Faith Leaders Focus on Lessening Backlash after Disaster

Church World Service held its second national forum on Domestic Disaster Ministry at Princeton University to address how to protect ethnically and racially vulnerable populations from "backlash" after a disaster.

Speaking to a national forum of faith leaders, scholars and disaster responders, Dr. Brenda Philips, professor in the political science department at Oklahoma State University, said, "You've got to get out of your pews, gather the community, and work to become a credible and trusted force for good within that community," according to CWS.

The forum, which ended Tuesday, ran for three days with the theme "Building Human Security" and focused on community faith house responses for vulnerable populations, children, bioterrorism, public violence and technological disasters.

Lori Peek, assistant professor in the sociology department at Colorado State University, said the time to decide on how to protect the people is before the disaster occurs.

Just as the devastating Katrina disaster exposed the poverty and race issues that continue to exist, other disasters could "lay bare the social problems of ... society," said Philips. She thus urged faith-based organizations to identify vulnerable populations and devise plans ahead of time to lessen backlash.

Patricia Stukes of Texas Woman's University identified the elderly and poor as some of the most vulnerable peoples.

"They get up each day, dress themselves up and sit outside their doors waiting for someone to come by and help them," said Stukes as she referenced the effects of Katrina, according to CWS.

Forum participants also noted security problems that arose from the Sept. 11 attacks.

"America has become a Linus nation where we are always searching for our security blanket," said Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The church must point the way to an understanding that "there can be no security without community" and that "the only security is the eternal love of God."

Headquartered in New York, Church World Service is a global relief, development and refugee assistance agency. CWS was one of the early responders to the 2005 hurricane season and is one of the first agencies called to respond along with the Red Cross in times of domestic disasters. In addition to providing emergency relief and material aid, Church World Service focuses on assisting community-based long-term recovery for vulnerable and under-served populations.