This is a case where I know, in a few days, GetReligion readers are going to send me URLs for this Orthodox story when the mainstream media in America get around to covering it. Thus, I think I'll go ahead and try to get ahead of the curve. I imagine that there will be coverage, for all of the wrong reasons.
I certainly think that there should be coverage, for all of the right reasons.
Here is the top of the Moscow Times report that is causing a stir on the other side of the Atlantic. The headline is certainly an eye-opener: "Patriarch Blames Crime and Drugs for Haitian Quake."
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said crime, drugs and corruption caused last week's massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Haiti.
Kirill, speaking during a ... visit to Kazakhstan, said the Haitian people bore responsibility for the calamity because they had turned away from God, the Ferghana.ru news agency reported late Monday.
"Haiti is a country of poverty and crime, famine, drugs and corruption, where people have lost their moral face," Kirill was quoted as saying.
He compared Haiti with the Dominican Republic, which are located on the same Caribbean island. "I've visited the island divided between two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. One of them is developing, while the other is affected by crimes, economic recession and political unrest. That part of the island was shattered by the earthquake," he said.
While there is no mention of Voodoo in this text, I think it is safe to say that -- to American ears -- Kirill's words are just as shocking as those of the Rev. Pat Robertson, which ignited a firestorm in the American media.
Will the mainstream media in America and Great Britain jump on these words in a similar manner? I'll be honest: I totally understand why journalists may want to do so.
The theological principle here is quite similar to that offered by Robertson. The two men have simply accused the majority of the Haitian people of different sins. For Robertson, the Voodoo traditions centering on the worship of various spirits (Or is that "Spirits"? ) in addition to a greater God (Or is that "gods"?) represent a form of idolatry. The God of the Bible is not fond of idolatry. For the patriarch, other sins are involved in this national tragedy.
The crucial journalistic question, of course, is this: What did the patriarch actually say?
This is one reason that I hope the story draws some coverage, to flesh out some of the gaping holes in the Moscow Times report:
Asked to clarify Kirill's comments, a church spokesman said ... that the news report had "misinterpreted" the patriarch's words and "taken them out of context." The spokesman, Alexander Volkov, could not immediately clarify, saying only that a transcript of the speech would appear "later" on the Moscow Patriarchate's web site.
A church scholar said Kirill's comments had astonished his foreign listeners in Almaty, but they were quite ordinary to the Orthodox faithful.
"For those who often listen to Patriarch Kirill, such statements seem quite ordinary, but I know that some people in Almaty were amazed," said the scholar, Alexander Soldatov, editor of the religious web site Portal-Credo.ru.
Kirill is known for his statements about large-scale disasters. Last year, he blamed the global financial crisis on the spiritual degradation of the world and called it a trial.
If you want to keep an eye out for that transcript, here is the link for the Moscow Patriarchate. This may take a while.
Some may find it strange that Kirill, in addition to making these controversial comments, has also expressed his condolences to the people of Haiti in their time of grief. Certainly, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (click here for info) have mobilized to send aid to Haiti. Of course, Robertson also repeatedly called for prayers for the Haitian people and urged his audience to give generously to efforts to pour aid into the stricken nation.
The bottom line: In Christian theology it is possible to believe that compassion and alms are Christian duties, while also believing that corporate sins may have mysterious consequences. The press likes this concept when it is applied to, oh, environmental issues and some aspects of American foreign policy.
Obviously this is a controversial and offensive stance in the modern world. It would be good if the press covered Kirill's words and allowed intelligent, informed voices on both sides of this doctrinal debate to speak their minds. I am assuming, of course, that a transcript of what Kirill actually said is available, showing his words in context.
Meanwhile, the patriarch has also said:
"On these sad days, all Russian Orthodox believers and I condole with you and all residents of the island who have lost their relatives and loved ones," the Patriarch said in a wire sent to Haitian President Rene Preval published by the Patriarch's press service on Friday. The Patriarch said in the wire he is "praying for the prompt healing of the wounded and spiritual assistance to all those who have lost their housing, and also the strengthening of those who are now working on dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster."