September 26, 2005

He Embarrassed All of Us

capWe have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability." "We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one . . . strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with." "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it."

The words of a mobster secretly taped by authorities? No. They came, rather, from a Christian minister, addressing the faithful during a nationally televised Christian broadcast, Monday, August 22. American televangelist Pat Robertson had chosen the forum of his syndicated program The 700 Club to suggest that the United States government murder Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez for making his country a "launching pad for Communist influence and Muslim extremism."*

The outrage was instantaneous and widespread. The Venezuelan vice president called the statement "criminal and terrorist." It shows, he said, that "religious fundamentalism is one of the great problems facing humanity in these times."

Robertson is not simply "a private citizen," as one high-ranking U.S. government official described him in the wake of the international incident. This, after all, is a former candidate for president of the United States and currently an acclaimed television broadcaster. Would that same official react with equal calm if someone took to the public airwaves to call for the assassination of Tony Blair or George W. Bush? Can anyone in this highly volatile contemporary atmosphere fail to sense the potential for harm in Robertson's statement? It's like spraying gasoline in a crowded room with open flames.

1541 story4As National Association of Evangelicals head Ted Haggard observed, Robertson's remarks could endanger the lives of Christians in Venezuela. Conceivably, they could also jeopardize the safety of Christians around the world--particularly Christian missionaries and aid workers, already (unfairly) suspected in some places as being agents of their home governments. And imagine how terrorists might use the minister's remarks!

In the wake of the widespread reaction, Robertson at first insisted he'd been misinterpreted: "I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our Special Forces should 'take him out,' and 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping." Talk about jumping from one frying pan into another! Kidnapping?

But Robertson's words were on tape. He'd used the A word also. And so, eventually, he "apologized." It wasn't right to call for assassination. He'd reacted, he said, "in frustration" over the U.S. administration's inaction against Chavez, a man who'd "found common cause with terrorists." Moreover, Robertson argued, assassination is not always morally wrong (citing in support--completely out of context--Dietrich Bonhoeffer's plans against Adolf Hitler in the 1940s).

Utter disgust would describe my mood upon first hearing the evangelist's remarks Tuesday, August 23, on CNN and ABC. But later I experienced something akin to sympathy mixed with sorrow as the criticism mounted--and especially after reading the cutting swipes in a Washington Post editorial of August 25 (using words such as "obnoxious" and "witless" to describe the elderly clergyman). As a minister, I hurt when any one of us, regardless of denomination, is upbraided, justly or unjustly, in the media. But the egregiousness of the reverend's words made it impossible for any responsible Christian to come to his defense--especially one affiliated with a global church such as ours, committed to the welfare of all people, regardless of race, nationality, or political ideology.

Robertson's statement was an embarrassment to Christians everywhere. But it reflects the poisoned political climate of our times, a reality that calls for constant vigilance on our part. Wise as serpents and harmless as doves, we need to see ourselves as citizens of the world. It means no disloyalty to our various countries and governments. But it does mean that with a global assignment before us, given by God Himself, we set aside all jingoism, provincialism, and partisanship. We do not speak on behalf of earthly powers. We belong to a kingdom to come--the kingdom of Jesus Christ. And He is the Prince of Peace.

*Because this story was so widely reported in the U.S. and elsewhere, and because the basic facts are so generally known, I've chosen to omit specific references, for the sake of space.

Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.