Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who Can We Blame?

It seems that every day there is more to read about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I understand that this is a huge news story that affects millions of people along the southern coast of the United States and I am really not too concerned that the media is (typically) overplaying the story. What concerns me is the way that local residents, and politicians of all stripes (local, state, and federal) are turning a horrible accident into a bizarre circus of finger pointing in the extreme. Legally, I understand that the cost to clean up the mess will be enough to bankrupt several major corporations and that BP may not survive to pay for it all. I understand that BP will want to shift some or all of this financial burden onto whichever other corporate entities may have had a role in allowing this accident to happen. What I have a problem with, is the tendency that people have for wanting to make this tragedy personal.

Folks are pointing a finger at the CEO of British Petroleum and saying that it is, personally, his fault that this happened. They point fingers variously at President George Bush and President Obama and the commander of the Coast Guard and anyone else that seems even remotely convenient and somehow construe the facts of history to make it that persons fault. Yes, mistakes were made. No, things happened that shouldn’t have happened. Shortcuts were taken that shouldn’t have been. All that can be true and still, it doesn’t have to be any single person’s “fault.” That’s why they call them accidents.

Many of the policies in place were enacted by the Bush administration but they were likely voted on by many members of the opposing party. Many of these policies were changed by the Obama administration and the enforcement of these regulations fall to that administration as well. In either case, I doubt very much that either President Bush or President Obama had any specific knowledge of what was happening on this one particular drilling rig. Likewise, I doubt that the president of BP, who is (or at least was) not an American and who does not live in the United States (BP stands for British Petroleum, remember?) knew anything about the specifics of what was happening on one of the hundreds of drilling operations his company was conduction around the globe. Certainly none of this was intentional. The spill alone is horrible. The environmental damage is unimaginable. Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods and eleven men lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon. No sane person would have intentionally caused this to happen or even allowed it to happen. It was an accident.

Psychologists tell us that when people are under stress they look for a place to focus that stress. It happens in churches that are undergoing significant change. When people are under stress they want someone to be responsible for the stress they feel and will often reach out to any convenient authority figure. I have been the focus of such stress. All sorts of elaborate stories can be created to direct that stress, or blame, upon these convenient figures regardless of the facts or the truth. Reality just isn’t that tidy.

The reality is that churches that are undergoing change have often come upon that change in a process that spanned many years and involved many more people. The reality of the accident aboard the Deepwater Horizon is that its causes were undoubtedly many and involved persons from the drilling rig, its owners, BP, regulators and members of state and federal government. Even worse, pressures were put on all these players by market forces by which each and every one of us played a part. Face it, when I get off the freeway to buy gasoline I really don’t give a rip about who has the best environmental record, I just want the cheapest gas. The pressure to produce fuel cheaply and to develop an abundant domestic supply while abiding by the various restrictions placed upon them undoubtedly played upon some of the poor decisions that were made and which led up to the accident. Besides that, accidents happen despite the best intentions or preparations of any of human being. That’s why we call them accidents.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be a complete and thorough investigation, there should and if criminal acts were committed then those acts should be punished. Neither am I saying that BP and its subsidiaries and subcontractors should not pay for the damages caused and the cleanup that is required, they should. What I am saying is that I doubt that we will ever find a smoking gun. I doubt that anyone will ever be able to say that any one person or that any specific group of people are, personally, responsible for this accident.

As people of faith, especially as people of faith, we need to be clearer about that. Instead of becoming belligerent and argumentative, instead of busying ourselves pointing fingers at people who were far removed from actual events, we need to have a different focus. As people of faith, we need to let the justice system do its job and conduct its investigation without our interference. As people of faith, we need to focus our attention on the least and the lost, to try to help those who have been harmed by this disaster and who have no safety net to catch them. As people of faith, instead of looking for people to blame, we need to show a little grace.

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