I've been seeing lots of Facebook posts about the hypocrisy of churches in the recent Hurricane Harvey. There's the fury directed at Joel Osteen. And that fury has begun to be directed at other churches. Let's separate them.
First, let's talk about Joel Osteen. I've seen lots of criticism, along the lines of "He should walk the walk." Well, frankly, he is walking the walk--his particular walk. Have you read the man's books or watched his shows? He's a prosperity gospel preacher--God will bless you if you behave/believe a certain way, and that blessing is in the form of money. There's not much in there about taking care of those less fortunate. After all, if they're less fortunate, they could pray more or change their beliefs so that God would bless them too.
It's not the version of God that speaks to me, but I understand the appeal.
Yesterday I saw the first meme which criticized other Houston churches. It said that churches get tax free status so that they can take care of the less fortunate and only a very small amount of churches in Houston were taking care of storm victims. This post was created while the rains were still hammering the city.
I thought about how many churches in the area are flooded. They will not be opening their doors as a shelter any time soon. During Hurricane Wilma, I was part of a church that lost some roof tiles, which led to water intrusion. It was much less than the water inundating Texas churches, and it took weeks just to get the damaged building materials, like carpet, out of the way. And then it was many months after that before it was all repaired and replaced. After a huge storm, the pace of repair slows because there aren't lots of workers to hire, and everyone has so much repair to do.
But let's say the building itself is in fine shape. The roads to get to the building might not be. And churches don't necessarily have huge staffs to help with sheltering storm refugees.
I think that most non-church members think of churches, and they think of huge congregations, significant staff, and lots of money. That has not been my experience. Many churches can barely pay their pastor and organist. Many churches have elderly congregations which can't easily help people who need a shelter. Many churches are meeting in a rented space, which means they can't open the building to refugees.
The most vociferous critics of The Church will not be paying attention to the smaller corners where they might actually see The Church in action. They will not see the church members who take care of the community in so many ways. They will not have read the posts from church people who pass on information. They will not know about church affiliated charities that will give so much help to victims, and who will stay long after the initial impact of the storm. The vociferous critics will have moved on to judge other institutions by the time The Church in all its local incarnations has time to swing into full action.
If you want to support the Houston storm victims, and you want an organization you can trust, I suggest Lutheran Disaster Response. The group will use 100% of your donation towards the relief effort and not administration, and they'll help everyone, regardless of belief. And they'll stay for the long haul. Go here to donate.
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