of evil, if the world is the creation of a perfectly moral god. If your god can't figure out how to make life worth living WITHOUT allowing massive suffering, then he's not nearly worth worshiping.

      July 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
    • Sarah

      The thing that makes people irritated (as it so often is) is that Christians appear to think that only Christians care and want to help. You don't have to be religious or faith-based to be a volunteer – it's a non-discriminatory activity. (nd as others have noted, Christian volunteerism frequently includes an attempt to convert the people being helped.) The reality is volunteers can be atheists. Or Jews. Or Muslims. And a helping hand from an atheist beats a Christian prayer to God for help every single time – because it actually achieves something (I have never, ever, seen a problem that was fixed by God and not by people pitching in with hard work and the will to make a difference to someone in need) . So, a good start would be not separating volunteers by religious beliefs or non-beliefs and just talking about volunteers as people driven by their own moral compass. Helping other people has NOTHING to do with religion.

      July 11, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • David Johnson

      @MikeTheInfidel

      "If your god can't figure out how to make life worth living WITHOUT allowing massive suffering, then he's not nearly worth worshiping."

      I believe it was Woody Allen who suggested, "If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever."

      July 11, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  19. Paul Harris

    How about donating money to non-profits that try to keep the environment cleaner such as the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the Cousteau Society, etc.

    How about starting letter writing campaigns to pass legislation that denies Corporations (foreign and domestic) equal status with U.S. Citizens when it comes to elections (in a recent 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court).

    How about offering a compassionate ear to those who are in tears and suffering in the Gulf area both from Katrina and the Oil Spill, without trying to indoctrinate any of them in to your personal choice of religious belief. There's still a huge shortage of counselors who can simply be there to hear the stories of frustration and loss.

    Paul Harris
    Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

    July 3, 2010 at 5:07 am |
    • Jon O

      @ Paul

      Because that's what Jesus would do?

      July 7, 2010 at 8:45 am |
    • Theodore from IL

      "without trying to indoctrinate any of them in to your personal choice of religious belief...."

      Um.... I think Jesus would indeed "try to indoctrinate" them to Christianity. LOL.

      July 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Robk

      Help with the animals. All oceanic life forms are dying horrible deaths out there.

      July 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • JR

      Theodore from IL,."Um.... I think Jesus would indeed "try to indoctrinate" them to Christianity. LOL"

      CHRIST-ianity is the worship of Christ, do you really believe that Jesus worshiped himself, wow, how about maybe there was NO Christianity in Jesus's time, just Judaism like HE was and other more pagan religions, but certainly NOT Christianity.

      July 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • Anie

      Churches could take their money and put solar panels on their roofs to ween themselves from the power suck. They could take half of their huge parking lots and build assistance housing for the needy in their neighborhood. With less parking they should encourage, no *require* their parishoners to carpool in, reducing the gas suck. They should replace their lawns and gardens with native plants that need no extra water, reducing their water suck. They can make a difference right now, right at home, helping others locally, nationally and internationally by reducing their suck footprint. Wouldn't that be nice?

      July 8, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  20. vjack

    Nothing for them to do? Why can't they help in the clean-up efforts?

    July 2, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • So Sad

      Because BP and the National Guard won't let them.. unless they have hazmat training and suites.

      July 6, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
    • btl_driver

      Needing special training is understandable but maybe they, BP and the Nat. Guard, should train these individuals so they can help. BP is already out billions why not a few extra millions to reduce some of the effect and possibly quicken the clean-up.

      July 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • JoeD

      Can't someone teach them how to clean oil off birds, or are there so few that survive, that no more help is needed? It's a shame we couldn't resist letting the genie out of the bottle!

      July 12, 2010 at 6:57 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.