“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Jesus in Matthew: 25.35-40)”
“We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax (Rush Limbaugh on his radio show 1/13/10)”
“They got together and swore a pact to the devil…Ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other (Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcast Network 1/13/10)”
The United States is the wealthiest country on earth. Even in the face of our current economic downturn, Americans enjoy a higher quality of life than the vast majority of the Earth’s citizens.
Haiti, in contrast, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 80% of her people are unemployed and over half live on less than $1/day (1). 80% of Haitian people over the age of 15 cannot read or write, and the government lacks sufficient funds to educate all of the children. Haiti has the highest rate of HIV infection in the New World. 30,000 people die each year, and to date 150,000 children have been orphaned by the disease. Access to clean water and sanitation is rare.
From our vantage point in the United States where even the poorest among us can count on food stamps and public housing, it is almost impossible to know what real poverty feels like. We cannot imagine what it feels like to go to sleep at night listening to our children whimper because of hunger pangs in their stomachs. While we are feeling sorry for ourselves because our mcmansions are being foreclosed, we should consider how lucky we are simply because our fate made us American rather than Haitian.
Now, Haiti has suffered a devastating earthquake. Initial reports indicate as many as 100,000 people may have lost their lives in the disaster. Those who can least afford further calamity are now enduring unfathomable suffering. They do not deserve this terrible fate.
During the 15 years I lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands (a small island country 90 miles north of Haiti), I had the privilege of knowing several people from Haiti. I found them all to be remarkable, resilient and hardworking people. In spite of the adversity the accident of birth played in their fate, they never gave up striving to improve their lives. My Haitian friends all love their families, friends and community. They are a deeply religious people, but unlike many Bible-bashing Americans, Haitians put their religious money where their mouths are. In spite of having very little themselves, the majority of Haitian people would give their last dime to help a friend in need. In spite of deep, economic poverty and limited educational facilities, Haiti is a wellspring of talented artists, musicians and herbalists, who contribute to a rich culture that is uniquely Haitian.
Many of the Haitians in the TCI live in makeshift dwellings constructed of scraps of plywood and cardboard. The risk their lives on a regular basis on less than seaworthy boats making the crossing from Haiti to TCI with the hope, endemic to their people, of working for a better future. The story of the Haitian people should serve as a source of inspiration to us all. Their story is one of unfaltering endurance and hope even in the face of unimaginable hardship.
Yet some would choose to condemn the innocent for their own misfortune. Pat Robertson, famous televangelist, claims Haiti’s woes are the result of a “pact with the devil” they entered into in the 18th century in order to free themselves from the tyranny of slavery and French imperialism (2). Apparently Robertson’s god believes the Haitian people should have remained slaves and that the great-great grandchildren of the brave Haitians who rose up against their oppressors over two-hundred years ago are somehow responsible for the actions of their ancestors. Unfortunately, many Americans pray to the same, vengeful and hateful god that Robertson worships. Meanwhile, as Robertson damns the Haitian people for all eternity, he sits on a personal fortune, made largely from his hateful diatribes, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. What would Jesus do Pat?
Rush Limbaugh criticizes our president for acting quickly to deal with the disaster and adds his own selfish version of events to the dialogue. Rush, for some reason, would feel better if our president waited like Bush did for several days before addressing the devastating situation after Katrina. Limbaugh also feels we have done enough as Americans for the Haitians because a meager portion of our income taxes has gone to humanitarian aid over the past few decades. Rush makes multiple millions spewing hate. He is obviously a glutton, yet he would let others in the world starve. As Rush and Pat cling to their perverse version of Christianity, their personal millions of dollars and their hatred, they do not deserve to call themselves American, much less Christian.
I have a different kind of pride to be American. I side with the humanitarian Jesus, and hope our great country will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of our materialism, self indulgence and personal greed to become a nation of great philanthropy, generosity and compassion for all of our larger family of humanity and organisms.
Be thankful for the roof over your head. No matter how meager it may be, you can be certain it is better than 99.99% of the dwellings in Haiti. Be thankful for the food in your stomach and clean, disease-free water to drink. Be thankful your children can go to school and that you can read this. Then express your thanks by being a great American and making a donation to the relief efforts to help the least of our family.