Acton Institute Powerblog

A Look Back at ‘Spiritual Labor and the Big Spill’

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Last summer I wrote a commentary titled “Spiritual Labor and the Big Spill.” I made the point that ultimately the kind of spiritual labor that goes on in the Gulf is invaluable. The work done by the fishermen and those working in some other industries along the Gulf is nothing short of a cultural heritage. It is the kind of work that is more than a paycheck and is a superb example of the value of work. I also highlighted the resiliency of the people who work the waters along the Gulf Coast. This from Garden & Gun magazine, taking a look back at the oil spill from one year ago:

The full impact of the spill on the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf has not been determined, but now, a year after the disaster, shrimpers are readying their fleets for another season. “Remarkably there is an optimism and resilience among the people of the Gulf Coast,” says [Jeremy] Craig. “Despite the hardships, they still have a lot of faith in their way of life. Right now, Vegas is getting his boat ready and looking forward to getting back on the water, and that is what gets him up in the morning.”

Here is a highlighted portion of my commentary from July:

Many Americans are proud of where they come from; this is no less true of the people of the Gulf Coast. Human interest stories have gripped viewers and readers following the news about the BP oil spill, which often highlights the locals’ pride in their roots. Sal Sunseri, the owner of P&J Oysters in New Orleans says it well: “The history and culture of the seafood industry in Louisiana is part of the fabric of who we are. The world should not take this lightly.”

Sunseri brings to life an important point about the spiritual and cultural aspect of work that is especially rich on the Gulf Coast. Work in a free economy is an expression of our creativity, virtue, and response to a calling. Christian authors Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster note that “God so arranges work that it develops the soul.”

BP is airing a commercial in which it vows to compensate fishermen and others for the loss of income until the cleanup is completed. This is a good start. But it also serves as a reminder that earnings are secondary to fishermen whose very labor is the preservation of heritage. It is not uncommon to hear fishing crews speaking Cajun French off the coast and in the bayous and marshes of Louisiana. Cajun French, an endangered language, was at one time banned in Louisiana schools. The spill is another threat to communities and a way of life for generations of a proud and sometimes marginalized people.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Priest spokesperson on cultural issues and Director of AncientTruthMedia stands tall with Gulf Coasters. Athanasios Paul Thompson writes: “America acknowledges the first annniversary of the great BP Gulf spill disaster and some still weep. Dead fish, oil drenched dying pelikans, spreading puddles of oozing petrol on polluted waterways and oiley empty beaches are just so much visual iconography of the event. The real vision of this Oil refinement industry debacle is better seen on the faces of people. There still is pain painted across the noble expression of hardworking fishermen and merchants who refuse to give up the fight.
    Weeping children are confused by the dramatic changes that have taken place in the once thriving tourist trade … crowded restaurants and beaches were a chance for new friends, and for teens there were always seasonal jobs available. My, how they all, young to senior citizen have suffered. High Millions of dollars have disappeared and multiple tens of thousands of regional beech living locals have been directly injured. The BP company has done a lot but not nearly enough. And why is it taking so long to make right what was done wrong. After a year a lot of good has been accomplished of course. BUt too much is still coming too slow. The rest of us not directly involved can always pray and express empathy and we should. The Obama Adminstration and British Petroleum can do much more. Let’s keep their feet to the fire and rejoice everytime we hear a story of business and personal recovery in the Gulf. For some of us, maybe we can plan a vacation to this once (and we hope again) pristine paradise of tropical vacation delight.

  • Archbishop prays with, for fishing families suffering a year after Gulf oil spill (April 20, Times-Picayune)

    The Rev. John Arnone, the pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Violet, said he has seen an uptick in suicides among fishers. Last month, Arnone said, a fisherman came into the Catholic Charities office and began writhing on the floor, overcome with distress about his unpaid damage claim and the bills piling up on his kitchen table.

    Critics have said that not enough money or attention has been paid to mental health problems cropping up in coastal communities since the spill. In many cases, the problems appear to stem from difficulty with the claims process.

    Catholic Charities, which has a $6.7 million grant from BP to run a counseling program in coastal communities, reported Wednesday that 79 percent of the people it’s helping have not received a claims payment.

    In some cases, the case managers are as befuddled as the claimants. Petrina Balser, director of Catholic Charities centers in St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Washington parishes, said she and other officials have reviewed dozens of settlement offers that are poorly explained and always seem to offer $5,000.

    More >>