By now, everyone is painfully aware of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Huston, Texas and surrounding areas. I invite anyone reading this article to join me in supporting relief efforts to aid the victims of this catastrophic storm. While there are many worthy organizations working faithfully to provide sustenance, comfort and shelter to the many persons left homeless and displaced in the wake of this disaster, I can personally vouch for Lutheran Disaster Response, a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As a denominational organization, it has very low overhead and pledges that 100% of every donation designated for Hurricane Harvey victims will be so disbursed. You can donate online, by phone (800-638-3522) Monday through Friday 8 am – 5 p.m. or by making your check out to “Hurricane Response – United States” and sending it to: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, P.O. Box 1809, Merrifield, VA 22116-8009.
The degree to which Huston churches, synagogues, mosques along with so many businesses and individuals are responding by opening their doors to shelter the displaced, donating food, water and other necessities and supporting rescue operations is inspiring. Times like these force us to recognize the importance of community, the bonds of friendship and trust that hold us together and how much we really do need one another. In the face of a hurricane, differences don’t count for much. I doubt that anyone rescued from the top of his or her roof or freed from entrapment in his or her car cares much whether the person performing the rescue was Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, atheist, gay, straight, transgendered or bisexual. Nor, do I believe, does God. As I have said many times before, in Matthew’s parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus does not ask anyone who they loved, to whom they were married, how many times they were married, to which church they belonged or what doctrine they hold. According to the gospel, the only thing that concerns Jesus is how we treated our neighbors, particularly our poor, sick, imprisoned, hungry and estranged neighbors. Furthermore, Jesus’ parable has a lot more to do with what God’s priorities for us are today than with who gets into heaven and who doesn’t in the sweet by and by. That’s why I believe God is passionately focused on what is happening this week in Huston and doesn’t give a rat’s petunia for that blast of hot air called the “Nashville Manifesto on Sexuality” put out by a bunch of “evangelical” leaders who, it should be noted, speak only for one limited strand of American Christianity-not the church at large.
Though purporting to be about “sexuality,” the manifesto does nothing to illuminate the rich and nuanced biblical narratives and insights that might lead us into a deeper understanding of this mystery of our existence. In fact, it does little more than reiterate the signatories’ ideological basis for excluding, condemning and judging gay, lesbian and transgendered persons. I don’t intend to waste my breath refuting point by point the manifesto’s assertions. I’ve been there and done that too many times. I’m tired of being that clown in the parade dutifully following the horses, shovel in hand. If you are interested in such a refutation, I recommend the Denver Statement authored in the main by Rev. Nadia Boltz Weber. Pastor Boltz Weber far surpasses me in eloquence, patience and olfactory endurance. For my part, I will only say that Jesus nowhere, under any circumstances ever said anything at all about same sex attraction or expression. I will also say that nowhere in the scriptures do we find any prohibition against same sex marriage or mutually loving and committed relationships between persons of the same sex. Nowhere do the scriptures speak at all concerning transgendered persons. And yes, I have read the “seven passages” in the scripture that come up repeatedly in our predictably sterile debates over sexual morality. Suffice to say that they don’t say what our “evangelical” friends want them to say. Jesus does say clearly, unequivocally and with no ambiguity, however, that God’s priority and standard of judgment for every nation, faith community and individual is the measure of how the most vulnerable in their midst are treated. The deafening silence of the Nashville gang on this single most important commandment in the shadow of a devastating hurricane that has left thousands threatened, displaced and homeless speaks volumes to their priorities and standards. They are obviously not those of Jesus.
Now, getting back to what God cares about, many people from all walks of life are responding bravely and generously to the crisis in Huston. One business owner, who opened his facility to accommodate displaced persons and provided out of his own inventory bottles of water, food and other necessities remarked, “Today is not about making money or the bottom line. It’s about neighbor looking after neighbor.” So true, and yet, it isn’t just “today.” Every day is about neighbor looking after neighbor-at least that is what Jesus tells us. Our neighbors are dying in Huston as I write these lines. The media images of persons terrified, grieving and homeless make it hard for us to forget that brutal fact. But forget we surely will. When the dramatic work of rescuing trapped puppies and the touching images of movie stars and politicians comforting homeless children fade from media attention, we will once again be back to tax reform, North Korea and the Russia investigation. Huston will become less a heart rending tragedy and more just another blotch of red ink adding to the federal deficit and damned if we taxpayers should be saddled with it!
The true test of neighborliness comes when there is no hurricane howling overhead and no flood waters crashing over the levies. Neighborliness does not come as naturally when the poor remain largely invisible, the victims of disaster are on the other side of the world and human suffering is not the focus of the evening news. I suspect that neighborliness will not come quite as spontaneously a year from now when the waters have receded, the cameras have moved on, but the hard work of rebuilding devastated communities is only beginning. That is when our faithfulness and generosity will be put to the test, that is when we will hear the voice of Jesus appealing to us through those persons the news media will have forgotten, that is when our genuine priorities will be exposed. As disciples of Jesus, we should not need a hurricane to remind us that “it’s all about neighbors looking out for neighbors.” My hope and prayer is that, a year from now, we will still be looking out for our neighbors in Huston and wherever else they may be.