A Slow-Motion Tragedy: BP & the Church

A Slow-Motion Tragedy: BP & the Church

July 14, 2010 by

Over the last few months I’ve been watching the BP oil spill disaster unfold with horror and amazement. Here is one of the world’s biggest oil spills, a slow-motion tragedy.

It’s awful.

What has also struck me is the jaw-dropping similarity between what has happened to the reputation of BP in a few months and what has happened to the reputation of the church over the millennia.

BP Loses Credibility
When BP was rebranded as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ it heralded a beginning of a new era. BP became a leader for change and hope in the search for alternative fuel. It is now perceived as a dirty, slow-to-act, greedy multinational.

The Church Loses Credibility
When the church began in the New Testament it heralded in a new age. The clear resounding voice of the church was one of freedom (from legalism and law), love, grace, acceptance, hope, physical healing and eternal life, to name just a few. But over time the church has become perceived as a place of narrow-mindedness, judgmentalism, hate, insensitivity and hypocrisy.

What happened? How did the church lose its voice? For many young Christians, the church’s voice is unrecognizable, so they’re leaving. And those outside the church often put their hands over their ears whenever they hear the church’s voice.

I think that the church’s voice has changed. We are heard for what we are against rather than what we are for. Have you noticed that the majority of media mentions of the church are for sexual abuse, homophobia or misogyny?

Some would say this is a church leadership problem, but is also very much a communications problem. We all know churches are doing fantastic work out there. How do we get our real voice heard?

Where is the Church in the Oil Spill?
One interesting note that actually connects BP and the church together is what I haven’t seen the church do in this disaster. Unlike Haiti, the Asian tsunami, the Nashville flood and other disasters, there has been little worldwide—or even from what I can see online American-wide—church response to this environmental disaster.

Some individual churches have pledged their assistance. They’re speaking with their actions and letting their fellow citizens know they care. And the National Association of Evangelicals has declared July 18 a National Day of Prayer for the Gulf. That’s what we need! But overall, the voice of the church has been quiet.

No avatars, no badges on church websites, no churches helping churches on this one. No bus loads of church volunteers rallying to the clean up. It’s the biggest man-made environmental disaster in American history. Livelihoods are being ruined, communities economically devastated. And the church is saying what?

Kevin Hendricks said in a recent post about this same issue that ‘the best marketing is action.’ Perhaps action here is a step to rediscovering the church’s voice.

  • How is your church perceived in your community? How do you know?
  • How is  your church’s voice heard in your community?
  • How do you think the wider church can reclaim its voice?
  • How is the church responding to the oil spill? (We’d love to see examples proving that the church is responding well!)
Post By:

Steve Fogg

Steve serves as the big cheese of communications at his church in Melbourne, Australia; he married way above his pay grade and has three children. Connect with him on his blog or on other social networks.
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8 Responses to “A Slow-Motion Tragedy: BP & the Church”

  • Jesse
    July 14, 2010

    I think the reason the church isn’t deeply engaged in the oil spill is because it’s man-made. I’m not saying that is or isn’t a valid excuse, but I do think it’s why. Most people likely feel that it’s BP’s responsibility to fix the problem since it was their well. Natural disasters, on the other hand, have no such responsible party.

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    • Steve Fogg
      July 15, 2010

      Good thought Jesse, same issue exists. People are hurting financially & socially. And the environment is being destroyed. The church has an opportunity to say that it is FOR the environment and has the back of the local communities. After all if we don’t who will?

      How do you think your church could make a difference?

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  • Orville
    July 14, 2010

    This is definitely true. If the church is not known in serving the community and being aware of what’s happening then how can it gain its credibility. Christians know already the gospel and there’s no problem bout that but the question is how is the gospel applied to create changes in this world.

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    • Steve Fogg
      July 15, 2010

      Hey Orville, gr8 comment. How would you apply the gospel in this context?

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  • Ian
    July 15, 2010

    “I think that the church’s voice has changed. We are heard for what we are against rather than what we are for.”

    That’s because the things we’re against are the things we take action on. We drum up political furor any time a congressman so much as thinks “gay marriage”, all the while claiming that we hate the sin and not the sinner. If that were really our attitude, I would think we would devote a lot more time to educating ourselves about the issues, connecting to that community with the gospel, maybe even supporting harm reduction for HIV/AIDS. And where’s the furor over Westboro Baptist Church? Phelps has been gushing crude hatred (homophobia, anti-semitism, and more) into the waters of public opinion for nearly 15 years. This is the United States, and I can’t legally stop Phelps from saying the things he says, but I can certainly make it known to the world that he does not speak for me, and he does not speak for Christ.

    If we spend more time taking action on the things we are for by helping people rise out of bad situations, I think it would help our position tremendously. Ladies in my church have organized an outreach to exotic dancers in the men’s clubs in our area, which has already borne fruit: we’ve been able to help several of these women out of their exploitative careers in a remarkably short time. If only we spoke as clearly about other things we care about…

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    • Steve Fogg
      July 15, 2010

      Thanks Ian, I hadn’t thought about ‘the things we’re against are the things we take action on’. Its so true. We aren’t just against them – we don’t sit by and grumble at what people are doing. We act. Often with vitriol rather than love.

      Like you said I do wonder what would happen if we if we acted more on helping people rise out of bad situations. Brilliant example. thanks so much Ian!

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  • Where is the church in all of this???? Too busy trying to re-fight the culture war left off from when the Clintons were in office in the 1990’s. And I really believe the culture war is dictating the reasons why you haven’t seen churches helping out in Louisiana.

    Big oil = Republican party = culture warriors = restorationist / dominionist / Christian reconstructionalism = religious right = homeschooling = no marriage penality tax = anti abortion = school vouchers

    Environmental cleanup = democrats = gay rights = abortions on demand = pot-smoking Deadheads in a Volkswagen Minibus = diversity = national healthcare / socialized medicine = communism = labor unions = elimination of Christianity = anti-American

    To come against the actions of big oil BP is made equal to coming against the Republican party who is supposed to one day give us the victory in the American culture war. Therefore, to speak against the Big Oil companies is considered as a form of a “self-righteous suicide” by the way of cutting off the hand that will feed American Christians the victory in the culture war.

    The state of Louisiana (even though the Republican candidate won the electoral college votes in the last three presidential elections and a Republican governor is in office) is still viewed as this very strong Democrat stronghold who produced Huey P. Long, the father of the concept of wealth redistribution while re-electing democrat Ray Nagan as the mayor of New Orleans. This, combined with the very strong Catholic presence, combined with the debauchery called Mardi Gras, is ingrained in the mind of the American religious-right culture warrior that helping out in Louisiana is equal to aiding and abetting the Pope and also selling their soul to Satan and helping out Satan’s quest to defeat Christianity by keeping Mardi Gras going strong. Helping out in Louisiana is viewed as coming against God himself to eventually experience a wrath from God that to them, could mean eternal seperation from God.

    Wonder why we really did not see to many churches go out to help after Hurricane Katrina? – same principles in action…. And because of the Democrat stronghold in Louisiana, the culture warriors deep-down really feel that both Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was God’s wrath of hard judgment on that state.

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  • zoraya
    August 11, 2010

    This is just what I love about this site, the way communication helps us see different viewpoints! I agree with that July 26 comment…there is that angle. But I also agree with Jessee [July 14], since there is a responsible party for this disaster the involvement of the church would be akin to helping BP ease their way out of reparations for those hurt lives the article points out to as the consequence of their feet-dragging. Also, we have to remember that God did give us many examples in His word of nations, towns and families that felt His wrath for injustices, infidelity to the Covenant with Him and rampant sin. Let’s not discard those stories as old-fashioned, for God is Unchangeable and Eternal. What we need to do is pray for the Gulf area, that all man-made disasters may be cleaned-up, including the moral crisis so pointedly illustrated by Mardi Gras and the wild college girls videos.

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