Opinion: "Church, State, and Katrina"

September 12, 2005

Source: The Boston Globe


On September 12, 2005 The Boston Globe ran an opinion piece by James Carroll, questioning the role of faith-based initiatives in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. "The disaster on the Gulf Coast is the occasion for public prayer. President Bush invites the nation this week to place the victims of Katrina in the hands of an all-loving God, an impulse many of us share... And yet, Katrina's aftermath opens a curtain on the new -- and troublesome -- place religion occupies in the culture of America... I find myself wondering if the abysmal performance of government agencies in responding to this crisis isn't related to the unprecedented emphasis the government itself has been putting on 'faith-based' groups as key providers of social services?.. The church-state divide, undercutting norms of supervision and accountability, means religious groups, even while entrusted with public functions, can embody antipublic values. To take last week's most glaring example, Operation Blessing, one of the FEMA-recommended relief agencies, is affiliated with Pat Robertson, an advocate of assassination as a tool of foreign policy. Why were American citizens being encouraged by the United States government to support Pat Robertson's enterprise? Even when faith-based groups claim to offer social services with no strings attached, one must ask if such detachment is possible... The problem is redoubled when religiously sponsored good works supply essential needs in place of government responses."