Religious leaders: Katrina sent by God as punishment

Speculation continues about the effects of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath – estimated to be one of the costliest natural disasters in American history – but most know why the catastrophe happened. A combination of warm ocean

Speculation continues about the effects of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath – estimated to be one of the costliest natural disasters in American history – but most know why the catastrophe happened. A combination of warm ocean water and a lack of counter winds to slow the storm gave Katrina a mixture of near perfect conditions to build its 140 mph winds before reaching the Gulf Coast last week.

Most of the public assumes those circumstances, combined with New Orleans’ cereal bowl shape and outdated levee system, heightened the city’s vulnerability.

But Temple grad Michael Marcavage and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan have a different story. Instead of relying on sound meteorology to explain the disaster, they claim God sent Katrina as punishment, for two very different reasons.

The Philadelphia Inquirer last week reported that Marcavage, the head of Repent America, an anti-gay Christian group based in Lansdowne, said Wednesday that although we should “pray for those ravaged by this disaster … we must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long.”

Marcavage claimed the hurricane “was an act of God” that “destroyed a wicked city,” as the Inquirer reported, hitting right before the Big Easy was slated to hold its 34th annual gay pride festival, Southern Decadence.

The annual pro-gay event held in the city’s famed French Quarter is apparently enough, in Marcavage’s mind, to throw God into a hurricane-tossing tizzy.

The Inquirer didn’t explain Marcavage’s take on why it took God more than three decades to muster enough outrage to unleash a hurricane-sized wallop on the festival, or why He bypasses the relatively hedonistic Mardi Gras every year. Marcavage will likely devise an equally illogical explanation soon.

Meanwhile, at South Philly’s Tinsley Temple United Methodist Church on Wednesday, Louis Farrakhan said God sent Katrina to forcefully disapprove of America’s preemptive war on Iraq.

“New Orleans is the first of the cities going to tumble down … unless America changes its course,” Farrakhan said, according to the Inquirer. “It is the wickedness of the people of America and the government of America that is bringing the wrath of God down.”

The Inquirer reported his statements were well-received.

Obviously, the logic behind Marcavage’s and Farrakhan’s claims is … none. Both are using a natural disaster to promote their respective political and religious agendas, disregarding the anguish many families felt as their loved ones were swept away in flood waters or overcome with exhaustion and dehydration.

Farrakhan’s and Marcavage’s lines of thinking are deplorable, but they are just the latest in a long line of leaders to hurl God’s “intentions” against their opposition. Supporters of war, slavery, misogyny and genocide have all used God for theoretical support.

It’s safe to assume many Christians and Muslims believe exploiting a catastrophe for gain and judging an entire city’s devastation isn’t a good move. Many religious folk are mourning the extreme loss and pain following this disaster and are searching for a god to heal, not to discriminately destroy.

The Bible and Koran share many similarities in teaching peace and kindness. In a biblical tale, for example, Jesus instructs a group of people who are about to stone an adulteress that only those without sin should cast stones at her, whereupon the entire crowd was forced to leave. It’s a wonder the same Jesus who has issues with sinners judging one another – Marcavage and Farrakhan included – would hurl a Category 4 storm to punish a city that either liked gays or, because of its geographic ties to America, had something to do with the Iraq war.

When disaster strikes, many wonder how, or if, God could be responsible for such tragedy. Modest Mouse, a rock band that often explores the existence and intent of God, ask a similar question in their newest album, Good News For People Who Love Bad News. They posit: “If God takes life, he’s an Indian giver. So tell me now why, you’ll tell me never. Who would wanna be? Who would wanna be such a control freak?”

Marcavage and Farrakhan seem equipped, however arbitrarily, to answer.

Brandon Lausch can be reached at

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