Where Are Condemnations of Harvey as “God’s Punishment”?

Rescue boats fill a flooded street as people are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise on Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York metropolitan area in 2012, the floodwaters in Lower Manhattan were still rising when some pastors pointed out what, to them, was obvious.

“God is systematically destroying America,” the Rev. John McTernan, a conservative Christian pastor who runs a ministry called USA Prophecy, said in a post-Sandy blog entry that has since been removed. The reason God was so peeved, he claimed, was “the homosexual agenda.”

McTernan belongs to a subset of religious conservatives — including some well-known names — who see wrath and retribution in natural disasters.

Usually, their logic revolves around LGBT themes — Buster Wilson of the American Family Association claimed God sent Hurricane Isaac to stop an annual LGBT festival; the Rev. Franklin Graham blamed Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ “orgies”; and Catholic priest Gerhard Wagner called Katrina “divine retribution” for New Orleans’ tolerance of homosexuality.

Other times, the scapegoat is gay marriage, abortion rights or foreign policies seen as harmful to Israel.

Yet as Harvey, now a tropical storm, continues to turn its Super Soakers on Houston, those quick to see God’s angry handiwork in earlier storms have so far focused their efforts on praising Houston’s first responders and citizen volunteers.

“The ‘Cajun Navy’ is at it again!,” Graham shared on Facebook, referring to a band of Louisiana boaters involved in the rescue effort. “Out there with their boats rescuing people stranded by #HurricaneHarvey flood waters. I thank God for people willing to step up and help others — real Good Samaritans!”

And Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, who once blamed the Sandy Hook school shooting on America’s acceptance of gay marriage and abortion, commended “the heroic efforts of emergency personnel and the National Guard as they work to rescue and comfort those stranded and displaced by the flooding.”

Certainly, the vast majority of religious groups and leaders respond to all kinds of natural disasters with concern, prayer and warm outreach — as many are doing now. News stories from the flood zones note churches opening as shelters and pastors and others coming to people’s aid. Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups all have relief efforts aimed at Texas.

But the idea of a vengeful God is nothing new in America. It came here with the Puritans and was firmly established here with the Rev. Jonathan Edwards’ 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which is still studied by seminarians and history and English students alike.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Kimberly Winston

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