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July 8th, 2010
07:46 AM ET

An armada of faith leaders tours the Gulf spill zone

Editor's Note: CNN Senior Producer Tristan Smith and CNN Correspondent Brooke Baldwin went out with faith leaders to tour the damage from the oil spill. Smith filed this report. You can also see their TV piece below. 

There were only five small boats, 20 to 25 feet long, quietly moving through the water, barely making a ripple in the area designated as a “No Wake Zone." 

It was part show and tell, part media circus, part holy pilgrimage. On board the boats were a dozen high-profile American religious leaders, representing the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths. Their mission: to see first hand the devastation wrought by the spilled BP oil to the marshlands of Barataria Bay, just west of Port Sulphur, Louisiana. 

On board with them were a dozen or so print, radio and television news reporters and producers. The outing was sponsored by the Sierra Club, and was part of a three-day trip that included an interfaith prayer vigil on Wednesday night, Thursday’s boat trip, and a Friday teleconference and meeting with those directly affected by the spill in Louisiana. 

On my boat, Tom Costanza, Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the New Orleans Archdiocese, wanted to see and experience what so many of those he is trying to help are experiencing. 

“These are people who love life,” said Costanza. “Who love their way of life." 

Tom Costanza (left) and Jim Wallis survey the damage from the oil spill

Jim Wallis, President and CEO of the Washington-based progressive group Sojourners, agrees. “You have to see it, listen and you gotta feel it,” he said. “Part of religious organization is to testify," he said. "We testify to what we’ve seen.” 

I asked Wallis if this oil spill was part of some grand plan by God. “No, this is human sinfulness and disobedience. This isn’t God’s plan,” he said. “If we’re angry, just think of how angry God is. If we are sad think about much sadder God must be. I believe in a God that stands with suffering people, that suffers with his people. This wasn’t God’s doing.” 

The sky was full of large thunder clouds, threatening a heavy deluge like they have for much of the week. The water is choppy, and a strong wind blows in from the east, a remnant from Hurricane Alex. Perhaps because of that weather event we don’t see any oil this day in the waters of Barataria Bay. The waves and high tide have washed away some of the oil from the marshy islands that dot this waterway. 

On one of the other boats, Sayyid M. Sayeed watches the workers tasked with the clean up run shiploads of boom and other supplies through the narrow watery cuts. He is the national director for the Islamic Society of North America, and said this is not the first time his organization has tried to help the citizens of Louisiana. He said his organization, with the help of Muslims from around the world, helped raise one billion dollars in direct aid after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. 

“Muslims are very concerned because for us, as is our belief, the entire creation is the family of God,” he said. “So we share the responsibility with the rest of creation whether it is human beings, fish, animals, birds. So these things have a tremendous appeal, and a tremendous sense of empathy and commiseration.” 

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is the vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly. She agreed it will take a will take a unified response to overcome this disaster. 

“Ultimately the issues do not rest with the people of the Gulf alone," she said. "It does not rest with BP alone. It does not rest with our government and administration alone. It rests with people of conscience saying we are busy, we lead lives busy with stress but I will give my attention here. I will give some of my attention here.” 

Wallis thinks the lesson of the spill will be wasted if we don't learn from it. “Epiphany is the religious term for waking up,” he said. “Something hits us and we feel something completely new to us. It’s like conversion. If this doesn’t lead to conversion, then all the suffering and pain will be in vain.” 

On the way back to the marina we stopped by a small community on the bay. Homes held up on stilts sit a few feet above the water. It’s a chance for the religious leaders to meet with those who are directly impacted. 

Vanasa Bartholomew’s family has lived here for generations. Vanasa is checking in on her elderly mother today. She said faith plays a large part in her life. She’s asked if she prays about the oil spill. “Oh, I pray“ she says. “I truly believe that if we come together like God wants us to come together, I think God would see where BP could stop this oil and it wouldn’t be such a big disaster.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Faith Now • Islam • Judaism • Leaders

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Krystlep Rodiguezg

    Hi there, this weekend is good for me, since this moment i am reading this fantastic educational piece of writing here at my house.

    August 1, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. Daniel

    Would it have killed them to row? Or sail? Isn't using gasoline-powered outboard motors for this a little macabre? Jesus would have walked.

    July 16, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  3. Herb Zach

    When I heard Anderson Cooper announcing a prayer Campaign to stop the oil gusher I immediately sent an email with the suggestion that on the day of prayer all attempts to stop the oil be suspended (keeping the clean up going). This would be the most ideal scientific test for for substantiation or falsification of god's power. If the Christian God created the universe, world (and its oil), animals and humans in six days he could certianly stop a tiny leak in 24 hours. Of course that didn't happen (although there were, no doubt, many prayers for god's intervention) so we are once again left with human technology to stop the oil.

    Let's leave faith (belief without evidence) out of the equation and continue with science (knowledge by investigation of evidence) and the resulting technology. And when this tragedy is brought under control let's not hear a word praising god (although I have no doubt we will) for ending the oil gusher. The human mistake(s) that were the cause of the oil disaster can only be rectified by human intervention.

    July 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Steve

    Some pretty sad comments. 1st of all we all have free choice. Free choice to choose to destroy this planet. Nothing happens that is not allowed by God. I hope we all learn something from this. When we make bad choices we pay the price in life and in business etc. So don't try and blame God for our bad choices. If we repent. "Meaning turn from our evil ways" he can bring good out of this. We are like children who break a lamp in our house and blame each other then blame dad for allowing us to break it and still yet get mad when cleaning up the mess takes time out of our busy play time. How wicked are the times we live in. People deny God and then wonder why the world is so messed up. I submit that if we want true change we must take a different path.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Reality

      Steve noted: Nothing happens that is not allowed by God. Really???

      Once again from the famous, contemporary theologian, Father Edward Schillebeeckx:

      From his book, Church: The Human Story of God, "Therefore the historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women." (that of course assumes there even is a god and no one really knows).

      July 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • TruthAndJustice

      From the famous, contemporary theologian, Father TruthandJustice:

      From his comment on the CNN Belief Blog article, An armada of faith leaders tours the Gulf spill zone, "The historical future is 100% completely known to God. There is no contradiction between knowledge and freewill. God exists independent of the physical universe, and thus time as well."

      July 11, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  5. dave_in_altmar

    "Not part of God's plan"?? How convenient – but there goes the "omniscient, all-powerful" deity theory...

    July 9, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  6. jarrett

    the government is still hiding the truth that God on earth is living in florida they've had proof of the real God's existence but greed get's in the way of truth you can ask any news reporter that

    July 9, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  7. Jake

    God put the oil under a mile of seawater and 2 miles of rock. He's done His part.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  8. Barley

    The category 6 storm Katarina, was but a nudge from God telling the states bordering the Gulf of America. Hey, what is this Gulf of Mexico garbage? Hint to Arizona: pass a law changing the name of this geographic feature. Well let me tell you this oil mess is God giving the states that border the water a swift kick in the pants.

    The reasons are clear. The sludge is a tangible representation of sin. As was spake in 4th Thesselonians 3:11-13, “Yea, though seed and smirch may be spilt, be it not for the sake of thine own interceded, yea, it be in the depths and the bowels that the sin must be spewed forth.” The written word is clear. It is that every state that borders the Gulf of America has legalized h*m*sexual marriage. God is exacting his wrath and punishment. Attention Mississippi, Massachusetts, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida (as God is a Basketball fan, I believe Florida will be spared now that its borders will house LeBron Jame), and the three other states that border the Gulf of America that I can’t remember what they are right now: REPENT I say, and REPEAL the sinful business these states have deigned to undertake.

    And you up there, how dare you call my god a “Cosmic Jewish Zombie.” If here were a zombie, the Bible would be all "nuuhhhhhhhh urgggggg" and it's not. You can read the Bible and see that. Anyone can. It is written in the same English that it was spoken in when all this stuff happened about four hundred years ago. Also, all that blood drinking makes us vampires, that's how we live forever. Praise his name!

    July 9, 2010 at 8:17 am |
  9. José

    God speaks to me directly. He told me that when humans rape the planet, you can expect damage to be deep, permanent and not very pleasant. But not to worry, if we keep doing what we are doing, will finish the planet off soon enough and the suffering, while seemingly painful, will be short. But you have to admit, the rainbow in the water is pretty. Plus you can probably surf really fast, or fry fish.

    July 9, 2010 at 4:06 am |
  10. Frogist

    “No, this is human sinfulness and disobedience. This isn’t God’s plan,” ... “If we’re angry, just think of how angry God is. If we are sad think about much sadder God must be. I believe in a God that stands with suffering people, that suffers with his people. This wasn’t God’s doing.” – Jim Wallis

    Why isn't this God's doing? Why is it that Jim gets to say what God does, feels, wants? Maybe God's telling us we don't need petroleum-based energy sources? I don't get how the religious always get to blame people, but never blame God for the ills of the world.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • Paul Hatfield

      Christianity: The belief that some Cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so that he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree???
      REALLY??

      July 9, 2010 at 6:08 am |
  11. Sue

    So.........if I murder someone, god will "forgive" me and send me to heaven, but if someone else drops oil in the ocean that hurts me, God will..... sit back and "suffer with me" ??? Strange god.

    July 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  12. Bubba

    God loves you and wants you to have some oil. Bless you all.

    July 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  13. Reality

    Some evangelists and other religious types simply don't get it. Once again from the famous, contemporary theologian, Father Edward Schillebeeckx:

    From his book, Church: The Human Story of God, "Therefore the historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women." (that of course assumes there even is a god and no one really knows).

    The Gulf oil disaster was again due to someone not doing their job properly. Backup systems were not in place and typical safety factors were not built into the system. When are we going to insist on basic engineering principles which include fail-safe valves and constant inspections by tough, knowledgeable inspectors??

    July 8, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  14. Eric

    God just wants to remove humans from south coast...

    July 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Wait, I thought he hated all the liberals in CA, hence the earthquakes & mudslides. Now he doesn't like the uber-conservative Deep South?

      Who am I supposed to blame for all my problems now?

      July 10, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  15. Katie

    Great, a prayer has been made. We're saved...

    LOL

    July 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  16. TexinVA

    Maybe they should pray for all the oil to disappear. Better yet, they should pray for some intelligence, they obviously have none. How freaking stupid.

    July 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • Bubba

      Did they actually skim any oil while they were paddling around being holy?

      July 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm |

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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.