September 14, 2005 News & Features » Cover Story


The Vulnerable Among Us 

While some may rant and rave at God for not providing a world without hurricanes and waves to break the levees, and while some "Christians" may want to claim that "wicked New Orleans" perished for its sins, I want to call attention to human irresponsibility and to pray (plead, argue and demand) that we use what we have seen of this tragedy to prevent others on a similar scale. The Gulf Coast was forewarned. What were elected officials up to? What were they thinking? What took them so long?

An event like Katrina and its aftermath can be transforming, if we take heed and revise the anti-government rhetoric in which our culture has been awash in recent decades. We are responsible for one another, and government — not the voluntary sector — is our first defense against anarchy. We may not abandon each other — or consign the vulnerable to volunteers while the strong run away in their SUVs, elbowing their way to the gas pumps. In the wake of such devastation, we do not rely upon the good and kind hearts of the American people. We need government to be "a sure and strong defense," a beacon of hope and stability instead of a muddle of helplessness. Failure to strengthen the levies was not God's responsibility; it was the irresponsibility of duly elected legislators who paid more attention to lobbies than to the needs of their constituents. People were given a choice to leave. Who paid attention to those who had no means of escape?

People just like them live around and among us all over metropolitan Richmond, in wheelchairs, on the streets, in shelters, and in adult homes. What would be our plan for them? And most important, would that plan reflect the ethical requirements of the God of Abraham, that we do justice, show kindness and walk humbly with God? That is the sure foundation of any social fabric that believes itself to be moral, good and just. Let this nation, let this commonwealth, let this city and region begin now to make preparation, so that next time the first rule of our social fabric will pass the test.

The Rev. Ben Sparks has been pastor of Second Presbyterian Church since 1982. He has served on the boards of several agencies that address homelessness, was a member of Homeward's founding committee and is a 1984 alumnus of Leadership Metro Richmond.

Katrina Continued...

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