By Joseph Perdue
As a Floridian, it is especially heart-wrenching and anger-inducing for me to watch the tar balls and oil slicks from BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster advancing inexorably on my state, destined to destroy our abundant wildlife and mar our beautiful Gulf beaches.
As a Christian, it is especially heart-wrenching for me to consider my own moral and ethical culpability in this disaster.
It is easy to feel oppressed and to view BP as the oppressor. After all, one does not have to look hard to see their sin. They have been credibly accused of using cheaper (and obviously less effective) safety measures. They assumed that something like this would never happen, and lied to the federal government when building the rig about their ability to clean up if it did. That they were so arrogant as to assume that they would never get caught is obvious by their lack of a backup plan.
How should Christians respond?
The first and most important thing is to be like Christ. The Bible calls the church the “body of Christ.” We are his hands and feet. So if it ever looks like God is absent from a situation, it is because the church is absent.
Christians should help the cleanup efforts by giving their time and money. More importantly, we should love the people affected by the spill. We should meet their material, emotional and spiritual needs in whatever ways we can. Throughout the Bible one can see a pattern of God taking a special interest in the poor and needy. Many of the times God became angry with ancient Israel it was because the poor among his chosen nation were oppressed or ignored. In fact, Ezekiel 16:49 says that Sodom’s sin was pride in their excess of food and prosperity coupled with a lack of concern for the poor. This serves as a warning to all people. If the American church and government have the means to help those on the Gulf, we are morally obliged to do so.
Second, we should all assess our own role in the disaster. In Matthew 7 Jesus told his followers to remove the logs from their own eyes before trying to remove the splinters from their neighbor’s. While the splinter in BP’s eye is larger than average, we should all probably look in the mirror before we become too critical.
In economics, the simplest principle is supply and demand. A supplier provides a product based on the consumer’s demand and rate of consumption. For decades, the United States has depended on oil to function. We need it to power our homes and schools and to fuel our tank-sized SUVs. It is true that BP was careless in drilling a mile below the surface of the ocean to tap oil — but they did so because we consume it. If there were less demand for oil, there would be less incentive for oil companies to drill in risky places for it, thus reducing the risk of spills. If there were real public demand for alternative energy, our nation would find ways to produce it.
Each of the last six presidents has promised to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, but actually accomplished little to this end. The people continue to use larger amounts of energy than necessary and drive gas guzzlers instead of smaller, more energy-efficient vehicles. The American auto industry itself has been slow to produce more energy-efficient cars and trucks. We tolerate election laws that equate money with speech and allow oil companies to effectively bribe politicians through campaign contributions — and then we vote for politicians (of both major parties) who oppose oversight and regulation.
And yet when a disaster like this occurs we are all outraged by the resulting human suffering and environmental impact — as if no one could possibly have seen it coming. What did we expect to happen?
Don’t get me wrong; I am not excusing BP. For my part, I would love to see more than a few people go to prison. However, ignoring our own culpability in this matter will only exacerbate the situation and prevent necessary reform.
Finally, we should be like Christ in our attitude toward BP. Scripture commands us to pray for, bless, and love our enemies. As hard as this will be for us to do — especially those of us who live on the Gulf — we must do so if we are to be like Christ.
And in the midst of loving and praying for our enemies we should not forget that, when it comes to fossil fuels, this crisis proves that we are in many ways our own worst enemies. As Christians, we must follow Christ’s command to forgive so that we may be forgiven.