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U.S. religious leaders urge moral hurricane response

Debris is piled up along the streets of Galveston, Texas, after Hurricane Ike hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on Sept. 13. A UMNS photo by Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA.

By United Methodist News Service
Sept. 17, 2008

U.S. religious leaders are calling for a prompt and just "moral response" from government leaders as Hurricanes Gustav and Ike have heaped more pain and suffering on the shoulders of the people of the Gulf Coast and Cuba.

Jim Winkler

More than 100 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders signed an interfaith statement criticizing the slow pace of hurricane recovery since 2005 and urging bipartisan solutions. They expressed particular concern for children and people who are poor, sick or vulnerable.

"Three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck and the levees breached, the slow pace of recovery and the new needs caused by Ike and Gustav's destruction have created a moral crisis along the Gulf Coast that demands a powerful response from people of faith," the Sept. 15 statement said.

While noting that the Bush administration promised in 2005 to rebuild the Gulf Coast, the religious leaders say the region is still plagued by the collapse of local institutions, homelessness, internal displacement, poverty, abusive labor practices and environmental degradation.

They urged federal officials to cross party lines and enact the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, which would provide jobs to restore the region, and to make it a priority to help families return and participate in rebuilding their communities, create living wage jobs, restore the coastal wetland and ensure human rights along the Gulf Coast.

Among those signing the statement were Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social action agency, and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, chief executive of the National Council of Churches.

Prayers for Cuba

Meanwhile, the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops called for prayers for storm survivors in Cuba and questioned U.S. government policies that have led to decreased humanitarian relief response to the Caribbean nation.

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer cited the government's failure in 2006 to renew the license of the United Methodist Global Ministries, the parent agency of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Without the license, UMCOR cannot provide aid to Cuba, its leaders say. Other church denominations have lost their licenses as well.

"Explore in your congregational learning groups the issues which create these divisions and policies," Palmer said in a Sept. 15 statement. "They tragically prevent the responses we wish to make to the promptings of our hearts and our faith commitments."

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer

The Methodist Church in Cuba has more than 20,000 members, and Cuba's 243 Methodist congregations are engaged in cooperative relief efforts.

More needed in the Gulf Coast

According to the interfaith letter, more than 2,000 people have died and the storms have caused more than $150 billion in damages. Diverse faith group have donated generously and volunteered thousands of hours to rebuild many of the restored homes in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

"We have learned that acts of faith and mercy alone, no matter how profound, cannot provide everything needed for a sustainable recovery," the religious leaders wrote. "Gulf Coast families deserve a federal government that recognizes their needs by rebuilding their communities, supporting basic human rights of all communities, addressing poverty and displacement, and confronting coastal erosion."

Specifically, the leaders asks the next presidential administration and Congress to honor the third anniversary of Katrina and Rita and survivors of Ike and Gustav by pledging to:

  • Pass policy based on the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act for a resident-led partnership to rebuild vital public infrastructure, restore the environment and create good jobs and economic opportunities for residents and returning displaced families;
  • Increase funding for federal, state and local partnerships in the Gulf Coast to create more affordable housing and promote home ownership for returning families, workers and residents moving out of unsafe FEMA trailers;
  • Support federal funding to restore the coastal wetlands and barrier islands that form the Gulf Coast’s natural barriers to flooding and to build improved levee systems to create a comprehensive flood control system which could protect all Gulf Coast communities from another Category 5 storm.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Interfaith statement

Bishop Palmer statement

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

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