« Previous | Main | Next »

That flood again ...

Post categories:

William Crawley | 13:56 UK time, Sunday, 1 July 2007

Dow.jpgOne of our reviewers on this morning's programme spotted this story in the Sunday papers. Some senior Anglican bishops are apparently claiming that the "floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God's judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society". The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow (pictured), believes "laws that have undermined marriage, including the introduction of pro-gay legislation, have provoked God to act by sending the storms that have left thousands of people homeless".

This isn't the first time a religious figure has connected a natural disaster with gay people. Last year, Rabbi David Basri shocked some commentators by arguing that the deadly bird flu in Israel was sent by God in response to calls in election campaigns to legalise gay marriages. Hurricane Katrina attracted a host of competing religious explanations, including Fred Phelps, who saw the hurricane as God's judgment on American sexual immorality, Mayor Ray Nagin, who argued in his famous "Chocolate City speech" that God was "mad at" black America, and Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, a Kuwaiti government official, who claimed that God sent the hurricane as retribution for US foreign policy under George Bush.

Jerry Falwell and Pat Roberston famously alleged that the September 11 attacks were a sign that God was no longer protecting America in response to feminism, abortion rights and the sexual revolution. Attempts to link natural tragedies with divine retribution are as old as religion itself in human history.

But, in this case, those labelling the natural disaster as divine punishment are (oddly enough) Church of England bishops. I note that because these kinds of moral explanations for natural events are more usually the terrain of American televangists. Bishop Graham Dow may soon tell us why he thinks God has decided to send a flood as a judgment -- particularly since the Noahic flood narrative contains an apparent commitment never to do so again (Genesis 9:11). His defenders will point out that the Genesis 9 commitment refers to a flood that would destroy the world, not to localised floods.

A more significant theological question is this: What kind of divine being would punish innocent people because of the perceived sinfulness of others? Or, to put it another way, doesn't the Bishop of Carlisle's wrathful God look strangely vindictive? Many theologians specialising in theodicy will caution against any attempt to read supernatural punishment into floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, viruses or other naturally occuring phenomena. Are all floods examples of divine punishment? All diseases? Is every tragedy in human history an expression of God's wrath? Or only tragedies that befall people we don't like? And who gets to decide which sin God is punishing in any particular flood or earthquake?

These kinds of questions have often encouraged critics to simply dismiss moralistic readings of natural disasters as ethical humbug. But perhaps some commenters here are prepared to offer the Bishop of Carlisle some theological arguments that deal with these kinds of problems. Any takers? In the meantime, we must all hope that the bishop's palace in Carlisle does not fall victim to freak weather in the next week or so; otherwise some of his supporters (though clearly not his critics) may discern the hand of divine displeasure at work.


  • 1.
  • At 04:25 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Gavin J (Lisburn) wrote:

What nonsense from this Bishop. The points you make here sink him entirely Will. I'm embarrassed to be an anglican when I read this kind of thing. I notice that you don't mention the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who has also been making these comments this weekend. Jones is the head of the Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, board of governors. Even Alister McGrath thinks that college has gone to pieces beause of this kind of reactionary conservativism.

I love this. On Friday I was videoconferencing with a guy in England and I remarked to him that God was probably very angry with the current state of theism in the land and that we were seeing his judgment in the flooding. I told him if he wanted to prevent such disasters he'd better start evangelising. The guy, knowing my sense of humour, laughed about it; but behind every joke is a jackass who can't help making it funnier by fulfilling the punchline right in front of you. This bishop is such a jackass.

  • 3.
  • At 05:11 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • BRENDAN HILL wrote:

Utter blasphemy. The bishop is pointing the finger at god and accusing him of sending death and destruction. What kind of religion is that?

  • 4.
  • At 06:09 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Dylan Dog wrote:

Good article Will!

I would dismiss the Bishop's comments as extreme 'ethical humbug'.

It is quite clear that rather than the Bishop's take on the floods-gays etc-(goodness another one who is obsessed with boys kissing!) the true reason is that God is a Blades supporter!This is quite evident!


Could God be Sean Bean?


These are indeed serious questions!

Though I could see this thread descending into a bit of bashing the Bishop!

  • 5.
  • At 06:51 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Samuel Be wrote:

I agree DD. Great article from Will, who's given the bishop a flood of questions here. Any chance we might hear an interview with Graham Carlisle on Sunday Sequence next week????

  • 6.
  • At 09:38 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

Who sent the flood on the world in the days of Noah (Genesis 6:17)? It was God.

Who sent the famine in the days of Joseph (Genesis 41:25)? It was God.

Who sent the plague on Egypt, and specially the murrain on the cattle (Exodus 7:5; 9:3)? It was God.

Who sent disease on the Philistines, when the ark was among them (1 Samuel 5:7; 6:3-7)? It was God.

Who sent the pestilence in the days of David (2 Samuel 24:15)? It was God.

Who sent the famine in the days of Elisha (2 Kings 8:1)? It was God.

Who sent the stormy wind and tempest in the days of Jonah (Jonah 1:4)? It was God!

  • 7.
  • At 09:55 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Dylan Dog wrote:

There was no world-wide flood-it's an allegorical myth so don't worry about it!

  • 8.
  • At 10:50 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Whew, and here I expected the usual America bashing about global warming. Hey, how come there is no China bashing now that it's the number one producer of CO2 emissions? Well the world is not fair. Speaking of unfair, I recall a lot of Islamic clerics said the tsunami was god's punishment against the Moslems. Is god vidictive or sadistic? If he wants to punish people for their sins and have them suffer, what are we doing when we offer charity by sending help? It seems to me we are thwarting his will by alleviating their suffering. Instead of sending them food clothing and medicine in their hour of need, the way I see it, we should be bombing them instead. Now that truely would be doing god's work finishing what he started, death from the skies.

  • 9.
  • At 11:14 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Philip Campbell wrote:

Seems to me we will do anything rather than face up to the immoral and decadent state of our society, and the fact that a Holy God might be offended by it.

Were the recent floods God's judgement on our nation? I don't know - but what would God have to do to convince people to take their sin seriously?

Some appear to resent Him taking any interest in the sin that sent His Son to the Cross.

  • 10.
  • At 12:21 AM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

To momentarily digress, I was watching BookTV and one of the guests said that Lincoln's second inaugural address was the most sublime speech in American history. So here it is;


He also said that Frederick Douglass, the ex-slave who became one of the most famous abolitionists in the US heard it and told Lincoln it was a good speech.


It's a little early in the conflict between Islam and the rest of the world for anyone to make this speech again yet. Maybe someday in our lifetimes.

  • 11.
  • At 12:30 AM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • David Devlin wrote:

Philip and anon (#6):

Those bible references are important - the text tells us that those were particular judgements from God. Thats the point here: we have no text telling us that a particular flood etc is a judgment from God for a particular thing.

Philip, here's the point. Why is it that you guys only pick on gay people when you want to talk about a flood being gods punishment.

Why dont u say, that flood is because of inequality in the UK?

Or that earthquake is God's punishment for the last G8's pathetic response to climate change?

You get this? When you inly pick on gay people you're sounding homophobic.

  • 12.
  • At 09:11 AM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • Mark Hayward wrote:

What a twit! Or, in the words of Dave Lister of Red Dwarf, total smeghead!People of the bishop's ilk are a disgrace to Christianity as nuch as bombers are to Islam. But to hell with organised religion.

  • 13.
  • At 01:41 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • pb wrote:

The burden with Will's posting, is to challenge the idea that God pours out judgement.

I would not stand up and identify certain events as judgment for particular reasons, but to say God NEVER pours out judgement today is dangerous.

CS Lewis said pain is God's megaphone to get our attention when we ignore his urgent appeals.

I dont think it is necessarily squarely biblical to say God would judge an area because of homosexuality. If you read the account of his overthrow of Sodom and Gomorroah he judgement was for wickedness in general in those cities. Romans 1&2 says those who applaud homosexuality and encourage the practise are as guilty as those who do it.


Here is what Billy Graham's daughter said about judgement and 911;-

Jane Clayson: I've heard people say, those who are religious, those who are not, if God is good, how could God less this happen? To that, you say?
Anne Graham Lotz: I say God is also angry when he sees something like this. I would say also for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection. We need to turn to God first of all and say, God, we're sorry we have treated you this way and we invite you now to come into our national life. We put our trust in you. We have our trust in God on our coins, we need to practice it.


  • 14.
  • At 02:22 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • C.T.Riley wrote:

So the flooding is punishment for God and it has nothing to do with local councils allowing housing developers to build houses and concrete the earth
the land surrounding rivers well noted for flooding, leaving the water with no means of natural drainage?

Perhaps the fall in church goes is a punishment from God allowing people like Rt Rev Graham Dow to enter the Church?

  • 15.
  • At 03:16 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • Gavin J (Lisburn) wrote:


We must be reading a different post. Will's post doesn't take a view on judgment (I bet that's because he's being careful not to express a personal view here). Instead he asks questions about those who interpret SPECIFIC natural events as divine punishment. Sounds like you agree with him on that one actually.

On your other two points:

1. CS Lewis. To say pain is God's megaphone is like saying God uses a gang rape of a 9 year old to shout his love at the world. Weird.

2. Billy Graham's daughther Anne has a tendency to say odd things. But here she's bizarre. She reads God's judgment (absence, departure) into 9/11. What about all the other natural disasters the vast continent of America has experience over hundreds of years? What were they? What about the assassinations of JFK, was that God's anger that Americans elected a Catholic? It all gets a bit silly after a while. People just decide to interpret a specific disaster as a judgment because it gives them an opportunity to shout about some group, or law, or cultural development they disapprove of. It's all special pleading and not a little pathetic because it means people are portraying God as some kind of selectively nasty being who expresses his anger at innocent and guilty people similutaneously and doesn't mind that thousands of children are harmed in the process. That's a disgraceful suggestion.

  • 16.
  • At 10:16 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • Em wrote:

What a narrow-minded, bigotted little men.

  • 17.
  • At 11:00 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • deepjet wrote:

I havent read anyone, uncluding PB or his mates, able to defend this bishops comments from the bible or theologically. cant we just agree that the man is an idiot?

  • 18.
  • At 11:12 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • SP wrote:

As a committed Christian I struggle with Bishops misusing their authority and their voice to the people.
God judging the world in the form of natural disasters is a thing of the Old Testament. Jesus' death and resurrection brings forgivenes, life, hope and grace for those who believe in him.
However he has given us free choice to believe or not. If we choose not to we take ourselves out of His protection and His purposes. This happened with Adam and we go on doing it. We were created to be stewards of this world, to look after it, and we've messed it up. That's why there's floods and natural disasters. Because we screwed up, not God. It's not about gays, it not about one sin over another. We have all sinned and all mucked up. We all have to accept responsibility for this planets problems and not blame everyone else. The only hope is to 'believe' once more and be a part of a new creation when Christ comes again.
In the mean time, let's not bash gays or sinners or non believers, or Christians. Let all Christians, reflect the love of Christ in their lives, and show by the way we live our lives that there is hope for this planet and the people on it, because of Christ! God is not punishing us, instead, He sent His only son Jesus, who took that punishment on our behalf on the cross. We are simply reaping what we've sown by our refusal to 'believe' in Him and because of our poor stewardship of this planet.


  • 20.
  • At 09:03 AM on 03 Jul 2007,
  • Simon Skerrittt wrote:

If the rest of us are being punished for our sinful lives why then did the floods hit Christian households too?

Logically the only answer is that God is angry with the Christians and the church as well. Perhaps he is angry about their prolonged involvement and profiteering from the slave trade. Or the way that they actively help paedophile priests evade the law. Or the fact that the Church of England was (and maybe still is) a major shareholder in companies who manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Or the mass murder by Protestants and Catholics alike in Northern Ireland. Or the refusal of the Vatican to speak out against the holocaust during and after the Second World War. Or the monumental scale of the torture and murder orchestrated by the Spanish inquisition. Or the genocide effected by the catholic conquistadors when they arrived in Latin America.

We live in a democracy and the Bishop is entitled to his opinion – even though I, and anyone else who can be bothered to think for themselves, believe his opinion belongs in the Dark Ages and not the 21st century.

However, one thing is clear. Those in sinful glass houses, shouldn’t throw hypocritical stones.

  • 21.
  • At 02:52 PM on 08 Jul 2007,
  • Deshbondhu wrote:

ON Carbon footprint of China & India: Leave them alone you capitalist opportunists!

Re: Commnet 8:

Everybody seems to be missing the point about the 'carbon emissions' and 'carbon footprints' of these rising-giant economies, and this must be deliberate.

Nations as political administrative units have no relevance to what affects planet earth as a whole.

One must calculate the per-capita 'carbon footprint' or 'carbon emissions' and then the Europe & Industrialised countries are 20-times ahead of China & India.

It is just like 'abolition of slavery' after all the riches grabbed from it had been securely invested in Britain 200 years ago [but still no apology!].

Now having polluted the planet to hilt and to brink of extinction, the cosy Industrialised [Big 7?] West wants to ban others doing it.

Charity begins at home you capitalist opportunists in the cosy Industrialised Big7; first bring your “per-capita carbon-footprint” anywhere on-par with people of China & India than tell them to reduce theirs further!

  • 22.
  • At 03:21 PM on 08 Jul 2007,
  • Deshbondhu wrote:

C T Riley has hit the nail in the coffin of 21st century-Church
[Re Comment 14, at 02:22 PM on 02 Jul 2007, * C.T.Riley wrote: "Perhaps the fall in church-attendances is a punishment from God for allowing people like Rt Rev Graham Dow to enter the Church?"]
Bishop Dow is a living proof of the stupidity in believing in an indiscriminately vengeful God and also the proof against the absurd & irrational belief in existence of a 'creator God'.

  • 23.
  • At 06:09 PM on 09 Jul 2007,
  • SwitchedOn wrote:

Nice discussion guys, and a fantastic bit of Bishop-bashing. However, not that I want to spoil your Christmas or tooth fairy delusions, but you're basing your arguments on something which was reported to you by the MEDIA. Graham Dow has been severely misquoted by the telegraph, he does not believe that God is directly punishing people for being gay or not going to Church.
Papers and the media always have a spin or agenda and seldom report things objectively - there's too many humans involved in the process for it to remain objective!
They need to sell papers/get ratings by making things seem as controversial as possible and get people talking about it, and guess what? They won again!
Have a nice life everyone discussing things you'll never know the full facts about!!!

  • 24.
  • At 06:27 PM on 09 Jul 2007,
  • Eudemus wrote:

How fact and fiction seem to get muddled sometimes ....

Turns out this whole story is the work of a journalist who rang up and got a bishop to say some pretty orthodox things about God judging sin, and the consequences of human disregard for the environment, put them together with his unconnected but well-known (and equally orthodox) views on marriage and sexuality, and came up with some ludicrious nonsense which he then attributed to the bishop.

Hopefully the journalist concerned found the entertainment value worth it.... !

  • 25.
  • At 10:06 PM on 15 Jul 2007,
  • Jenny-Cyst wrote:

Mmm, If God is flooding England as a 'judgement' against homosexuality, then using that same 'logic', perhaps if we can persuade all of the males in Central Africa to 'convert', and start practicing homosexuality, then that will put an end to any more droughts there.

Oh, if 'judgement' was so simple.

What utter Humbug

  • 26.
  • At 12:43 AM on 25 Jul 2007,
  • pb wrote:

Gavin J

God has big enough shoulders and I am not going to try and explain what he is thinking about every incident in history.

If you are tying only the CS Lewis comment to the gang rape you are missing everything else I said, and for that matter what Kensei said.

How does God make gang rapists love and obey him without violating their free will?

God has given man this world to rule over in our fallen state, but it is only temporary, as He cannot stand by forever with the evil we are doing.


This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.