It’s that season again. An ominous swirl forms in the Atlantic, citizens batten down or evacuate, TV weather reporters put on rain slickers and, as predictably as National Weather Service bulletins, some End-Times pastors and other provocateurs on the right attribute the storm to a wrathful God’s vengeance on liberals.
The storm surge has already washed up Jim Bakker, whose televangelism never quite recovered from his sex scandal and prison sentence for fraud. After Hurricane Harvey, he declared that “this flood is from God,” punishment for the former mayor of Houston attempting to subpoena ministers’ sermons.
Bakker said this while promoting his “Tasty Pantry,” a bucket of dehydrated food to help survive the apocalypse, and while sharing his set with Pastor Rick Joyner, who agreed storms don’t “happen by accident.”
Likewise, Pastor Kevin Swanson has said the path of Hurricane Irma would be altered by God if the Supreme Court quickly made abortion and gay marriage illegal, “before Irma does her damage,” as Right Wing Watch noted.
Radio preacher Rick Wiles, likewise, said Houston is underwater because it “boasted of its LGBT devotion.” And Ann Coulter — bless her — suggested it might have something to do with the city’s former mayor being a lesbian. “I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor,” she tweeted. “But that is more credible than ‘climate change.’ ”
Where there is mischief, there is Rush Limbaugh, declaring that Irma is not an act of God but a case of liberal media hype to make people believe that climate change is real. “There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it,” he argued, claiming that “hurricanes are always forecast to hit major population centers.” (That puts Limbaugh in company with Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist popular with President Trump, who wanted to know why the government didn’t use “technologies” to kill the storm before it made landfall.)
But the particulars of Irma and Harvey make it more difficult to assert that they are the work of a wrathful God. The country is now run by a Republican president who enjoys the support of many conservative evangelical Christian leaders. Texas and Florida, the two states most affected by the storms, both voted Republican last year. The governor and lieutenant governor of Texas have championed social-conservative causes. God swamped Republican areas around Houston just as He swamped the city. And Houston voters aren’t exactly liberal: In 2015 they defeated an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have protected gay people.
This could explain why some of the most prominent members of the wrathful-God school have been reluctant to see divine judgment at work in Irma and Harvey.
Pat Robertson, who saw God’s hand in the Haiti and San Fernando Valley earthquakes, has also said U.S. political pressure on Israel causes natural disasters in the United States, and he warned that gay tourists at Disney World could cause a meteor strike. But he has been quiet about Harvey and Irma.
Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, who blamed the Sandy Hook school shooting on tolerance of gay marriage and abortion, has made no similar claims this time.
The Religion News Service noted that “where conservative Christian leaders have sometimes apportioned blame for natural disasters, some are now publicly cautioning against it.”
Michael Brown, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, cautioned that “we must be very careful before we make divine pronouncements about hurricanes and other natural disasters,” and he said Houston was “one of the few cities that has stood bravely against the rising tide of LGBT activism. Why would God single out Houston for judgment?”
Unless — heaven forbid — God supports the rising tide of LGBT activism?
It’s specious and irresponsible, of course, to claim that God is directing weather patterns to make political statements. But let’s do it anyway. Using the theological reasoning of Bakker, Robertson, et alia, it seems reasonable to conclude that hurricanes Harvey and Irma are God’s punishment for:
- President Trump.
- The GOP Congress.
- Ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for “dreamers” (further evidence: Hurricane Jose).
- Pardoning Joe Arpaio.
- Firing James B. Comey.
- Jeff Sessions threatening to prosecute reporters.
- Anthony Scaramucci.
- Sebastian Gorka.
- Joel Osteen.
- Trump’s speech in Phoenix.
- Staff cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Betsy Devos’s Title IX policy.
- Ryan Zinke’s national-monument policy.
- Trump’s proposed tax cuts.
- Texas calling a special session of the legislature to take up an anti-transgender bill.
- Facebook accepting political ads from Russia.
Or we could skip all that and just accept that it’s God’s punishment for climate change. That, and the lesbian former mayor of Houston.
Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000.