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September 15, 2011

Proselytizing Evangelicals Back at It in Flood-Damaged Towns

250LMflood In June, we brought you the story of Roz Payne, who sought assistance from 2-1-1 for her flooded North Hero camp and instead was met with a Southern Baptist prayer circle. The "help" came in the form of a minister and his wife, members of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief of New England, who, rather than helping salvage Payne's belongings that were worth saving, suggested they pray.

As Payne told reporter Andy Bromage, “I do not think holding hands in a circle in the name of Jesus helped to save the contents of my house.”

Payne complained to everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders to the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an umbrella group for organizations that assist in crises. VOAD contacted the Southern Baptists and asked them to tone down the "spiritual triage," as church members called their actions. 

Now, in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, there are reports of similar spiritual meddling. Rev. Emily C. Heath, pastor of Wilmington and West Dover Congregational churches, says she has witnessed untrained chaplains masquerading as Red Cross volunteers in her community. 

Last week, as Heath helped organize relief efforts in Wilmington, one of the towns hardest hit by flooding, she noticed people wandering around town wearing T-shirts that said "Chaplain." Some of them were wearing badges from the International Fellowship of Chaplains, which has ties to the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination, and has been accused of fundamentalist extremism and anti-gay rhetoric.  

Heath, who describes herself as a "big butch lesbian," approached the so-called chaplains to introduce herself as the pastor of the local congregational church. They told her they were there to "counsel people," but something seemed off, Heath says. Some of them said they were chaplains affiliated with the Red Cross, a claim that Red Cross officials deny. 

Heath, who has a master's degree in divinity and is working on her doctoral degree in ministry, was skeptical of their claims primarily because she has done extensive training as a trauma chaplain. Before pastoring, she worked as a chaplain at a Level I trauma center. Trauma chaplaincy isn't about spreading faith; it's about providing comfort and getting people the help they need, Heath says. Instead, "these people use disasters to expand their mission."

While she didn't see any overt proselytizing, she didn't see much in the way of actual assistance being provided. The so-called chaplains gave out some water and that was about it. But Heath says that pushing their brand of faith was their ultimate mission.

"I think it's unethical," she says. "It's one thing to provide people with hope and carry out the Gospel to help them. It's another thing to use a disaster area to prey on people at their most vulnerable."

That members of the IFC came to Vermont wasn't surprising to Heath. Having seen the same thing happen after Hurricane Katrina, she anticipated their arrival, and felt it was her job get the word out about their ulterior motives. "Responsible clergy have to be the gatekeepers for their community."

Recently, an article in the online newspaper Christian Post trumpeted the actions of evangelical volunteers in Vermont, writing "the work Christians are doing in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene has proved to be a stepping-stone for creating a larger community of believers in the region." Heath says there's an easy way to avoid falling prey to people looking to convert folks in disaster areas: "Trust organizations that already have ties to your community," she advises.


If they can pray away the gay why can't they pray away the water? Or better yet change it into a nice table wine? What? C'mon everybody sing along with me "They will know we are Christians by our love by our love" ummm anybody?

Who really cares? It's no worse then the Holy Rollers that constantly stop by my house.

It's there time and there business. Let them do what they want.

Hens love roosters, geese love ganders,
Everyone else loves Ned Flanders.

The Reverend Emily C. Heath: Not me!

Everyone who counts loves Ned Flanders.
(organ plays)

I am a Board Certified Chaplain and a member of the Red Cross Spiritual Response Team. Rev. Emily Heath is exactly right. Board certified chaplains do not proselytize and in fact only work to support the individuals we are working with.

Unfortunately the Red Cross eliminated the paid position that supported this work. I am in hopes that other board certified chaplains were available. It is our job to keep tabs on the "spiritual activities" going on in such a situation and in fact possibly send away those who want to convert others. That is NOT what a chaplain does.

I'll be checking with my organization (The Association of Professional Chaplains) to see how we might be of better assistance.

Hey - Great story, obviously acutely concerning. But I have to jump in here on the first group mentioned. I can't refute what Roz Payne encountered and wouldn't try, but when I went to volunteer the weekend after the floods hit in Bennington, the Southern Baptists (aside from being a surprise to me, given where we are), were the only obvious group doing serious direct-action and organizing crisis response. It wasn't even emotional - it was literal and physical. I've ever seen. Me and a friend just wanted to help and were sent to a church. They already had a list of people's names and applications going through a triage system of severity, of folks who needed help. They'd bought tons of shovels and gear to mud out basements. I spent a heavy five hours of hard labor shoveling and carrying and mudding out a basement and getting whatever we could out, cleaning it, and interacting (non religiously) with the homeowners. Aside from the fact that we knew THEY (the family and other volunteers) were Baptists, and that they mentioned having to go to church on Sunday, or particular Christian music groups, there was no agenda visible. In fact, the only thing I could comment on is that perhaps the list the organizers used were all co-congregants at a particular church in Bennington. But it seemed to be very accessible and not agenda-driven.

The kicker? Religion = tax-free = they don't contribute to help support FEMA. Disgusting.

It is really popular for some people who do nothing to poke fun at people who help others in the name of God. It is also popular to resent people who believe in helping others because they believe in God. It would be foolish of me to try to express my gratitude to all the people who have helped me over the years when I desperately needed to overcome drugs and alcohol but they actually saved me from death because of their beliefs. I resented the help but it was the only way I could have survived my enslavement to hell on earth. Persecute those who love you and see what you get.

Oh by the way, if it makes you feel any better, the ones who helped me the most were not Christians.

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