Traditional religious organizations typically set up, as part of their missions, programs to help the poor and needy, especially in times of crisis. This is certainly true of the evangelical group known as the Southern Baptist Convention.
The SBC organized volunteers to hand out food and water to those left in need after hurricane Wilma ravaged parts of southern Florida. But apparently the Alabama-based SBC places religious dogma above the needs of the poverty-stricken hurricane victims.
The Anheuser-Busch beer company has been helping in the relief effort, too. Ever since hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast states and left New Orleans and parts of coastal Mississippi in shambles, the company has been canning water and shipping it to those who need it. The canned water is given out for free by the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations.
The vice-president of operations for Anheuser-Busch claims the company has donated more than 9 million cans of clean water since Katrina. He said the company would continue to produce canned water until it is no longer needed.
So we have the SBC who has volunteered to hand out free drinking water and we have the Anheuser-Busch company who has agreed to supply and ship millions of cans of it to places where it is needed. It sounds like a perfect match up.
But the SBC will have no part of it.
The Southern Baptists were running a supply center in Clewiston, Fl. Early last week, but they were not handing out any canned water to the hundreds of folks in line who were desperate to get it.
Although 22 pallets of canned water were available for the SBC to hand out, they left it sitting on the sidelines and refused to hand it out to the hurricane victims. Few of the victims even knew the water was available.
SBC volunteers said the pastor did not want to hand out the water because it was contained in Budweiser cans. The SBC thought it was inappropriate to hand out the cans, even though they contained clean water and not beer.
I don’t know if Southern Baptists believe drinking beer is a sin or not. But seeing as the cans were filled with much-needed drinking water and seeing how hundreds of victims in need of fresh water were filing by, it sounds like more of a sin to withhold it.
The SBC volunteers told an NBC affiliate reporter that they shouldn’t focus on that issue. The issue, the volunteers said, was that they are there to help people.
Well, that may be true. But shouldn’t their assistance be given with no strings attached?
The Red Cross had no qualms about handing out the water. And one of the storm victims said it made no difference to her who hands it out because it’s going to a good cause.
And that should be the position of the SBC, as well, with regards to where the water comes from. It makes no difference whom the supplier is, as long as it gets supplied. It shows a gross lack of judgment, and compassion, to withhold cans of water from thirsty storm victims just because you don’t like the company that canned it.
Apparently, some of the SBC volunteers didn’t want the negative publicity. As the local TV crew was packing up to leave, one of them noticed that two of the volunteers were handing out the canned water along side volunteers from the Red Cross.
Or, maybe the volunteers just decided that helping the needy with no provisos trumps ill-founded religious doctrine.