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Old North Church Blames America

By Tyler S. Clark (Contact)

Published May 30, 2008

Old North Church in Canfield is blaming New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. Not for the reasons you might expect, like for building a city below sea level, but for wickedness—a la Sodom and Gomorrah.

You typically read and hear that liberals "blame America first," but this is just an ad hominem attack to divert the discussion from an honest look at American foreign policy. Here, with echoes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell after 9/11 and, more recently, John Hagee's comments on Hurricane Katrina during a Fresh Air interview, we can see who's really blaming America.

On its Web site, the Old North Church features three dozen articles by Dr. Charles McGowen, who balances out an impressive bio as an internist as an authority in the theology of Intelligent Design. His essay on "God and Katrina" blames the city of New Orleans and American culture for Hurricane Katrina, which he says was undoubtedly divine retribution for wickedness, if not for a gay-rights parade he heard might have been scheduled for about that time.

He begins, "If Katrina had not pleased our Almighty God and His eternal purpose, He would have stopped it's [sic] insidious progress in a nanosecond; he is that powerful." He continues, "Whatever God's reasons for causing, or allowing, the recent hurricane, we who know God are convinced that He either caused it, or merely allowed it, for the right reasons." Dr. McGowen proceeds to list the Religious Right's typical bogeymen: abortion, secularism, tolerance, evolution, and homosexuality.

These alleged reasons for America's punishment, of course, are nothing more than the rights, liberties, and enlightened realizations of a liberal (small "l") democratic republic that—at least by design—ensures the freedoms of its minorities are not encumbered by the powerful religious bloc that controls its government. Take, for instance, last week's ruling by the California Supreme Court overturning a ban on same-sex weddings.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson called it a "judicial tyranny" against the "will of the people." The same nonsense is heard every time the majority gangs up to codify into law its distaste for the minority and the law is exposed as the unconstitutional legislated intolerance everyone else knew it to be. Legislatures that enact laws preventing the union of two people because of their gender are wrongfully discriminatory and in violation of the constitution. The courts are the natural and rightful place for the laws to be struck down.

This week, in New York, Governor David Paterson instructed state agencies to review regulations so that same-sex unions officiated out-of-state could be recognized by the state. Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Brian Raum predictably complained, "He's trampling on the democratic process… overstepping his authority and violating the separation of powers." Yet, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in New York has set clear precedent that the state must recognize out-of-state marriages, and the justice writing the opinion for the court stated, "[S]ame-sex marriages solemnized abroad…are entitled to recognition in New York."

In both cases, the democratic process is working. Elected and appointed officials are doing their jobs to protect the constitutional rights of all, to the consternation of a powerful, intolerant, vocal faction. In retaliation, the Religious Right continues to wage a decades-long crusade against minority rights, reproductive freedom, scientific literacy, public television, public education, sensible energy policy, and the separation of church and state.

It's a nice racket they have going for them. Blame their political opponents for everything in the culture going down the drain: activist judges flout the rule of law, and hedonistic liberals pervert society's morals. Meanwhile, under the guise of holy writ, they can claim any natural disaster that serves their purpose is the Final Word from On High. To quote again from Dr. McGowen, "God has everything to do with everything in the universe and within heaven itself. He either directly causes or otherwise allows everything to occur that ever has happened or ever will happen in the whole earth, inside all of heaven and throughout the entire universe."

But this goes too far. After all, if God "directly causes or otherwise allows everything to occur" and, as the theme of the paper is stated succinctly on its last page, "America is deserving of judgement for those reasons alluded to above"—taking that argument to its logical extension—America is to blame for (and this is just to review the present decade) 9/11; the 2002 crash of an Air China Boeing 767 and death of its 128 passengers; a lightning strike that same year which set of a blaze consuming nearly 500,000 acres in Oregon and California; the 2004 earthquake and resulting tsunami in Thailand and surrounding areas, killing over 185,000 with tens of thousands still unaccounted for; and let's not forget the 150,000 men and women of our armed forces who, after returning from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have filed for disability and the more than 4,000 who have died there.

Dr. McGowen states that "God need not apologize for any of His acts." If he truly believes there is a God who would cause or permit these atrocities and who needn't make amends for them and that they are a direct response to America's liberties, he either has a warped sense of God, America, or both. Old North Church should see this naked intolerance for what it is and reject it and his writings. If not, I hope we will not see any "Remember 9/11" or "Support the Troops" bumper stickers in their parking lot while they sit inside praising the God that is, he implies, inviting terror and killing troops.

Whether dishonestly or out of ignorance, on page 5, Dr. McGowen mischaracterizes evolution as based on chance as opposed to a dynamic, natural process stemming from the interaction of heredity, variation, and natural selection. Science always has more to discover; this is part of the scientific process. A method based on observation and evidence can be tested and retested, and its theories and conclusions are refined as new discoveries are made. This does not mean that it is somehow flawed; rather it is the only means of understanding a topic as complex and ancient as human origin. Instead of blaming America for tragedies in its backyard and the world over, Dr. McGowen should recognize his own small-mindedness and, like Dr. Seuss's Grinch, find a way to enlarge his heart a few sizes. By accepting the truth of human evolution, he might be more willing to embrace the interconnectedness, universality, and equality of humanity, regardless of creed or sexual preference, from Canfield to New Orleans to California to New York. Can I get an "amen?"


1Tugboat(759 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago


Dear Dr. McGowen: Are you saying 'either God cannot abolish evil, or s/he will not; if s/he cannot, then s/he is not all-powerful; if s/he will not, then s/he is not all good?'

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2lucy(135 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Tyler, you've presented a clearly and intelligently designed--he he-- argument here. Well done. And kudos for a calling attention to some of the hateful messages that are being preached to an area congregation of 6,000 and growing!

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3crse(15 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

How sad that 6,000 people are getting such a bastardized version of "God's message". Do any of these people actually read the bible as opposed to just skim it for ways to support their hate? Thanks Tyler for speaking publicly against the ignorance and hate.

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4shinetooth(2 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

You sound like a hater. Some of things he said, "in the light that you painted it in" may sound ridiculous but you went all anti-you know who on some points. If you want to say his observations are not yours then just say that. Taking the whole lot of Christians and saying they all hate sounds like prejudice to me. We are all messed up so that makes none of us better than anyone else.

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5lucy(135 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Shinetooth, while it's difficult to draw a coherent point from your comment, it seems that you're accusing Mr. Clark of taking Dr. McGowen's points out of context. Read McGowen's work; it's that extreme. Also, when exactly did Mr. Clark indict all Christians or go "all anti-you know who" (Who? Jesus? God?)? Most of the language about God in this piece is quoted from Dr. McGowen's letters. For sure, Mr. Clark is exposing some of the ugly prejudices of the Religious Right, but we use this term to refer to a specific politically visible and active segment of the Republican party and not to refer to just anyone who believes in the teachings of Christ. Many Christians from non-fundamentalist sects (Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists, etc.) would prefer NOT to be linked with narrow-minded bigotry that characterizes the rhetoric of the Religious Right (like, for example, my Catholic neighbor who is a gay rights advocate) and of Dr. McGowen's "teachings."

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6tylersclark(182 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

I hate intolerance. Does that make me a hater?

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7Bull_Chip(170 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

While I may not agree with Dr. McGowen’s theological interpretation, I must say he is certainly not alone in his statements.

I do find it somewhat curious though that when a Christian says that a natural disaster was an act of God, it is news. However when jihadist calls for the annihilation or enslavement of all who do not believe in his particular version of sharia law, by millions of devout Muslims, it does is not news, just their belief.

Some one once told me that the difference between modern Muslims and a Christians is that the Muslim is willing to kill for his faith, a Christian is willing to die for his.

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8Mickster(3 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Unbelievable! I've always considered myself a conservative, liberal, but I can not wrap myself around this theory that catastrophes are the will of God. This sort of logic is scary. Is aids punishment for homo-sexual preference? How about a child who is murdered or molested by his/her parents? When something bad happens and God doesn't stop it they then assume it's God's will? Where do they draw the line? I'm glad you wrote this article. My grandchildren go there for pre-school and my daughter needs to be made aware that this is Old North's philosophy.

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9prophet96(3 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Listen, as a member at Old North Church, I have never been taught any of the concepts discussed in this blog. McGowen is only one person and his writting is not the mission of nor the doctrine of our church. I have heard McGowen speak and like with anything, I take in what I agree with, and disregard the rest. He is a commited member of the church whose works are publicized and he is entitled to believe what he wants just as we are entitled to disregard it. I am certain that if you poled our congregation that few would support the comments discussed here. This notion that all members of a congregation believe and support whatever anyone says is the same game that the political parties are playing. Old North Church is a body of believers who come together to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, not Dr. McGowen. Assuming that all of us believe what he writes is as ridiculous as assuming that everyone who works for the Vindicator believes every editorial. Similarly, I do not think the vindicator supports all of the comments of those of us blogging but here we are on the site. Americans need to be tolerant to different opinions and watch that we do not persecute entire groups of people because we assume that they believe what one of their own does.

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10nemico(2 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Typical Sunday Morning creeps...Dr. McGowen or any other preacher in any other work-a-day town in the USA. I also have the pleasure of knowing some of the Old North believers, and they are creeps, I mean that in the most sincere way, they really are...very cult-ish.

And enough already.. we get it, Christians don't like gays.Seem to have no problem with incest, polygamy and sex with teenage girls...hmmmm...

And prophet96, Really you are all the same, the truth is the "body of believers" believes what-ever your told. Break down, kneel down, confess....cuz we all know how yucky we feel when we don't confess...

Religion- The off switch to the mind.

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11tylersclark(182 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

prophet96, these are not a collection of blogger comments on the Old North Site. They are essays featured as "resources" and clearly promoted by the church in this manner. My point is, if they are not representative of the teachings of the church, and if the congregations' members find them as intolerant as I do, they should petition to have them removed.

Again, these are the only teachings posted on the church's site, so what should one assume about their primacy in the church's dogma?

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12ballen(1 comment)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

I'm the Sr. Pastor at Old North. We do not blame America for Katrina or any other natural disaster. We do emphasize the Good News of Jesus Christ for all people- so if anyone is interested in talking about Him or have questions about the Bible, I'd love to meet you for a cup of coffee. Call me, Tyler at 330-533-6848 and we'll set somdething up.

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13lucy(135 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Let the evangelizing begin!

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14betta(1 comment)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Actually, there are other teachings posted on the site. Here's the direct link...


...an archive of the messages and teachings given on Sunday.

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15jcyclst(1 comment)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Old North Church's position again shows the hatred, bigotry, and lack of Christ's example that many Christians exemplify --- love your neighbor as yourself; not judging others lest you be judged. Time has taught us that it is usually those who yell the loudest, act the most sanctimonious -- are the one's who have the most to hide.

Religion has been killing, tormenting, demonizing, terrorizing millions over the years all in the name of God. Too bad they practice what they teach and preach. No wonder church attendance is declining rapidly throughout the world. People are sick and tired of a negative world and an extremely cruel, bigoted and negative message at church. What ever happened to inspiration?

Thankfully the majority are more concerned about paying bills, filling up the gas tank, clothing their families, putting food on the table and not what someone does in their own home or who they sleep with.

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16prophet96(3 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

There is a certain amount of irony here considering that people are handing out scripture based quotes regarding judgement and how bad Christian's are when all of the comments here represent a hatred and a bigotry towards Christians. Tyler states, "I hate intolerance." In an article that he wrote, he points to the Christian views towards homosexuality as on the main reasons he left his faith. Isn't the bottom line really that no group of people is perfect and that we should not judge anyone but ourselves. In his article, he also talks about experiencing a powerful sense of "oneness" when he was in Europe. I am a Christian, but there are many religions and philosophies I have studied. The Tao for example, talks about the sense of "oneness" and judgement. If we believe in a "oneness" with our world than we cannot judge anyone else because they are part of us.

Religion is imperfect because it is facilitated by man, much like government, or any organization. We are all entrusted with the beautiful gift of freewill which allows us to make choices therefore defining our individuality. I can be an American and not agree with the president and I can be a member of ONC without accepting McGowen's teachings as truth, just as I can accept Tyler's viewpoints without lashing out at him for thinking differently than I do.

Early on in this blog, someone told me to demand that his teachings be removed from the site. If I do that, I am judging him. I can tell him openly, Dr. McGowen, you got a little carried away on this one but I must be "tolerent" to his viewpoints. They are available of the site as resources, meaning, some people in church requested them to be available. They are not the doctrine or the teachings of the church which you will find in the section alluded to in another posters comments.

I will not be posting any more comments here because I do not want to perpetuate the hate. However, if you would like to engage in non-accusatory, intelligent discussion, I am game. If you really believe these things about ONC, I would also encourage you to come as my personal quest so that you can see what we are all about. I have been in many churches and I have found very few places that are as open and inspirational as Old North.

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17tylersclark(182 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for taking the time to share your comments, prophet96. I respect your views, just as I regret some of the hateful remarks that have been posted as comments here. As you point out, intolerance is intolerance, and it's as unjust toward a majority as a minority.

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18mthomas55(2 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Mr Clark, you state in your last sentence, "by accepting the truth of human evolution." Evolution has not been proven to state it as truth. It has always been and is still theory. The "big bang" is not based on "observation and evidence" unless you were there or you know of someone who witnessed it.

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19wendydarling78(2 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

What I dislike is that anyone who says something is wrong is labeled as intolerant. Are we supposed to allow anyone and everyone to do whatever they want as long as it "feels good" or "makes them happy?" Are there no moral standards anymore? No definite right and wrong? I am a Christian. I think homosexuality (and a whole lot of other things) is wrong. Period. Does that make me moral or intolerant? When people cry intolerance, it is usually because they don't want to made to feel guilty about doing something that deep down they know is wrong.

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20lucy(135 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Wendydarling, yes, making blanket judgments about homosexuality makes you intolerant. And who, exactly, is calling for an do-what-you-want-if-it-feels-good culture? Christians don't corner the market on morality, as evidenced by some very public examples. There are plenty of moral people who believe that treating others with dignity is "right" and treating them with hatred and aspersion is "wrong." These people are sometimes Christians, sometimes atheists, and sometimes, gasp, they're even Buddhists or Muslims. And to put a really fine point on it, your belief that those of us who cry "intolerance" over our own guilt is crap. We cry intolerance because we are seeing far too much of it.

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21wendydarling78(2 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

Lucy, so sometimes homosexuality is right and sometimes it is wrong? Isn't saying that it is always right a blanket statement? I didn't say that I hated homosexuals or that I would treat them with hatred because of their lifestyle, but I think it is wrong. You probably have lifestyle choices that you disagree with - people smoking, taking drugs, etc. That doesn't mean that you would treat an addict disrespectfully, at least I am assuming that you wouldn't. We are told to love the sinner, but hate the sin. This is the same as when you tell your children "I love you, but I don't like the way you are behaving right now." I do not advocate hatred, but I also cannot advocate immorality. If that makes me intolerant, so be it. What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.

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22mthomas55(2 comments)posted 8 years, 1 month ago

If I think that your lifestyle or what you practice is bad for you and even society as a whole or is just wrong doesn't mean I hate you. If I didn't care and just left you alone would be hatred.

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