Just when we thought we were safe …

Rev. Pat Robertson sticks his foot in his mouth … again.

But before I discuss Robertson’s remarks, I would like to look at his entire statement, in context. Robertson’s comments aired yesterday on his “700 Club” news broadcast. During the show, Robertson was discussing the devastating earthquake that destroyed Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Here is what Robertson said, courtesy of ABC News:

“And you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know Napoleon the 3rd and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story.

“And so the Devil said, ‘Okay, it’s a deal.’ And, uh, they kicked the French out, you know, with Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by, by one thing after another, desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti on the other side is the Dominican Republican. Dominican Republic is, is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etcetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.

“They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable.”

Robertson’s clumsy reference is to Dutty Boukman, a Haitian voodoo priest who prophesied on August 22, 1791 that a group of slaves would lead a revolt and free the French slaves on Saint-Domingue. Along with an African priestess, Boukman galvanized his prophecy by performing several voodoo rituals including the sacrifice of a pig. A few days later, the Haitian Revolution began. Boukman was subsequently caught and beheaded by the French, who displayed his severed head in an attempt to convince the slaves that Boukman did not possess supernatural powers. But Boukman’s legacy among the Haitian people remains strong even to this day, and so does the persistent belief that Boukman’s voodoo curse still haunts the island.

I am acquainted with a retired couple from church who lived for over a decade in Haiti as missionaries. They have told many unusual and interesting stories about the Haitian people, and in particular the strange combination of Roman Catholic and occult beliefs still held by the majority of Haitians. There are still thousands of voodoo practitioners on the island, and many Haitians still attempt to control one another through the threat of spells and curses.

How a Westerner understands this I think largely depends on how he understands God and spiritual forces. There are still many Christians today from fundamentalist or apostolic backgrounds who strongly believe in “spirit warfare”; that is, they believe that heavenly forces (angels) and satanic forces (demons) are perpetually engaged in the kind of warfare described in Revelation 12. Our guardian angels fight to protect us from the sufferings that our satanic tempters try to inflict. This view was much more common in years past. There seem to be fewer and fewer contemporary churches who teach this, and again, those who do teach it tend to be part of the apostolic or fundamentalist movement.

There is also the question of “theodicy,” or “why does a good God allow evil to happen”? There are many ways to approach this question, but the approach that was most commonly taught in traditional 20th century fundamentalist churches was this one, summarized here by John MacArthur, a well-known and respected pastor in the conservative Southern Baptist fundamentalist/evangelical tradition:

God wills evil to exist. He has allowed evil and sin within His sovereign purposes so that His holiness and grace might be put on display.

John 9:1-5 is often quoted by those who agree with this interpretation of why bad things happen to innocent people:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (NIV – emphasis added)

Seventy nine year old Pat Robertson is an old-school Southern Baptist. He undoubtedly believes that the voodoo practiced by the island’s inhabitants, particularly the sacrifice that Dutty Boukman made to the forces of evil over 200 years ago, are shameful to God, and have caused God to choose to withhold His divine protection from the people of Haiti, even though He loves them just as he loves all of us. That’s pretty Old Testament-sounding stuff, reminiscent of how the Prophets explained the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and the exile of the Jewish people into the land of Babylon. To our modern ears, it sounds cruel and illogical.

But at the same time Robertson urges charity toward the Haitian people. He doesn’t hate them, and hopes that their destruction will bring about their repentance — the same effect that the Babylonian exile had on the children of Israel. Robertson’s Operation Blessing is already preparing to devote the majority of its resources to provide immediate aid to the people of Haiti.

For the record I don’t follow John MacArthur and Pat Robertson’s reasoning about why bad things happen to good people. (You can read my somewhat lengthy explanation, posted at my personal blog a couple of years ago, if you wish.) I wish Robertson would refrain from making his pronouncements, yet it bothers me when other people put words in Robertson’s mouth and accuse him of hoping for the destruction of people he supposedly don’t like. And as Mary Katherine Ham noted yesterday (with tongue placed firmly in cheek), “employing [the] Reid standard, should we not look at Robertson’s record of helping disaster victims & absolve him of ‘inartful’ comments?”

(Concluding paragraph edited for clarity)

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