Having gone down to Miami for a small relief effort about 6 days after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, and to Wauchula 2 days after Hurricane Charley passed through just last month, a few observations come to mind.
The church is God’s primary instrument for extending charity after the resources and benefits of self-government and family government have been tapped to the hilt. Hurricanes pretty much render these basic forms of support marginalized if not paralyzed for those left in the wake of these meteorological dynamos.
Because the church has largely abandoned its ministerial obligation to local communities, the “benevolent” state has filled the void and assumed a leadership role in charitable outreaches. Hence we have the dominance of institutions like FEMA, Red Cross, Salvation Army, the National Guard, and other large para-institutional organizations and the concomitant spectator status of many local churches.
Had the several thousand local churches in the counties unaffected by Hurricane Charley all organized and sent out small teams in an organized fashion very, very few would have stymied the work of the mega-charitable institutions, and they would have brought faster, widespread relief at less expense.
For the sake of grasping a clearer understanding, envision your own community having been struck by the eye of Andrew or Charley. Would you rather have had 200 groups of 7 people each serving 300 meals per group (60,000 total meals), or 3 groups (e.g. Red Cross, FEMA and Salvation Army) serving 20,000 meals a piece?) Which scenario leads to many being left out of the charity loop? Which scenario leads to longer lines? Which scenario takes more people away from putting their lives and communities back in order? Which scenario offers a wider variety of foods?
The media goes to where the best pictures are. In other words, they go to Ground Zero and create a Kobe Bryant trial type of presence. Not surprisingly, the large food , water and basic necessities of life relief also targets Ground Zero at its fullest force first. Outlying areas are an afterthought in comparison to these nerve centers.
This is by no means an appeal for the Red Cross and like organizations to close their doors and disappear. They do great work for many people. Rather, it’s merely to suggest America’s approach to charitable works on a large scale is upside down, much like its approach to civil government. The centralization of charitable works has supplanted the biblical, local approach.
The churches need to stop listening to the abiblical voices instructing it on how to do its charitable work and reengage a hurting society. The notion that the widespread involvement of local churches would have hampered relief efforts is a classic straw man argument, much like the world’s assertion that Christians shouldn’t proselytize. Why, proselytizing is a large part of the church's calling! And, so is the administration of charity. Sure, the church is capable of botching its calling and often does. It has much organizing ahead of herself. Nonetheless it’s to do what its called to do, and acquiescing to large centralized charitable organizations is a mistake that imperils many.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. When the church of Jesus Christ reclaims it’s calling all will benefit.