OBU Theology Dean Mark McClellan has a piece in the Huffington Post that purports to offer a Baptist perspective on "what" to do following deadly tornadoes, as well as "why" they happen.
First, the "what:"
We weep with those who have lost loved ones, especially these precious children and we will help lay some of them to rest, seek to bring comfort, friendship, material provision, and spiritual counsel to those who have suffered loss. Our message is one of hope for the temporal future and for eternity. We seek to do this with our hands, our hearts, and our words.Amen! Amen!
McClellan's "what" to do is innocuous enough. "It is our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord which propels us provide, serve, love, and give counsel to those in this devastating tornado." Even so, many people who don't believe anything in particular about Jesus nevertheless summoned the goodwill to do likewise. McClellan's statement implies that, apart from faith in Jesus, Christians would not do anything at all to help. I think that paints us in a pretty bad light.
Unsurprisingly, I can't get on board with McClellan's brief discussion of the "why:"
We seek to speak with both confidence and humility about the "why." We believe that God created all things from nothing and His creation is good. In Genesis 3 sin entered into God's creation and it had a cosmic impact. Sin has devastating effects on human life and all creation. We live then in a Fallen world where the daily provision of the good things from God's creation upon which we all depend are received along with earthquakes, hurricanes, and yes, tornadoes, to name some. We do not know "why" God has permitted these to occur in specific places nor any specific reasons addressed to the specific communities. "Why" they occur, we believe is natural evil in a fallen creation. Romans 8:20-22 explains to us that creation will someday be set free from corruption and that it is presently groaning until that moment.For starters, McClellan might consider using "I" instead of "we." Who does he think he's speaking for? All Oklahoma Baptists? That is definitively not the case. I don't often see Genesis 3 invoked in explaining bad weather. Do all or even most Baptists believe that tornadoes happen because of sin and Fallenness? Do all or even most Baptists believe that God uses storms to kill his innocent children? Do they believe that God intervenes (selectively or indiscriminately) to rescue some and let others die? Do all or even most Baptists invoke a theology of evil to talk about weather patterns? Do they explain natural disasters by appealing to Paul's description in Romans 8 that "the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now?"
The column follows a strategy that a lot of fundamentalists employ to make their theology seem more palatable. They don't want to sound like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on liberals. So, unlike Falwell, they try to say some nice things to temper the worst parts of their theology.
In this case, McClellan sandwiches his apology for why a presumably omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent God killed those people ("We do not know 'why' God has permitted these to occur in specific places nor any specific reasons addressed to the specific communities.") between statements that are soothing, kind, and pastorally effective. To McClellan's credit, at least he does not claim to know why "God has permitted these to occur." But he still attributes the deaths to God. Both Falwell and McClellan explicitly state that God lifted a curtain of protection and allowed evil to destroy, kill, and maim. Whereas Falwell blames the evil of 9/11 on specific sins, McClellan merely blames the tornadoes ("natural evil") on sin in a general sense.
The difference is more one of style than of substance. Dean McClellan is theologically closer to the late Reverend Falwell than to any minister I would want to hear preach on a Sunday morning or theologian I would want to hear lecture in an OBU classroom.
For my part, I do not know what causes tornadoes. According to the internet, they are caused by unusually warm and humid conditions in the lower atmosphere, along with a difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. I'm not sure where sin (Adam's, Eve's, mine, or sin's "cosmic impact") figures into the equation.
Just as Baptists have traditionally held that good government needs separation of church and state, I submit that good theological discourse needs separation of God and weather.
Maybe Dean McClellan can speak for the men who hired him and the men he's hired as part of the "changes that have been going on the past couple of years" at OBU. But I suspect there are many professors, students, alumni, and Oklahoma Baptists who would say, "With respect, sir, you do not speak for me."
Speaking just for myself, I would add: I don't even want to know your god.