What Drives the Theology of Blame That Follows Disasters?


Theological declarations of blame follow terrible disasters.

Indian evangelist K. G. Paul said God was judging California with wildfires for the mocking behavior of gays, according to a 10-minute video on GodTube, a conservative Christian knockoff of YouTube.

Matt Trewhella, leader of Missionaries to the Preborn, noted that God's judgment began seven days after California's governor signed a pro-homosexuality bill.

"Do you think they will see it as a warning from the Lord for their calling evil good?" Trewhella asked in an email. "Do you think they will be able to connect the dots? I won't be holding my breath."

After delineating the sins of casino gambling, sexual decadence and corruption, David Crowe, executive director of Restore America, said that Hurricane Katrina "was an act of God upon a sin-loving and rebellious nation, a warning to all who foolishly and arrogantly believe there is no God."

Southern Baptist leader Henry Blackaby declared that a map of Christian persecution matched "to the T" the destruction of the 2004 tsunami. He claimed that God had punished nations that had persecuted and martyred Christians.

"If you read the Old Testament, especially, God is very concerned how nations treat His covenant people," he told pastors. "The nations that persecuted, offended and killed His people, God came down and destroyed them."

Blackaby made a similar theological statement after Sept. 11, 2001. He asserted that the terrorist attack was "God's warning to people in America--that He's beginning to remove the hedge of protection from America because of the sin of God's people."

Jerry Falwell stepped beyond a generalization of American sin to accuse specific groups of being sinners.

"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad," said Falwell on Pat Robertson's TV show "The 700 Club." "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

Theological blame is visceral, self-righteous and xenophobic, at least in the sense that it is directed against those outside the blame-gamers' own tribal theology.

Theological blame comes first and foremost from those who hold fast to a particular belief in the sovereignty of God--God is all powerful, all knowing, all directing, all controlling.

Of course, theological blame-gamers run into bumpy resistance with the suffering of the innocent. They have no problem condemning those who they see as sinners, as evil-doers, one's deserving to suffer. But the bystanders are another matter.

Yet the blame-gamers coolly rationalize that pain is not really pain in the grand cosmic sweep of eternity. We just think it's pain.

And if suffering is not really suffering, then the suffering of the innocent is acceptable for the potential of salvation extended to others who see their wayward ways and repent. If we only knew the mind of God and trusted God, then we would know the goodness of God.

As unsatisfying as such claims on the sovereignty of God are, what is more unsettling is why some need to assign blame in the first place.

Secularists place blame to score ideological points, with Rush Limbaugh being a leading example. Some believers surely do so as well.

For other believers, dispensing blame is a way to absolve God from the responsibility for inexplicable disasters, especially those where victims are innocent. Theological blame-gamers want to vindicate the Divine's lack of intervention in disasters. They want to protect God, who they profess is all powerful and in absolute control of every whisper of creation.

Imagine the blame-gamers' contorted theology--the finite guarding the infinite, the powerless protecting the all-powerful, the controlled defending for the controller.

Rather than doling out theological blame in the defense of the Divine, a better path is to weep with those who weep, to give a hand up to those struck down, to thrash about with the uncomfortable uncertainty of the unknowable.

Blessed are those who have not seen, but live into faith with service and ambiguity.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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Tags: Disasters, Robert Parham, Theology