My FEMA Nightmare: Superstorm Sandy Policy to Help Nightclubs but Not Churches?

Now I have one repeated nightmare: I am walking down the streets in Superstorm Sandy-ravaged sections of New York City, my town – especially near the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island. As I walk, I grieve with immense sadness and anger when I see some churches boarded up because of their tragic superstorm damage. Perhaps some part of a floor is weakened or some electric wiring is damaged. It may be that some steps are broken or a dangerous level of mold has grown. Now failing our building code standards, these church buildings are closed, not to be opened to serve their communities, not to be opened for divine services.

However on the same New York City blocks, down the same busy streets, there are rowdy beer halls, sleazy nightclubs, and smutty "adult" stores, even witchy botánica businesses – all open and thriving again because of generous grants from the tax-payers' pockets; American money conveniently channeled by the IRS and FEMA for the restoration of thousands of homes and businesses, including godless establishments. Their floors are now repaired, their damaged wiring is replaced, their steps are renovated and their mold is safely removed – and all is paid for through generous government aid. The church buildings suffering the same damage are still "disqualified" from these grants because churches lead people to God. Ironically, it was the God-centered churches who were the first to help others immediately after Superstorm Sandy –with generous physical, emotional and spiritual help many days or weeks before aid from any other sources, government or private. And it is the churches that are qualified to offer the continuing soul-care help still so deeply needed for months and years to come.

That is my repeated nightmare. However, each time I wake up I rediscover that the nightmare is not a dream at all, but the reality here in New York City, as well as on the shores of Long Island and New Jersey. What an awful nightmare, what a twisted reality, what a misguided government.

It was great news that the Federal Disaster Assistance Non-Profit Fairness bill has now passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin: 354 to 72, on February 13. We are grateful. Thankfully the voting margin of it is large – so that it brings a sizable endorsement from the people and from the House of Representatives to the Senate's leaders. Passing the Senate is the next big step, because the distance between the House and the Senate is often huge, much greater than the few hundred feet between their chambers. Party devotion and values loyalties are remarkably different in our two national legislative bodies. So much that passes in the House is never even brought up in the Senate, because of a number of differences of personality, politics and priority.

In our free market society, I do not begrudge "adult" bookstores, bars, sleazy nightclubs or botánica businesses from receiving aid – as long as there is such an aid program and if it were fairly administered. The biggest problem is the malignant exclusion of churches, synagogues, mosques and other house of worship (more generally, "churches") that makes the whole relief effort so grossly uneven and skewed. Aid is given even for people, businesses and organizations that did not buy federal subsidized flood insurance – with the only exception of complete prohibition of aid to the churches. It is as if our government was especially hostile to churches. It is as if our government – "one nation under God" – sees churches as dispensable, in the way of progress, a waste of good space, the only organizations unworthy to receive the aid dollars – those dollars that still say "In God We Trust." The present FEMA policy is so absurdly anti-church – it is as if the White House and the Senate thought that the United States would be better off if thousands of churches did not survive in the disaster areas.

Focus on the free-flow of money to aid adult bookstores, rowdy bars, sleazy nightclubs and witchy botánica businesses – along with other storm affected businesses. My point is two-fold:

  • First to shine light on the absurd selectivity of FEMA.
  • Second, to reference the massive flow of money to organizations whose purposes often run counter to churches.

In an earlier time more people understood that adulation of illicit sex, the reinforcement of drunken behavior, and open witchcraft as service of anti-God destructive spirits such as sexually unfaithful Baal and Asherah, drunken Dionysus, and Orisha nature-gods and goddesses.

The Biblical warnings against Baal, Asherah and Ishtar and other objects of ancient pagan devotion were mostly warnings against the gods and goddesses of unfaithful and perverted sexuality, often represented by icons and statues of naked, exaggerated sexual organs, and whose celebrations included excesses of liquor and public lewdness – as well sometimes as the sacrifice of human babies. These destructive religious practices exploited some of the most wonderful constructs of Creator God's handiwork – and in their cult, consciousness, and crude behavior sought even to displace the Creator as worthy of worship. In the Bible, the most common ancient religious "alternatives" to Godly love and living were variations of "playboy" and "playgirl," with exaggerated pictures, sexualized idol-statues and prescribed perverted practices. For example, just days after the Lord's liberation of Israel from slavery, some of their misguided leaders organized a sex-party, dancing around a golden bull with an exaggerated male organ – never a calf – claiming that this shiny, freshly-sculptured metal had been their liberator!

As I mentioned recently, if the "problem" with FEMA is that worship occurs in churches, as if they cannot repair houses of worship, "let FEMA be forewarned: vibrant worship often occurs in hundreds of thousands of our New York homes, offices, factories and restaurants, too."

And it is just as important to know that that a kind of "worship" openly occurs also at those rowdy beer halls, sleazy nightclubs, smutty "adult" stores, and even witchy botánica businesses. They are houses of worship, too – destructive, demeaning worship, but worship, nevertheless. While we do not generally label these businesses establishments as houses of worship, they are often still in direct competition with churches. They are effectual "houses of worship" that millions of New Yorkers packed out after 9/11, seeking "consolation," groping for "eternity," at the same time millions of others sought consolation and eternity more effectively in the churches. Tragically, present FEMA policy prefers giving support to these effectual "temples" of the perverted sexual and alcoholic ancient enemies of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus – and no aid to churches.

That is why my repeated nightmare matters! FEMA aid to pagan "houses of worship" is processed; aid to legitimate churches is illegal. May God help us! May we awaken the Senate and White House to mere FEMA equity.

Can we pray for God to continue to bless America, anyway? First, let America bless God!

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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