Friday, March 11, 2011

Presiding Bishop's Statement on Japan Earthquake

by email from the Diocese of South Dakota:

[March 11, 2011] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offers the following concerning the devastating earthquake in Japan

"The Episcopal Church is praying for the people of Japan, particularly Bishop John Kato, the clergy, and people of the Diocese of Tohoku in the aftermath of this devastating earthquake. We will continue to pray with Japan as she seeks the lost and begins to bury the dead. May they rest in peace, and may all those who mourn find comfort. We know the aftermath will be long and difficult, and we assure you of our solidarity. We are grateful that most other parts of the Pacific have withstood the passage of the first tsunami. May we all be reminded that we live on a fragile earth, in continual process of creation and destruction, and that we share a common responsibility for healing wherever we are able."

I appreciate and share in her appeal for prayer and cooperation by people of good will. Also her attention to the Diocese most impacted by the disaster.

I'm not sure about the moral subtext I detect - the earth itself seems formidable rather than fragile in this event, and I'm trying to decide if the last sentence means healing the human hurt or that somehow there is human agency to blame for the disaster, which makes us responsible for healing the earth's disturbed "process." I would find that a disturbing lapse into the kind of moralizing that Jesus warned against.

The absence of reference to God perhaps mirrors the essential human question in the face of tragedy, "Where is God in this?"


Matt Perkins said...

I'm not one of those who likes to jump on everything the Presiding Bishop says, not because I'm in agreement with her on most things, but because I've never been an Episcopalian so I don't feel it's my place to comment on internal TEC issues. But I have to say this is a very strange statement. I also agree with her call to prayer and her call to solidarity with those who suffer. But as you pointed out, Fr. Fountain, her comment about a fragile earth seems out of place. The horrific power displayed in the earthquake and tsunami don't reveal any fragility of the earth, only the fragility of human life and human infrastructure. And the last comment about sharing a "responsibility for healing" which seems most obviously connected with her statement about a "fragile earth," seems to suggest that humans are somehow capable of healing the earth in such a way as to prevent earthquakes which is obviously preposterous. Instead of just showing compassion and focusing on human suffering it almost seems that this disaster has provided an opportunity to make some sort of political statement about the environment.

This kind of horrendous evil in natural disasters has always troubled me and at one time caused me to have a lot of doubt about my faith. I must keep my eyes on Christ during times like these though and trust in His complete goodness and sufficiency.

TLF+ said...

Matt - I agree with all of your points, both cautionary and analytic.

I didn't want to tear into it just because of other disagreements with the PB. I want to affirm all calls to compassion in times of human suffering.

But emphases like "environmentalism" and "social justice" can simply be new doors for old legalism. What's the substantive difference between, say, "This happened because too many Japanese are not Christians" and "This happened because humans are insensitive to fragile earth"?

Also, your last sentence made me think. Yes, it is hard to use "God talk" that doesn't ring hollow and platitudinous in a situation like this, so I don't fault the PB's restraint there. But Christians, as you say, can speak of God with our eyes on Christ . There should be room to invoke the One who saw all people under the same sun and rain, who had compassion on the crowds of "harassed and helpless" humanity, who wept with and blessed the broken hearted. That is just as much our God as the mysterious One whose ways we don't fully understand in times like this.