The Southeast Asian tsunami that killed perhaps 150,000 signaled God's wrath for sexual sin, says the controversial Web site GodHatesFags.com.
Relief workers from Hungarian Baptist Aid and Baptist World Aid minister in Sri Lanka. (BWA)
"Thank God for the tsunamis—and for 5,000 dead Swedes," proclaimed the Westboro Baptist Church Web site in Topeka, Kan. The Swedish reference was to reports on CNN that up to a fourth of 20,000 Swedes vacationing in southern Asia may have drowned in the disaster.
The site called it God's vengeance for jailing of a Swedish Pentecostal pastor found guilty of offending homosexuals in a sermon.
"The lands affected by this judgment from God aren't just full of idolatry," the Web site continued, but include places like Thailand, known as a hot spot for forced prostitution and sex trade.
"Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience," the Web site quoted from Colossians 3:5-6.
"And you wonder if this is the wrath of God?" the site commented.
While many consider the Westboro Baptist Church and its pastor Fred Phelps as extreme, they aren't the only ones viewing human tragedy in terms of divine judgment. Southern Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell once said the 9/11 attacks were a sign that God was withholding divine protection to punish America for homosexuality and removing prayer from schools.
Some similarly view the Dec. 26 earthquakes and floods as fulfilling Bible prophecies foreshadowing the end times.
"Is this the wrath of God to warn us of our selfish ways? A warning sent by God to warn us to repent or this will be too late?" asked a writer to the Philadelphia Daily News. "Can the same thing happen here? Maybe yes, it can happen along the shoreline with their casinos and resorts. Hope we can heed the warning before it's too late."
Bill Koenig, who writes for the Web site Watch.org, said reports of miraculous survival by Christians revealed God's hand in the disaster. He noted that eight of the 12 countries hit are listed among the top countries that "persecute Christians."
Anglican Dean Phillip Jensen provoked debate in Australia with a comment that the tsunami was "a warning of God's judgment."
"The Will of God in this world involved his creation of the world, but it also involves his judgment upon the sinfulness of humanity and it also involves his salvation of people through the death and resurrection of his son," Jensen said, quoted in The Australian. "And so all the beautiful things we see in this world are an expression of his creative goodness to us and all the disasters of this world are part of his warning the judgment is coming, and both of these things should focus our mind on the death and resurrection of his son and how he saved us."
Christians aren't the only ones asking such questions.
"It was as if God and unleashed his anger on the people," said an Indonesian villager who survived the disaster.
Israel's top rabbi said it was a sign that "God is angry" and "we must pray more and ask for mercy."
Some organizations in India said the tsunami was "divine retribution" for the arrest of a Hindu leader. "The devastation by the tsunami in Tamil Nadu, could it be a caveat from 'Up There' about the atrocities being visited on the Kanchi Acharya," wrote a columnist on a Hindu Web site.
The head priest of another Hindu temple called it nature's way of getting back at those who would destroy it. "If today I talk about God's fury, I would be ridiculed," said the priest, quoted in Pacific News Service. "But in our Hindu religion there is 'karmaphal,' the result of our actions, good or bad. There is a constant human effort to take nature in the sky, land and water. We are cutting trees, we are destroying the mangroves… Our actions unleash an imbalance in the ecology and then such things perhaps happen."
A Muslim leader in south Florida told the Miami Herald the tsunami was wrath from God. "There has to be some kind of evil that has been happening in South Asia that the scriptures have forbidden, which has brought the wrath of God" said Imam Maulana Shafayat Mohamed. "Who exactly was committing the evil, God alone knows."
Others less willing to attribute the tragedy to divine retribution struggled to make sense of human suffering. Rowan Williams, the British Archbishop of Canterbury, said it should make Christians question the existence of God.
Theologians for centuries have pondered questions of how God could be all powerful and all loving and yet suffering still exists. The question of God's righteousness is given a name in the study of theology: theodicy, from two Greek words for "God" and "justice."
Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, said it's a function of the interplay between God's creative power and human freedom. God "does not will such tragedy," she told Knight-Ridder News Service, but "God does allow it," by calling into being such conditions through which a tsunami could occur.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.