Dr. Pat Robertson, a once influential evangelical Christian leader, recently added another bizarre comment to a growing list of eccentric views. Following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke, Robertson wondered on his television program, “The 700 Club,” whether God might be punishing Sharon for “dividing the land” of Israel by giving acreage to Palestinians.
Robertson's comment about God's purported actions was quickly followed by predictable reactions among liberals, outrage from Israel, carefully worded distancing from the White House, and frustration and some condemnation among fellow evangelicals. Christian leaders' responses are perhaps the most interesting. Dr. Richard Land, president of The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said, "I am as shocked by Pat Robertson's arrogance as I am by his insensitivity."
Another once influential fundamentalist Christian leader, Dr. Jerry Falwell, attracted similar negative reactions from the Christian community when shortly after 9-11 he wondered if the nation’s worst terrorist attack was God’s judgment for America’s acceptance of feminists and gays. Os Guinness, a well-known and well-regarded Christian scholar and writer, said, " I know hundreds of people who are just terminally frustrated with the idiotic public statements of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the idea that these people represent us. They don't."
An unsuccessful 1988 Republican Party presidential candidate, Pat Robertson has made a career of provocative, foot-in-mouth comments. Robertson joined Falwell in making similar post-9-11 comments about God’s judgment upon America. In 2005, Robertson suggested the United States should assassinate leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. After Hurricane Katrina slammed the city of New Orleans Robertson wondered aloud whether this judgment might have resulted from America’s high abortion rate. Following the fall 2005 election ouster of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board members who had mandated Intelligent Design for the local curriculum, Robertson concluded the people of Dover had better hope they never experienced a natural disaster, because they had rejected God and he was not going to hear their prayers in their time of need.
Is Pat Robertson courageous, crazy, or just a harmless preacher past his prime—one with a “pulpit” reaching about 850,000 people each broadcast? Is Robertson a prophet or a poster boy for evangelical quacks? Are Robertson’s views representative of evangelicals—as media still seem to think and as liberals fervently hope—or is he becoming an isolated, “Far Right” voice crying in a wilderness where fewer and fewer people are listening?
Pat Robertson is a fellow believer in Jesus Christ. He’s a Christian who will be with me in heaven some day. So I honor his faith. I also respect his leadership over many years, including his legacy as founder of Regent University, founder of the Christian Coalition, and successful business entrepreneur of many different for-profit and non-profit television broadcasting channels and programming. I admire his courage in speaking his mind, and I admire what I consider his and Jerry Falwell’s positive contribution in awakening and energizing a generation of conservative American Christians to their social and political responsibilities, opportunities, and influence. I also appreciate Robertson’s work ethic, committed to his worldview and his sense of calling or mission in life.
I believe many of Robertson’s critics would be my critics or the critics of any conservative, Bible-believing Christian, simply because the critics do not accept, indeed find intolerable, the moral values of our Christian faith. They gleefully attack Robertson-the-man or Robertson-the-personality in order to discredit conservative Christian views of human life and other biomedical ethics issues, human sexuality, public prayer and other church and state debates, and more. In other words, Robertson attracts lightning not only for the content of his commentary but simply because he’s chosen to act as a lightning rod. This is a needed perspective, for it should remind other Christians that we share core values and concerns with Robertson even if he may not always represent them in a way we find comfortable.
All this stated, I must agree with a number of Christian leaders who have questioned Robertson’s recent pattern of imprudent, I think biblically unjustifiable, largely judgmental and uncompassionate, and oft-times self-righteous commentary. If Robertson made one gaffe, one statement that did not wring true, I’d simply count him among the rest us. Virtually everyone in public life and on public record—conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican, Independent, religious or non-religious—has made some kind of ill-advised comment along the way, something for which many of these people later apologized. But Robertson is on a roll.
Robertson’s penchant for controversial pronouncements comes from his theology and his methodology. He truly believes God speaks extra-biblically and directly to him, then he tends to apply this doctrine to specific individuals and events. While I sometimes find myself in agreement with Robertson’s assessment of a contemporary social or political concern, I generally do not agree with his proposed solutions. After 9-11, I wrote my own response to that horrific event and one of my key points was that as we view world events we should take great care in saying, "Lo, God is doing this," or "Lo, God is doing that." Only God knows his plan (Romans 11:33-34).
I am very uncomfortable with the ease with which Robertson moves from the pages of Scripture to the Republican Party political platform. To listen to Robertson you’d think God was a Republican. He comes off more as a partisan hack than as a prophet. I think this often uncritical partisanship undermines both his faith and his credibility and, consequently, his influence.
Robertson is not the best nor even any longer a leading representative of evangelical Christians. His comments certainly do not reflect my views. He represents only himself—and maybe not even that, for he has apologized, virtually apologized, or “clarified” his views after each of the episodes we’ve noted.
So, I recommend that Pat Robertson focus his time and considerable skills upon faith and family, evangelism, the value of a Christian higher education, or perhaps the role of Christian faith in media rather than politics. He’s run out of fuel for that race.
If he cannot restrain himself politically, and frankly I doubt that he can—because his practice is so rooted in his theology and because it’s too late to change—than he should retire. At age 75, while still a hero of many, he’s no longer the most effective fundraiser for CBN or Regent University, and he’s no longer their future. He could retire as an elder statesman of his work and movement, assisting his son and others as they carry on their own work and calling.
Such recommendations may seem presumptuous. But Robertson has never been bashful about sharing his recommendations, so we’ll consider turnabout fair play.
Another version of this blog may be found at: “Robertson Doesn’t Represent Evangelicals,” The Detroit News, (February 4, 2006), p. 6F.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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