United Methodist Committee on Relief

Is Your Disaster Theology Inclusive?

Getting to know your community is part of disaster preparedness.
Is your church's response inclusive? Do you know your neighbors? Leroy Morgan (foreground) of Freeport, NY, receives a visit from Pastor David Henry (background, center) and UMC disaster response personnel following super-storm Sandy.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

By Susan Kim*

December 4, 2012—In California's central valley, freezing temperatures and drought tend to create slow disasters that leave severe economic hardship in their wake.

During a severe freeze, Brie Loskota observed one congregation—she would not reveal the denomination—that was helping to manage and distribute donations. “Someone called them looking for donations for farmworker families. And the church member stopped him in mid-sentence and said, 'We don't want to help those people.' ”

Loskota, managing director of the University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture, focuses at least part of her research on congregations that manage to deliver the best care for their communities.

Simply put, being inclusive in response means fully using your capacity to care for your fellow human beings, Loskota explained: “Ask yourselves: Is your theology so exclusive that you can say a freezing person doesn't deserve a sweater?”

Loskota was speaking at a one-day workshop entitled “California Faith Communities Summit: Leading Congregations.” The meeting, one in a series offered throughout the state, was hosted by California Volunteers, the state's lead agency for coordinating volunteers and monetary donations during a disaster.

Loskota urged participants to become acquainted with the changing cultural and religious landscape within their own community—and that means readily crossing so-called “cultural lines” and “faith lines” to reach out to others.

“Despite the fact that we hear we're an increasingly secular society, the majority of your region is engaged in religious congregations,” Loskota said, “and you must begin to navigate them in order to understand who might be potential partners,” she advised.

For United Methodist—not just in central California but across the country—this should translate into getting to know your neighbors before a disaster ever strikes, said Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response.

“We should all be having serious conversations about how we engage faith communities that are not English-speaking and that are not Christian congregations,” he said. “For some reason, many of us are hesitant to do this.”

Hazelwood commended the growing effort of UM congregations across the nation to become more disaster-prepared. An increasing number of congregations have been involved with the Connecting Neighbors Leadership Training Program. UMCOR developed the two-day, local church-readiness, train-the-trainer program to give volunteer trainers the tools and information they need to guide the development of local church disaster-response ministries.

As more and more congregations reach out to neighbors, Hazelwood urged, church members should be aware that there are many people of different faith communities who want to respond and have resources that can help. 

“If we get to know each other better as faith communities before disaster strikes,” he said, “we will be better responders when the time arises.”

Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help churches across the nation be inclusive when they prepare and respond to disasters.

*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to

Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670 , will help churches across the nation be inclusive when they prepare and respond to disasters.