Katrina and Accountability
Since Hurricane Katrina, people have been talking a lot about accountability, or if the finger is pointing toward you rather than away, about blame. Some have said that we are witnessing standard bureaucratic incompetence--lack of foresight, under-planning, poor coordination of efforts, misspent funds, and so on. Others question whether the response to Katrina would have been much different--faster, more efficient, more urgent--if her victims had been the very rich rather than the very poor. Even more troubling is the question of what role racism played and is playing in the disaster relief.
Few solid answers seem obvious to all of these questions and "what if's," but perhaps it would be helpful to examine some principles about accountability from the teachings of Him before Whom we all will stand one day to give account (2 Cor. 5:10).
In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31–46), Jesus Christ compares the coming judgment of the world to a shepherd's dividing his sheep from his goats. The righteous, represented by the sheep, receive the Shepherd's praise for feeding Him when He was hungry, giving Him water to quench His thirst, clothing His nakedness, and ministering to Him both when He was sick and when He was in prison. In their bewilderment at this judgment, they ask what incidents He is recalling, for they do not remember helping Him in any of these ways. He explains, "The truth is, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me."
Then he turns to the "goats," and directs them to the eternal fire for not feeding Him, or giving Him a drink, for not clothing Him, or nursing Him back to health, or seeing to His needs in prison. They likewise are amazed that He would say this, for they can't recall ever failing to meet any of His needs. "This is the truth," He replies, "whatever you didn't do for one of the least of these, you didn't do for Me." The parable concludes, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Do you find this parable surprising? Those headed for hell have not embezzled, or raped, or murdered, or even lied. Can you hear the goats complaining as they are driven into the fire, "What did I do? I didn't do anything bad. Nothing to deserve this!" They are punished, not for what they did wrong, but for what they failed to do right. The Golden Rule, after all, states, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matt. 7:12); it does not say, "Whatever you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to them." Christ wants us to be proactive, rather than passive, and helping, not just avoiding hurting.
But another principle seems pertinent to Katrina. Christ says, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10). This begs a host of applications. Jesus is suggesting that we take a look at how people exercise their responsibility in the humdrum, lazy days of late July. That will serve as a reliable indicator of how they will act on the last day of August, that horrific day of the hurricane, and the terrible September days that follow.
The same holds true with regard to race. How do we treat each other when no one is paying much attention? Do we communicate appreciation and respect to people whose skin has more or has less pigment than ours? We will probably go on treating them in the same way when lives are at stake. "Faithful in little, faithful in much." Do we find resentment and anxiety nagging at our consciousness as we see that person of a different race when the skies are cloudless and the birds merrily sing? Then why are we surprised when hatred and terror squeeze our hearts at the sight of them on the day when the sky turns dark and the winds begin to rage around us. "Unfaithful in little, unfaithful in much."
Everyone will agree that Katrina created an immediate crisis, followed by a series of additional crises that may stretch out into the future months. The Greek word from which 'crisis' is derived means "judgment, decision." Katrina brought hundreds, perhaps thousands, to judgment, and she has forced the survivors, including all of us horrified witnesses, to decision crossroads. She has, is, and will force us to reflect on our values. Do we care that some of "the least of these" have lost everything--jobs, possessions, homes, and even loved ones? Do we value their wellbeing above our own convenience? Are we willing to give for their benefit, or even to sacrifice for them?
Katrina is all about accountability. And the accountability is not just for the mayor of New Orleans, or the governor of Louisiana, or the head of FEMA, or the president of the United States. It is an accountability that applies to all of us.
Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.org