When natural disasters happen inevitably Christians (including myself) embark on a task known as a theodicy. A theodicy defends God's righteousness against the apparent injustice of the event in question. Tony Campolo does this for Katrina.
There are still other religionists who take the opportunity to tell us that God is punishing America for its many sins. Undoubtedly, there are some al-Qaeda fanatics who right now are saying that Katrina is the hand of God, striking America for what we have done to the people of Iraq and to the Palestinians. Furthermore, there are Christians who, in the weeks to come, can be counted on to thunder from their pulpits that Katrina is God’s wrath against the immorality of this nation, pointing out that New Orleans is the epitome of our national degradation and debauchery. To all of this I say, "Wrong."
The God revealed in Jesus did not come into the world "to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:17) There can be no arguments over the claim that, for a variety of reasons, our nation deserves punishment. But when the Bible tells us about the grace of God, it is giving us the good news that our loving God does not give us what we truly deserve. Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina’s victims.
Dr. Campolo is absolutely right that God would not create such suffering amongst the poor. Throughout church history theodicies are the occasion where the greatest theologians most erred because they said too much. For example, errors in Leibnitz' theodicy that this world is the best of all possible worlds was mercilessly critiqued in Voltaire's Candide. Campolo commits an error by denying God's omnipotence. We cannot go there any more than we can go where the religionists above went. When we do a theodicy Scripture guides us where not to go but does not allow relief of a theodicy that is bullet-proof. Silence and humility are the better part of wisdom for a theodicy.
So, if poor people are not the particular object of God's wrath -- Scripture is replete with the concept that God always identifies with the poor and oppressed -- then what's going on here? Could it be the wrong sins are being identified as a cause of this hurricane? If Dr. Campolo is right about the poor -- and I believe he is -- then maybe it is the very oppression of the poor that is being judged.
Let's consider what has happened. The poor in New Orleans could not escape even when their very lives depended upon it. Thanks to the hurricane they now have an opportunity to escape the crushing crime and poverty. This is not to say that many will want to return. But, there are also many that may choose to leave. For those who do, it is incumbent upon those who call ourselves Christian to welcome our new neighbors and make them a valued part of their new communities. That means housing and jobs and dignity. Their government failed them not only after the hurricane but also before. Let's not fail them again.