Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

Huffington, Robertson and Haiti

I’m alternating between scratching my head and gnashing my teeth.  The Huffington Post has taken issue with Pat Robertson’s comment on Haiti’s alleged pact with the Devil and I received the chance to subscribe to a “Pat Robertson Doesn’t Speak for Me” group on Facebook.

Scratching my head: why does Ariana Huffington care what Pat Robertson says?  If she wants to minimize his impact, she should ignore him, not plaster his quotes all over her blog.  What he said came during an airing of the 700 Club, so he was talking to his viewers, who, for most the part, I’m sure, completely agree with his world view.  He made a sweeping historical/theological statement: that Haiti, seeking independence from the French in the late 1700s made a pact with the Devil.  It certainly raises my historian’s caution – you know, putting two and two together and getting five, drawing inferences that don’t follow from the evidence, that sort of thing.  But the hysteria from the Huffington Post, et. al., I don’t get either.

There was no judgment in Robertson’s voice or demeanor about Haiti.  According to the CBN web site, their ministry is actively engaged in earthquake relief in that devastated land.  I don’t know if Huffington actually checked (I doubt it), but if one takes a few minutes to look, then Robertson’s quote seems a lot more like an understandable (even if historically questionable) comment made from within Robertson’s Pentecostal/Charismatic theology.

Gnashing my teeth: responding to Huffington’s charge, the CBN website puts a spin on Robertson’s comments that fudges what he actually said.  I wish Pat Robertson would “man up” and stick to his guns.  Christians need to have the courage of their convictions and if he really believes that Haiti is under some sort of demonic spell, then he should say so without apology or qualification.  And he especially shouldn’t give a second’s thought to what Ariana Huffington and her ilk thinks.

Irony: I heard Jack Cafferty on CNN talk about how poor Haiti has been destroyed by corruption and inept government. Upon examination, how much practical difference is there between “corruption” and “demonic influence?”

Christians cannot and should not operate in a box.  We live in this world and we need to engage fully in its doings.  I’m enough of a “methocostal” myself that the notion of demonic influence is not beyond the pale for me.  Talk of demonic activity has been completely distorted by entertainment media – people hear “demon” and they think green, projectile vomit, contorted faces and levitating furniture, but most versions of the demonic are much more mundane.  I think often of Paul’s comment in 2 Cor. 10, about “tearing down strongholds and taking every thought captive to Christ.”  How often does the demonic work at the level of mere thinking and we don’t even notice?

But while Christians should have opinions based on their theological/faith perspectives – as Robertson does – we should be wise and wily in how we communicate them.  Public comments by public Christian figures should never be made just for the home crowd.  Still, though I’m a little queasy about Robertson’s analysis, Huffington is the real bigot, not Robertson.

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January 26, 2010 - Posted by | General | , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. There are some people out there who appear so obnoxious that it seems we have to proclaim our own moral superiority over them. It’s hard to remain quiet in their presence when we see ourselves so far beyond them.

    Comment by Richard H | January 26, 2010 | Reply

  2. I don’t entirely believe that Pat Robertson was ONLY speaking to his core audience. He knows that if he says something outrageous (like this), people outside his audience will hear it. And unfortunately, his outrageous comments turn off people from even beginning to hear Christ’s message. Anyone who is highly visible has a greater responsibility to speak with care while staying strong in their beliefs. If he believes what he speaks of, I hope his God is not like that because I fall far short and would imagine that I won’t end up in heaven!

    The Huffington Post speaks to their vast “left wing” audience too. I’m just as turned off at times by their outrageous comments. I would not call them bigots based on this rant. Both HuffPo and Robertson were being idiots in this case.

    Comment by Paul Leclerc | January 26, 2010 | Reply

  3. Actually, my reaction to the brouhaha over Robertson’s foolish remarks was similar to yours, Steve. I feel no inclination to defend Robertson at all — but the media reaction was way over-the-top.

    Comment by Craig L. Adams | January 26, 2010 | Reply

  4. I confess I don’t read Ariana Huffington much, so I find it hard to care about what she has to say. But then again I don’t read or see Pat Robertson either unless he manages to say something outrageous enough to get wider media coverage.

    Having heard Pat’s latest attention-getter though, I confess I did find it troubling.

    First, it perpetuates a “Hollywood” understanding of the practice of voodoo in Haiti that is based more in racism than in fact.

    The “deal with the devil” that Pat Robertson talks about is base on slave-owner accounts of a voodoo gathering that was held at the beginning of Haiti’s drive to independence. Voodoo practices are descended from the animist religions of Africa, where peoples, villages, and families often honor their own local “gods”. It has been conflated with satanism by movies and television, but it really bears more resemblance to the belief in faeries and other local spirits that used to be prevalent in the Irish countryside.

    Unless one advocates a worldview in which any worship that is not explicitly Christian is demonic (a worldview I don’t find in scripture) it’s hard to defend singling these practices out as “deals with the devil.”

    But I’m even more disturbed by the understanding of God that seems to underlie the theology of Pat Robertson and other evangelicals in the public eye. This comment about Haiti is not, after all, an isolated event. We have seen similar remarks about other natural and man-made disasters, from hurricane Katrina (a disaster equal parts natural and man-made) and 9/11. I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would have to say about the way these leaders (and evidently some, if not many of their supporters) attribute disasters to the “sins” of their victims.

    Wait a minute – maybe we already know! Maybe we could read Luke 13:1-4:

    Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

    There is a pervasive human tendency to assign the label “evil” only to the “other” to things that we don’t like or don’t understand. Those “others” are just getting what they deserve – we “good” folks have the grace of God on our side.

    Is there evil in Haiti? Of course. There is greed, corruption, and a culture in which a few wealthy families live and rule happily while allowing the majority of the population to suffer. This has been the state of things there since the first Europeans arrived to set up the first plantation. But those Europeans were, at least in name, Christians.

    “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). If we start buying into the notion that God is either causing natural disasters, or allowing them to happen selectively, based on the state of sinfulness of the people involved – well – where is grace? Did Christ win a victory over sin and death, or didn’t he? Did he fail when he died “so that the whole world through him might be saved?”. Are there still strings attached to the offer?

    I applaud the efforts that Pat Robertson’s aid group has made to provide relief in Haiti. I have no doubt that this effort is motivated by a sincere faith. But his comments still represent bad theology.

    Is Ariana Huffington bigoted against Christians in general? I don’t know – I don’t read her enough to make a judgment about that.

    But does Pat Robertson’s comment represent a bigoted and distorted understanding of God? In my opinion at least, yes it does.

    Comment by Todd Scranton | January 26, 2010 | Reply

  5. Thanks, all for the comments. When I started that blog, I actually was going to write about John Wesley’s “Serious Thoughts” about the earthquake that leveled Lisbon, Portugal in 1755. I was going to compare Robertson’s comments to Wesleys, which I find very instructive. I went snooping on the CBN website for the statement apparently in response to Huffington’s charge and then back to the Huffington Post to watch the video of Robertson.

    RE: Robertson speaking beyond his audience: I’m not so sure any more. I don’t want to sound patronizing, but he is an elderly man whose day in the political sun seems quite behind him.

    RE: Craig’s concern about Robertson’s theology: if I were to pick between your more nuanced and historically sophisticated take and Robertson’s, I would easily choose yours. But my point in the blog is that Robertson’s comment is consistent with his theology, whether it takes into account the factors you mention or not. I’d rather Robertson state his theology clearly and then have to explain it/defend it, rather than have people like Huffington rule him out simply by spinning his view. Then, perhaps in legitimate conversation, his ideas could be exposed and critiqued, rather than his person being attacked.

    I realize how naive I sound.

    Comment by Steve Rankin | January 27, 2010 | Reply

  6. Todd Scranton deserves the credit for a “nuanced and historically sophisticated take.”

    Comment by Craig L. Adams | January 28, 2010 | Reply


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