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U.S. 'flunked' initial hurricane response, congressman says
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A UMNS photo by Gretchen Hakola

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II prays for the Gulf Coast at the United Methodist Building in Washington.

April 27, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Hurricane Katrina revealed the nation’s character and “we flunked miserably,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II during a healing and justice service for the Gulf Coast held April 26.

Speaking in Simpson Memorial Chapel at the United Methodist Building in Washington, Cleaver said the character of an individual is not measured only in bad times but in good.

“Remember this: most accidents don’t occur in bad weather,” he said. “They occur when everything is fine, the sun is shining. … And character is not determined always in bad weather.”

Cleaver, an ordained United Methodist minister and congressional representative for the Fifth District of Missouri, used the National Council of Churches' Earth Day worship resource, "Through the Eye of a Hurricane: Rebuilding Just Communities." The service was sponsored by the NCC's Eco-Justice Working Group.

“When Katrina struck, the character of the nation was revealed,” he said. “Like David, everything was going fine with us, and so we were so caught up in self-praise, self-worship, that we could not see the most fundamental component of all three of the major religions: help the poor. Judaism, Islam and Christianity all hold that principle high: You help the poor.”

Cleaver serves as senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, Kansas City, Mo., and is one of the co-sponsors of the Hurricane Katrina Recovery Reclamation, Restoration, Reconstruction and Reunion Act of 2005 (HR 4197), introduced by the Congressional Black Caucus.

Steps for EPA

Last week, nearly 3,000 members of, NCC’s electronic advocacy program, sent close to 9,000 letters to elected officials asking that they insist the Environmental Protection Agency fulfill its moral and legal obligation to clean up toxic sediment that is still blanketing Greater New Orleans.

“Only one out of six individuals in New Orleans owned an automobile,” Cleaver said. “It was a very poor city. The committee I work with in Congress, the subcommittee that oversees HUD, conducted hearings in the Gulf Coast region, and no matter what you’ve seen on television, no matter what photograph you’ve seen in the newspaper, you have not seen the devastation.”

If passed, HR 4197: Title II will mandate the EPA to develop a Comprehensive Environmental Sampling and Toxicity Assessment Plan, which would include public health assessments and monitoring; training of cleanup workers; public notification of risks; a step-by-step process for allowing residents to return to their property; a process for compensating those unable to return to their property because of environmental conditions; and an independent review of the EPA’s plan for the Gulf Coast.

‘Do whatever we can’

The NCC’s Eco-Justice Working Group has been actively monitoring the progress of the environmental cleanup in the Gulf Coast region. It issued a Statement of Eco-Justice Principles for Rebuilding the Gulf Region in October.

The council also established a Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region to “strive for the greatest degree of coherence and comprehensive efforts in our rebuilding the Gulf Coast communities and in addressing the human inequities which exacerbated a natural disaster into wholesale calamity.” United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert heads the special commission.

“We have almost 1,400 people dead, hundreds missing,” Cleaver said. “This was the largest, most costly natural disaster ever. … This was a crisis, and the nation understandably would be measured by this crisis. And we flunked. We flunked miserably.”

Cleaver said it is possible to rebuild New Orleans, but people must make sure the issue is not forgotten.

“We’ve go to push people, we’ve got to write letters, we’ve got to send e-mails. We must do whatever we can to make sure this doesn’t fade back to page 22 (in newspapers),” he said.

It is not too late for the nation to turn around and practice what any of the three monotheistic religions would practice with regard to helping the poor, he said.

“We can turn around in our personal lives and we can turn around in the corporate life of our nation, but it requires that men and women speak up. It requires that we not turn loose an issue that requires justice.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

Profiles (Audio Faith Stories)

Emanuel Cleaver: U.S. Congressman and senior pastor of St. James UMC (Kansas City) shares his faith story

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