An Act of God?

Where Most See a Weather System, Some See Divine Retribution

Buildings burn on the east side of New Orleans yesterday.
Buildings burn on the east side of New Orleans yesterday. (By Phil Coale -- Associated Press)
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 4, 2005

Steve Lefemine, an antiabortion activist in Columbia, S.C., was looking at a full-color satellite map of Hurricane Katrina when something in the swirls jumped out at him: the image of an 8-week-old fetus.

"In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion," said Lefemine, who e-mailed the flesh-toned weather map to fellow activists across the country and put a stark message on the answering machine of his organization, Columbia Christians for Life.

"Providence punishes national sins by national calamities," it said. "Greater divine judgment is coming upon America unless we repent of the national sin of abortion."

Lefemine is far from the only person to see the wrath of God in the awesome damage that Katrina has wreaked on the Gulf Coast. As with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and last year's South Asian tsunami, the hurricane has spawned many competing explanations and apocalyptic visions from across the religious and ideological spectrum.

"It is almost certain that this is a wind of torment and evil that Allah has sent to this American empire," a Kuwaiti official, Muhammad Yousef Mlaifi, wrote Wednesday in the Arabic daily Al-Siyassa under the headline "The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah . . ."

In Israel, Christian journalist Stan Goodenough was struck by the juxtaposition in recent days of Jewish settlers being removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip and Americans being forced out of their homes in New Orleans.

"Is this some sort of bizarre coincidence? Not for those who believe in the God of the Bible . . .," he wrote in a column for the Web site Jerusalem Newswire. "What America is about to experience is the lifting of God's hand of protection; the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel."

In Philadelphia, Michael Marcavage saw no coincidence, either, in the hurricane's arrival just as gay men and lesbians from across the country were set to participate in a New Orleans street festival called "Southern Decadence."

"We take no joy in the death of innocent people," said Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America, an evangelistic organization calling for "a nation in rebellion toward God" to reclaim its senses.

"But we believe that God is in control of the weather," he said in a telephone interview. "The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. . . . We're calling it an act of God."

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson, who were roundly criticized for suggesting that the Sept. 11 attacks were divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, feminism and the proliferation of liberal groups, have been silent on the meaning of the hurricane. Most of the major Christian political advocacy groups also have been cautious.

"It's a very risky business ascribing divine intent to natural disasters. Nobody but God really knows why these things occur," said Robert Knight, director of Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Institute.

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