I am taking a slight risk here, explaining why it is that I do not respect Pat Robertson. Some who might read this will be angry because they have cut their spiritual teeth on substantive pieces from Robertson’s 700 Club. Perhaps they came to know Jesus through that ministry, or found comfort there during some time of important need. If you are one of those who is so impacted, then please be patient with me here.
I am also taking a risk because Pat Robertson is, in fact, a spiritual shepherd, and, I am certain, a follower of Christ. One thing I have learned throughout many years of ministry is to respect this detail. Indeed, the writer of Hebrews tells us to obey our leaders and submit to them (13:17). Vocational ministry is rife with people unwilling to do this, people who think criticizing duly appointed shepherds and overseers is their spiritual gift. Trust me. I have had more than my fair share of this dynamic. The reality is the Bible makes clear that giving honor rather than hardship is pleasing to God.
Yet the Scriptures also portray Christian leaders, such as the Apostle Paul, calling out other Christian leaders when their attitudes and actions become harmful to the cause of Christ. It was this spirit that motivated Paul to confront, of all people, the Apostle Peter because of Peter’s prejudicial demeanor when mixing it up with Gentile believers. “But when [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). Paul goes on to declare that he did so when he observed that his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (v. 14).
It is with this spirit that I must confess that I do not respect Pat Robertson. Indeed, I think his words reflect a haughty spirit that betrays ignorance and insensitivity. And I think he knows better.
What words might you ask? Well, watch for yourself, clicking below on the video.
Now Pat Robertson does not know me from Adam, and likely will never be aware of this tiny morsel on the blogosphere table. But the reason I am expressing my dismay is not for him, but for you and perhaps others like you. The fact is too often people will ask me about remarks such as those portrayed in the video above. How does this square with the gospel? Is this true? Are these words reflective of all Christians? How can such things be said in the face of such human suffering? And the more I am asked the angrier I get.
Such stupidity reminds me of a nurse I ran into years ago while chairing a biomedical ethics committee at an Oklahoma hospital. “Pastor, can I talk with you a moment?” she asked, tears welling up in her eyes. “Of course,” I offered.
“I’ve been a widow now for about four months. My husband died of lymphoma. Like me he was young. I’m devastated and alone and afraid. And when I went to ask my pastor about why God would allow such a thing to happen to a young man like him, to a young couple like us, he told me that it was because my husband didn’t tithe enough to our church.
“Do you think this is true?” she went on to ask.
It took everything in my being not to drive to Hinton, Oklahoma, to beat the living daylights out of the pastor. All in the name of Jesus, of course.
How many times have I run into such hurt, wherein shepherds have shredded the souls of those living in the face of calamity with presumptuous and pompous words supposedly portraying all the answers to some of life’s most complex questions? I do not know if it is because pastors like the one from Hinton, Oklahoma, or people like Pat Robertson, are so profoundly insecure that they need to offer sweeping statements so as to come off smart and powerful, or if they are simply that out of touch from the human heart and its wounds. Either way, it is impossible for me to offer respect. With upwards of 200,000 men, women and children thought to be dead because of the ravages of the Haitian earthquake, declaring that it might be a blessing in disguise so that new buildings can arise, or so glibly connecting the earthquake to a pact with the devil, is the height of arrogance. And in the wake of such presumption things like the Holocaust or Cambodia’s Killing Fields or the lot of those suffering in Darfur, at which times and places no earthquakes of tsunamis raged or are raging, are greatly diminished, as if God might not be offended by the horrors of Nazism or the atrocities in Darfur nearly as much as he is by the voodoo practices of Haiti’s nominally Catholic populace.
One day, while Jesus was teaching the crowds that had gathered around him, someone brought up a terrible news account about some people from Galilee who had been slaughtered at the hands of Roman soldiers. Clearly there were questions among those in the crowds about why this would happen, and what the implications were. Note Jesus’ response as found in Luke 13:2-5:
And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And therein is the reality for us all. The people in Haiti are not somehow “worse” than anyone else. They are not somehow more evil than the Nazis or Muslim extremists or me. What is clear, and what is sadly lost amidst the moronic words of Pat Robertson or others, is that by God’s standards all of us—including those of us who are in positions of shepherding leadership—need to have humble and repentant spirits, attitudes seasoned with the very grace that would motivate Jesus to say of the catastrophes of others, “No, it’s not that they were worse sinners.” In fact, Jesus offers no explanation at all regarding the death of the Galileans or those killed by a falling tower.
What Jesus does instead is invite us all to “repent,” that is, to simply turn strongly to him.