For the past several days the attention of much of the world has been fixated on the devastation and suffering of the Haitian people. The images coming to us via the media have been heartbreaking, as have the stories of people in this country concerned for the condition of their friends and loved ones trapped in the crisis that is growing there.
As I have followed the reports coming out of Haiti, I have found it both amazing and heartwarming to see the way people of all different countries, races, political persuasions, economic circumstances and religious convictions have come together to bring help and relief to the Haitian people. While the process of resolving the logistical details for actually getting food, water, and medical help to the people in need has been daunting, the magnitude of the response has demonstrated the concrete compassion of people when there is a need. The fact that the Chinese were the first relief team to land in Haiti, followed by the US Army, the Brazilians, and the Japanese is telling in itself. Except for the few inane media commentators trying to make a story, religious, political and ideological differences have been put aside so as to focus on one goal: helping the traumatized and devastated people of Haiti.
Crises of this magnitude seem to bring out the best in people. As with Haiti people respond to situations of great need, whether it was the aftermath of 9/11, the response of people to Hurricane Katrina, and the Southeast Asian Tsunami a few Christmases ago. The fact that so many people and nations respond selflessly and generously highlights the truly good and caring dimension of the human spirit. It is as if we are at our best when we are responding to people in need.
However, when the media has decided that the crisis is no longer a major story, life goes back to “normal”, and all those differences that separate us from one another, and make us distrustful and suspicious of the “other” kick back in. We begin to question the integrity, the motives and the morality of others; we become stingy, self-centered, and closed off to others.
Among the groups that have been quick to respond with great generosity and efficiency have been a number of Christian churches and relief organizations. There was church that immediately turned over leftover supplies for a disaster in Samoa to the Haitian disaster. Organizations such as World Relief, World Vision and Habitat for Humanity have been right there, not to mention the many mission organizations that were already in Haiti running schools, hospitals and other services. While there is no reason to highlight these organizations over other groups doing good work as well, as a Christian I have been gratified to know that Christians are right there on the front lines.
Thus, it was extremely disconcerting that some media outlets chose to focus on the idiotic and heartless comment by Pat Robertson that the devastation in Haiti was somehow God’s judgment on a “pact with the devil” that Haiti made when it ceased to be a colony of France. Not only is such a comment incredibly stupid, it ignores the sociopolitical realities that have made Haiti one of the poorest nations in the world. So why does the media focus on him? Ironically, one of the most direct Scriptural responses to Robertson came from comedian/commentator Jon Stewart (who is Jewish), who quoted a half dozen Scriptures on compassion and helping the poor, as the better Christian response. See Robertson’s comment and Stewart’s commentary at this link)
Unfortunately many non-Christian people skeptical of religion view the Christian faith as embodied in the exclusionary and judgmental attitudes of people like Robertson. All I can say is that the faith Robertson proclaims is not the Christian faith I hold.
From my perspective the Christian faith is embodied in the compassionate response being seen in Haiti. One of the truly beneficial things about the Christian faith is that it calls people to always operate out of their best selves and give of themselves to others in concrete and even sacrificial ways. Jesus said: Whoever want to become great among you, must be your servant…For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10.43-45). Christians are to be people who give themselves to others as a way of life.
Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s detractors often commented that his theological works should not be considered theology, but rather ethics. However, Yoder responded that our ethics reflect our theology, and that in essence theology was meaningless if it did not lead to concrete ethical action. In other words, Jesus did not come to give us a theological treatise, but a way of life.
The way people around the world (of all faiths and no faith) are responding is the way God created us to live. The theological concept is imago dei (being created in the image of God). We are called to affirm and live out our connectedness to others, to be giving and compassionate, to count other’s needs as important as our own, and to act concretely to meet the needs of those around us. In that sense being Christian is being at our best all the time.