The Politics of Hurricanes and Statements
I recently came across an argument that Hurricane Harvey shouldn’t be politicized — that in times of crisis we all need to do things, whatever those things are. To talk about politics at such a time is inappropriate. I thought at the time that this is just a silly argument from a silly person, because of course politics massively affects how we prepare for, respond to, and even prevent or exacerbate humanitarian crises. But then I thought about how popular this thought is in economic and religious politics. How often we say “Let’s not politicize this event” only to end up doing such? More broadly, how do we argue about politics is also about whether and when we should argue about political matters and to what degree.
Politics is the mechanism for the gathering and allocation of resources. This is why we say that a budget is a moral document. So yes, the relief effort in Texas right now needs to be organized and centralized. It cannot rely on free market principles (lest greedy f*cks charge $50 for a gallon of water) or on unorganized volunteers. The prior leads to profiting off of misery with negative material benefits and the latter leads to chaos, with too much water and no blankets or too many sandbags and not enough blood. It should go without saying that you need someone competent and skilled at the helm of this organizing, not a brain deficient reality tv star or a horse owner who’s never had a job a day in his life.
But politics also exasperated the situation, much as it did in Haiti’s earthquake and, much more recently, the death of 1,200 and displacement of 1 million people in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. The flooding and storms in Texas and South Asia are closely related to environmental devastation, deforestation, and degradation along with the allowance of capitalism to wreak havoc on the climate. South Asia and Haiti are further hurt by the effects of post-colonialism on the Global South, by racist exploitation and poverty. The unmitigated rise of exploitative capitalism and debt-created poverty that have arisen in these lands and wrought these catastrophes is deeply political and requires political solutions.
Capitalism and exploitation and global warming and the deaths and displacements afterwards, just as in Hurricane Katrina, reveal much about priorities, about who and what is elevated and who or what (but mostly who) is considered acceptable collateral to the ravages of waves and crumbled buildings. So, yes, politics has everything to do with disasters, natural and otherwise. And while we can’t account for all disasters with any amount of foresight, because shit happens and people are sometimes awful and unpredictable and this planet is alive and has been taking and displacing people since before Noah, we can allay and reduce its worst aspects with foresight and centralized organizing.
People play politics when they allocate precious resources as well. We learn to choose our battles. The Evangelical signers of the gender-essentialist Nashville Declaration chose to not only target LGBTQ people — already a targeted minority group, particularly within conservative churches and their realms of influence — and their allies, but to do so at a time when the entire nation is trying to respond to an underwater Houston (as friends and even conservative Evangelical rapper Propaganda noted).
Politics is about moral priorities, and the likes of John Piper, Russell Moore, Karen Swallow Prior, Kevin DeYoung, and David French have joined with Trump supporters^ such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Wayne Grudem to demand Christians adhere to their strict and bankrupt perspective on the roles of men and women. In their view, the only model for relationship is the proto-nuclear family of Adam & Eve, wherein Adam brought home the bacon* and Eve made the home. For the Nah-villains, there are only two genders and their parts fit into each other like plugs into an outlet. thus any derivation from that ideal is heretical. Any support of said derivation is also heretical. This of course erases the ambiguity and gender-diversity of the Hebrew and Christian texts on such issues, but is not subtle in its destruction of the greater commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Yet not only is this statement political in its theology of spite, it is political in its timing and unity. Because a large group of conservative Evangelicals cannot seem to agree on anything but the ickiness of sex and the normalization of White bourgeoisie gender roles. The housewife and homeschooler don’t tend to be the norm among Black and Latinx Christians — let alone ancient Jewish and Christian families — because, among other things, carrying two-to-three jobs is normal among poor families and thus Christians of color have tended to not idealize these standards.
Christ’s call compels us to welcome the stranger and outcast, so we are called to prioritize the marginalized, including those who do not fit in well with White bourgeois modes of sexuality or gender conformity. So let’s get that out of the air. I am convinced that God loves you, period, and in fact is on the side of the oppressed. Let God’s people become the Body of God.
But the timing, dear Lord, the timing! Because we already knew these folks were homophobic and transphobic, right? It’s not really a surprise that they did it, but rather when. As White Supremacists are mobilizing and making their voices known and the president these same Evangelical leaders helped elect is siding with Nazis and Klanners and as many Christian aid organizations are mobilizing to help Houstonians and South Asians survive and put their lives back together after these tragedies, these influential leaders of conservative Evangelicalism are distracting from the urgency and risking these rescue operations. While it’s true we can serve a diversity of topics simultaneously (as in, we can walk and chew gum at the same time), it’s ill-advised to drink vodka while operating heavy machinery. Some things require a lot of focus.
First, while Evangelical aid agencies are trying to raise funds and gather resources to assist survivors, pastors and professors — their spokesmodels — are tying up precious bandwidth for their grandstanding, thus hurting not just their targets, but those they should be aiding.
Second, during this and following crises, what Evangelicals have made probably more clear and loudly than at any time in recent history is that they are not willing to spread hospitality and kinship to LGBTQ people. Despite whatever kind-but-necessary words they thought they were giving to LGBTQI and polyamorous people (including children and teens in their communities, churches and schools), they have gone out of their way to further alienate and target these same folks. When Christians should be aiding, these ones are spreading the message that they would just as soon leave them (and their allies) in a ditch. How can you work with neighbors you just claimed lay outside of God’s grace? How do you build trust with someone when it’s clear you hate who they are and are only seeking communication with them in order to change them?
Prioritize the priorities. The health, well-being, and liberation of oppressed people and people in need should be the priority of the Christian Body’s. I would cast out anyone who disagrees but, frankly, who has the energy for that? That’s not a good use of resources, iykwim.
— — — — — — — — — — — —
*Christians don’t understand Judaism.
^Who glowingly advised moralist Evangelicals to put a sexual-assaulting bragger into the Oval Office