By Rick Burnette
Hurricanes do not target demographic groups based on race, religion, income level or political affiliation. All are equal in the path of these giant, cyclonic, tropical systems.
However, having been directly impacted by Hurricane Irma and involved in the recovery efforts of other recent storms, including Harvey, Maria, Florence and Michael, my own observation is that lower income people are disproportionately affected by these disasters. For one thing, poor neighborhoods are often established in flood prone areas. And in terms of managing risk, whereas the relatively affluent can afford flood and hurricane insurance, the poor cannot.
Again, our storm-affected poor are not exclusively one race. Nor do they all belong to one political party. Considering where Hurricanes Florence and Michael made landfall and spread destruction this year, poor communities were affected in both wide swaths of Republican red and concentrated patches of Democratic blue. Not many of the devastated districts could be described as purple.
Speaking of this composite color, in a time of deep political polarization, some have observed that there are not many purple churches. Out of frustration with “the others,” the tendency is to migrate towards political, theological and ideological comfort zones. As a result, churches are not only home to the most racially segregated hour in America but are increasingly politically homogeneous.
This observation may be disputed, but I think that overall, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches might still be described as purple. While in some congregations the red hues may dominate and in others there is a greater dose of blue, it’s my guess is that CBF’s color is some shade of purple. And for whatever reason, purple happens to be in the official color scheme of CBF’s branding.
Although CBF churches aren’t the only viable purplish institutions, in an increasingly tribalized culture, this quality is exceptional. It means that despite today’s political differences and tensions, CBF churches and ministries have found a way to maintain a significant degree of tolerance and cooperation. Obviously, our hurting society could use more of this coexistence.
Getting back to hurricanes, CBF response to Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 was extraordinary; both in giving and in volunteer service. Unfortunately, perhaps due to compassion fatigue or this year’s political distractions, overall CBF response to 2018’s storms has been muted.
Hurricanes Florence and Michael blasted and flooded some of the poorest areas of the Southeast. I-95, running through the most flood-stricken counties of the Carolinas, has been called a corridor of poverty. And Florida’s Panhandle, not exactly West Palm Beach, is where some of the state’s most impoverished communities are located. Again, swaths of red and patches of blue all share in the same suffering and are both desperate for the healing balm of disaster response.
Communities such as Crusoe Island in North Carolina’s Columbus County, as well as the Florida towns of Port St. Joe and Marianna are ready and waiting for Cooperative Baptists to come alongside to assist with urgent cleanup and recovery efforts. Regardless of whether these communities are deep political red or intense blue, racially black or white, Methodist, Free Will or Southern Baptists, they all need responsive Cooperative Baptists to demonstrate what grace and unity means.
Purple is the primary color of Advent, symbolizing penitence and the reign of Christ. Therefore, any purple associated with the presence of CBF among recovering communities should bear witness to our loyalty and service to the Kingdom of God.
More purple balm please.
Rick Burnette is a CBF field personnel and serves as the U.S. Disaster Response coordinator. If you or your church are interested in volunteering through CBF Disaster Response in the Carolinas or Florida, visit www.cbf.net/DR to learn more and apply to serve.