Archive for Saturday, April 2, 2011

Faith Forum: How does your faith tradition cope with natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan?

April 2, 2011


The Rev. Jill Jarvis, Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, 1263 N. 1100 Road:

We are all vulnerable to the misfortunes that are part of living in the natural world. Poverty, war, injustice, disease, economic recession, natural disaster — we don’t deserve any of these.

Yet we and our brothers and sisters, next-door and around the world, suffer in body and spirit from their effects.

Our faith calls us to use our resources to reach out to those in need, and to do so in ways that respect their inherent worth and dignity. Our symbol, the flaming chalice, was first seen in Europe under Nazi occupation. As the Unitarian Service Committee smuggled refugees to safety, it wanted to provide a symbol of hope that would be recognized by those in urgent need. Today, our flaming chalice represents faith in action, inspiring us to service, justice and compassion.

In providing help and comfort, we neither prosthelytize, nor attempt to impose our ways on other cultures. In disaster relief efforts we partner with local organizations which can best make decisions about distributing the funds and other resources our congregations provide.

We work not only to meet physical needs, but also to protect basic human rights. Following the earthquake in Haiti, we worked alongside our partners to respond to the cholera epidemic, supply food and clothing to thousands of displaced persons, and provide training in trauma response.

Responding to abuse in the refugee camps, we also created child-protection committees, and trained community activists to work against the increasing tide of gender-based violence. Locally, the Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence held a chili fundraiser within a week of the earthquake, raising more than $2,500 for relief efforts.

Our Service Committee is on the ground with our Japanese partners working to determine how best to use the resources pouring in from our congregations as the disaster continues to unfold. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Japan in this difficult time of loss and destruction.

— Send e-mail to Jill Jarvis at

The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:

The images left following natural disasters in Japan, Haiti and Louisiana leave us stunned and full of questions. The suffering that accompanies such devastation can challenge our faith.

The ultimate answer to the question of suffering lies beyond our most compassionate hearts and wisest minds.

As Christians, we believe that the planet is a living organism which follows the laws of nature. The terrific winds and storms come about because of the rotation of the earth and its movements in relationship to the sun. Earthquakes occur because the tectonic plates of the earth move, releasing energy and force. God does not change this, nor does God bring about these specific events in a particular context.

We believe that God is fully aware of the difficulties we face in life. At the heart of the Christian gospel is the suffering of Jesus on the cross of Good Friday. In the torture and crucifixion of God’s son, we believe that God is touched by the fullest human experience of loss. Out of love for us God is present with us, not causing chaos but entering into it, not sending calamity but suffering through it, not standing over us but holding tightly onto us and promising never to let go.

Thus, we acknowledge that God is active in the middle of such tragedies and that God uses us to help carry out God’s gracious will. God is present in the aid being rushed to Japan, in the workers continuing their rescue efforts against great odds, and in the gifts we give to organizations such as our denominational relief efforts, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

— Send e-mail to Kent Winters-Hazelton at


canyon_wren 7 years, 1 month ago

Rev. Jarvis--I think the word you want is "proselytize," not "prosthelytize." On the other hand, maybe you were associating that with the word "prosthesis," which involves replacing something that is missing (e.g., a leg, etc.)--and that IS sort of appropriate, in a way!

Kim Murphree 7 years, 1 month ago

The members of my church contribute $$ each month during fast Sunday to the storehouse for the international church--when natural disasters arise--we send relief (tons of food, medical supplies), and, if possible, volunteers to the area to assist. To me, that's what organized religion can do best--organize to relieve those in need. There are no judgments in natural disasters--none at all--people of all faiths and those who are atheists are all affected by these events--for those of faith--the only charge is to help those in need--that is, if it is, in my opinion, a true faith.

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