New Orleans Laid Bare

The tragedy in New Orleans lays bare
something that we’ve known, but ignored for far too long. Whether we will do
anything about it or not is the question. It is the continued economic neglect
of the poor, the cutback of city services, the refusal to tax for common
services–and the reliance upon gambling as a source of income.

There is considerable discussion today on the cable news shows about the lack of preparation for a disaster of the magnitude of the New Orleans tragedy.

No doubt we need to learn from New Orleans about this nation’s lack of preparedness for a major emergency in a metropolitan area.

In its concentrated geography the city reveals how we have overlooked social disparities and inequalities that are now dealing death to some of us. But the human suffering is so much more widespread than the city. Rural areas in Mississippi have received virtually no coverage. Only limited stories have been filed from other parts of the disaster area. I’m concerned about this.

However, it is the city that is becoming the signature for the disaster and the tragedy lays bare more than lack of disaster preparedness. It lays bare the economic neglect of the poor that has been simmering for decades in this country. It reveals the results of declining support for city services, cutbacks in health care, accommodation to gambling as a source of revenue rather than a more stable tax base, the abandonment of urban areas as living habitat.

As many commentators have pointed out, the tragedy in New Orleans is about race and class.
But it’s also a learning opportunity for the Christian community as well. We’ve seen the decline of many tall steeple churches in urban areas as population shifts have occurred. We’ve seen the weakening of urban ministry in the mainline denominations so that today it is a pale reflection of what it was in the Sixties, for example. And we’ve seen the weakening of small membership churches in town and country .

Not only is the loss of New Orleans a wakeup call for emergency planners, it should be a wake-up call to those of us in the church to re-engage ministry with the poor, not only in urban areas, but in small town and rural settings as well. This isn’t just a natural disaster, it’s the exposure of a social wound that has been left unattended for a long time. Advocating to end poverty and establishing justice are not incidental to Christian faith, they are fundamental.

The voice of the church needs to be heard in concert with other voices to support funding for public schools, health care for all, decent, affordable housing and adequate public transportation. It’s clear that this voice is needed.

It’s also clear that we need to re-think ministry with the poor. It’s a fundamental part of the historic tradition of The United Methodist Church. And, more importantly, it’s what Jesus told us to do. It’s integral to meaningful, vital faith.

We’ve seen Jesus on the flooded sidewalks of New Orleans, pleading from the rooftops, sleeping under the bridges and marooned in the buildings. We must not lose that vision. We must see that it is our responsibility to address the disparities that are laid bare in this tragedy, for the good of us all, because this is what is required of faithful disciples today.

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