Tulsa's mayor reinforces city's support for Team Relief

Friday, November 11th 2005, 1:07 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa's mayor is reinforcing his show of support for a hurricane-response team after questions about the program's Christian affiliation. Mayor Bill LaFortune refuted a newspaper story that says the city had cut ties with Team Relief.

News on 6 anchor Terry Hood says Mayor LaFortune partnered with Guts Church and Team Relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Now, the organization's Christian requirements are causing a storm of their own.

Friday morning, the mayor stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Guts Church Pastor Bill Scheer - the man he calls the visionary of Team Relief. The mayor emphasized the city of Tulsa is an integral part of Team Relief and the work they've done in hurricane-ravaged Long Beach, Mississippi. “And let me tell you, the mayor has taken no actions to in any way, cut the official support of Team Relief. And I will not do so, period!"

Each morning, Team Relief groups on the Gulf Coast, volunteers are "required" to attend a Christian devotional. Some have argued volunteers from other faiths might have problems with participating in Christian devotionals, and may be excluded from helping. Pastor Bill Scheer: "There's a misconception about the devotional. Nobody's standing there preaching at you, saying this is what you have to believe. It's not like that at all. It's a team meeting, which is essentially what that is. And yeah, you've gotta go to the team meeting. You're part of the team."

Scheer says the only criterion that keeps people from serving is their criminal background. The mayor added he wouldn't object to people of other faiths holding their own devotionals, but Team Relief would still require them to attend the Christian devotional, which they emphasize is necessary to attend to hurricane victims' emotional needs. "Disaster relief and the scope of the disaster and the needs on the Gulf Coast are beyond any petty divisions over politics or even religion as far as we're concerned."

The mayor says the city attorney’s office is also considering the legality of sponsoring a religious organization. He says attorneys have expressed their concerns to other city staffers, but not yet to him.

The controversy isn't slowing Team Relief. They're sending another team to the Gulf Coast on Sunday.