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Haitian Devastation: A Theological Response

African American news from Pasadena - Professor Jama-Dominque Hopkins on Haiti DevastationOn January 12th a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the capital city of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. In the immediate aftermath, set against the backdrop of the rubble, smoke, corpses and frantic chaos, faint prayers echoed and reverberated throughout the streets; in spite of the chilling images that were beginning to surface. I kept hearing these French prayers, pleas and heart wrenching laments. Hearing the prayers of the people challenged me to think of my Christian theological response: a response further challenged in light of the lengthy New Testament pericopie of Matthew’s gospel:

“[F]or I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'  Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   (Matthew 25:35-46, NRSV)

The devastating earthquake in Haiti has engendered worldwide media attention and global response from relief agencies, religious groups and good-natured volunteers. President Barack Obama has pledged American support to Haiti; in a press conference last week, Obama, on Haiti, unreservedly said “you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten:” he pledged 100 million dollars in financial support. American relief agencies, along side other global agencies, have begun to dig beneath the rubble to unearth many of the dead and search for possible survivors.

Over the past few days, visual and print mediums have rendered heart wrenching images and told tear jerking stories of life, survival and death. In all of the response, the people of Haiti are witnessing a largely genuine good-natured outpouring of global humanity. Yet with all of the heartfelt response, some symbols of ignorance, absurdity and selfishness have manifested.

These manifestations, unfortunately, have come from some marginal wings of evangelical Christianity. Yet, in spite of this, there has been an overwhelming theological response in the form of global action; this is called “theological praxis” and it is outlined in the Matthean passage given above (visiting, feeding, clothing, and giving which suggests that we actually know the Lord). It is the action and practice behind a working theoretical theology. This theological praxis was modeled in Martin Luther King Jr’s., non-violent Civil Rights Movement, with the sit-ins, the marches, the speeches, the public protests which resulted in being jailed, and the ultimate sacrifice which led to his death in Memphis, TN. What is a theological response that is action-less?

Similar to the Civil Right’s campaigns in the third quarter of the 20th century, and the current relief efforts in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, a theological response can be as simple as making phone calls, fervently praying, being present with friends and family member who have been directly of indirectly affected, donating money for relief efforts, helping to organize or being on the ground to feed the people or help to dig through the rubble, etc. . . In the end we must ask, what has been or will be our theological response? To donate funds for relief efforts, contact you local churches, the American Red Cross, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services or other relief organizations.

Dr.Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Director of J.D.Institute and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is the author of “Ecclesiastes” in the African Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and “Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical’s Identity” in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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