In recent years, one thing has become as certain as death and taxes to religious right watchers. Without fail, whenever a natural disaster occurs, some hard-right preacher will blame it on sin–whether it’s abortion, marriage equality, ending discrimination against transgender people, the lot. Well, yet another example of this came a mere two weeks into the new year, when a pastor and so-called prophet declared that the wave of natural disasters we’ve seen in recent years is the judgment of God on this nation.
Among the many so-called moral guardians who have been all-in for Donald Trump, Rick Joyner is in a class by himself. From his perch at the former Heritage USA complex in Fort Mill, South Carolina–20 minutes south of my home in Charlotte–Joyner has kept up a steady drumbeat urging evangelicals to keep bowing down to the Orange Calf. He maintains, among other things, that the devil himself is behind the opposition to Trump, and those who dare oppose him risk getting “smacked” by the Almighty for their insolence.
But long before then, Joyner was peddling what has become a standard item of fundie rhetoric–the idea that natural disasters happen because God is not pleased with abortion or LGBT rights. Back in 2017, for instance, he joined Jim Bakker in arguing that Hurricane Harvey was “an act of discipline” for Houston’s increased friendliness to the LGBT community. During that same show, he recalled telling pastors in the New Orleans area just before Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore that “Katrina meant ‘cleanse'”–noting that it blasted into the city just days before New Orleans’ gay pride festival, Southern Decadence.
So it should surprise no one that Joyner is of the mind that the wave of hurricanes that overtook the Atlantic and Gulf in the last few years, as well as the wildfires in California, were the product of sin. He said as much in this week’s edition of his weekly podcast, “Prophetic Perspectives on Current Events.” People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Joyner recalled that for some years after Katrina, we had “the longest period in history” without any major hurricanes. However, in recent years, we’ve seen a wave of natural disasters. To his mind, this wave was the product of “warnings the Lord gave us through his prophets” several thousand years ago about what happens when a people turns to sin.
If you turn from following the Lord and you start calling good evil and evil good, and honoring the dishonorable and dishonoring the honorable, these are going to be the consequences. And it talks about storms, it talks about earthquakes, and it talks about fires coming upon the land and burning the land.
After noting that the federal government has spent upwards of $300 billion on disaster relief, Joyner mused that it was no accident insurance companies refer to many of these tragedies as “acts of God,” because there was no other explanation for it. When Joyner asked what he felt was the obvious question–“Is America under judgment?”–he quickly replied, “Of course we are!”
Indeed, he went on to say that it’s actually a good sign this is happening, because “he disciplines those whom he loves.” To hear him talk, this judgment is a sign that “he’s not giving up on us.”
Joyner seems so fixated on trying to fix sin as the cause for natural disasters that he can’t see the forest for the trees. For one thing, Slate’s Henry Grabar noted in 2017 that the massive flooding Harvey brought to Houston was largely the product of five decades of plowing over the wetlands and prairies that protected the city from flooding–in other words, long before abortion and marriage equality were even in the discussion. As a result, when Harvey churned in from the gulf, the massive rainfall it generated took the path of least resistance–right into Houston’s sewers, streams and streets.
What of Katrina? Well, in 2011, Paul VandeVelder made a compelling argument that the flooding that overtook New Orleans in 2005 was magnified by the destruction of the barrier islands that long protected the city. It turns out that the dams built along the Missouri River prevented those islands from being replenished with critical nutrients. The islands completely eroded away in the second half of the 20th century. Combined with the extra water sent downstream–a scenario foreseen by many river hydrologists–New Orleans is a sitting duck in major rain events. Again, this has been true long before abortion and marriage equality were even in the discussion.
As for the wave of wildfires in California, at least some of them can be laid at the feet of the major utility company in many of the affected areas, Pacific Gas and Electric. Many of them were sparked by power lines coming in contact with trees–reportedly the result of PG&E’s failure to keep them trimmed. So is Joyner saying that God told PG&E not to keep those trees trimmed? If so, then by Joyner’s logic, God may bear at least part of the responsibility for PG&E announcing that it will file for bankruptcy at the end of the month.
Simply put, the facts are against Joyner and his friends. But then again, facts never got in the way of a good conspiracy theory–or a campaign of hellfire and brimstone.
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