Originally published as an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel on January 28, 2010.
I had to look up the word ersatz. The term appears often in newspaper editorials, academic works and other erudite publications. Ersatz, according to my iPhone dictionary app, means an inferior substitute.
In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, many are seeking understanding for the reason behind such a tragedy. Some are crafting for themselves an ersatz theology that presents a wrathful, avenging God exercising his authority through natural disaster that is contrary to the compassionate and prophetic example set by Jesus.
Evangelist Pat Robertson discredited himself long ago with much of mainstream America, even Christians, with other colorful statements the likes of which are echoing through the nation’s newspapers and airwaves.
Yet, the media await his next poor and unfortunate statement to paint another broad stroke about Christians. Skeptics and the faithless hear Robertson’s prognostications and think, “I knew it all along. Christians aren’t as loving or compassionate as their Jesus says they should be.”
While God has the power to act through natural disaster, claiming to know the mind and will of God in times of such immense tragedy and confusion is unwarranted. I wonder what Haitian Archbishop Serge Miot, a man who served his community faithfully and whose life was tragically taken by the earthquake, would have said in response to Robertson?
New voices, such as Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Wenski and the Rev. Joel Hunter, Central Floridians who have long offered both calls for justice and deeds of compassion in the name of Christ, need to replace some of the aging voices in the wings for American Christians.
With the Rev. Billy Graham ailing, Rick Warren has aptly filled Graham’s role as America’s pastor, presiding over last year’s presidential inauguration. More and more, Christian voices of reason, compassion and integrity are needed in these times.
The temptation, sadly, for much of the media is to lift up ersatz voices from religious wings allowing for unwarranted criticism and attention to be paid to such views. This is often heard as scholars remind us that Yemeni Salafism or Arabian Wahhabism are not fair representations of Islam, which includes millions of peaceful, reasonable followers.
Journalistic integrity, in shorter and shorter supply, must not grab this low-hanging fruit, but follow in the post-9-11 example of ABC’s World News and The Wall Street Journal’s House of Worship feature lifting up the considered, committed and compassionate contributions of the faith community.
Thousands of pastors, rabbis and imams across the nation provide such a voice each week from their pulpits. Great responsibility rests on congregations to spread the word and to share an understanding of God that leads to the fruitful flowering of society in which peace, love and justice are central.
May the Central Florida faithful exercise their religious freedom both by holding their religious leaders accountable to appropriate theology and rejecting the sensational distractions found in the wings of all houses of faith.