Pat Robertson has a bad week

grimAfter several days of silence, I wanted to let GetReligion readers know that, yes, we have been following all of the Pat Robertson news. The MSM coverage has, however, been rather straightforward and there was not much to comment on.

We certainly saw the New York Times story stressing that Robertson’s controversial statement about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might undercut plans for an evangelical tourism complex in the hills near the Sea of Galilee.

Actually, it was the edgy — some would even say snarky — Sunday Times article that caught my attention. Here’s a sample:

Ministers in Jerusalem were furious after the millionaire preacher suggested that the Israeli Prime Minister suffered a stroke in divine retribution for carving up the Holy Land in withdrawing from Gaza.

The future of the project, nicknamed Jesusland and criticised by some for commercialism in an area of undeveloped rolling hills, is now hanging in the balance. Mr. Robertson released a statement saying that he was merely pointing out the Old Testament perspective on the division of Israel.

Truth be told, I would have liked to have known who created the “Jesusland” label. Was it someone in the Israeli government or at the Sunday Times copy desk?

Then, yes, we followed the Robertson statements that led up to his hand-delivered letter of apology to Sharon. How do you hand deliver a letter to a man in a coma? To read the actual letter, click here and then here. We also saw the White House statement slamming Robertson.

But if you were looking for responses to what Robertson said, I thought it was interesting that Baptist Press released a lengthy article this week by the Rev. Paige Patterson, one of the czars of the conservative era in Southern Baptist Life, entitled “Does Israel still matter?” The goal of the essay, it seemed, was to spell out some of the basic beliefs held by the leaders of America’s largest non-Catholic flock, rather than let people assume that what Robertson was saying was the norm. Maybe there was no connection. But I thought the timing was interesting.

Through it all, many people kept talking about Robertson himself and the question of whether or not he remains a major, symbolic leader among mainstream conservatives and evangelicals. At one point, Dallas Morning News religion-beat scribe Jeffrey “Got Jeff?” Weiss sent out and note to his reader listserv that said, in part:

So does Mr. Robertson have less support today than he did a couple of decades back? Did we pay too much attention to him then? Not enough now? Vice versa?

Here what I’m asking from the list: Are you a fan of Pat Robertson? Do you have a relative or friend who is a fan? Maybe you used to like him but have been turned off by some of his statements? Or vice versa? Or you know someone in either of those positions?

However, I think that many people are missing the point of what Robertson said and why so many traditional Christians are so angry about it.

The key is not God’s point of view on Israeli real estate, although that is a hot topic. And people are not rejecting Robertson’s belief that God can judge the actions of men and women in the modern world. The key to all of this is the religious broadcaster’s suggestion — in this case and others — that he, Pat Robertson, can know and proclaim the will and the mind of God on mysteries of this kind.

Thus, I began my weekly Scripps Howard News Service column this way:

Once again, inquiring media minds wanted to know: Does the Rev. Pat Robertson’s telephone actually have a speed-dial button for the angel of death?

Which brings us to the real question: Has anyone seen anyone calling a press conference to express support for Robertson on this point? Has anyone seen a good news story in which major Christian leaders speak up to defend him or what he is saying?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mike

    Apparently, we’re supposed to publicly tar and feather him in public (an especially un-Christian treatment). I guess ignoring him or speaking out in disagreement with his opinions is not enough.

    Of course, who am I kidding? The anti-Christians (small in number but loud in shrillness and scorn) are ready, willing, and eager to extrapolate the craziest of comments from any Christian to ALL Christians. It only helps them with their “broad brush” assault on anything and everything that is Christian in any way.

  • tmatt


    Who has done more than say they disagree? I mean, other than the Israeli government saying they don’t intend to do business with him….

  • Bartholomew

    In 1994 I heard first hand from a pastor at the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem that the sudden death of Norweigen Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst was due to his involvement in the Oslo accords. The idea that God kills or punishes those who stand in the way of “Greater Israel” is not uncommon in Christian Zionist circles.

    Plus, a certain number of pious Israelis actually implicitly agree with Robertson – they were subject of a Jerusalem Post article, which I blogged on here.

    There was also an interesting report that appeared on ASSIST Ministries back in September 2004; it has since gone, but luckily I kept a copy:

    More than over 40,000 churches globally have confirmed their participation to mark the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, said Rev. Robert Stearns, co-chairman of the October 3 event to be held near the Knesset parliament building in Jerusalem, Israel…The Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, which is being called for the first Sunday of every October, has garnered the active support of such evangelical leaders of influence as Ted Haggard, Jack Hayford, Glenn Plummer, Ravi Zacharias, Jane Hansen, Benny Hinn, and hundreds of others.

    …Leadership of the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem announced that Dr. Pat Robertson, a leading evangelical figure, will be the keynote speaker at a massive gathering to be held in Jerusalem on Sunday, October 3.

    …”We can think of no more appropriate leader to address this event than Dr. Robertson, who has lived a life of spiritual passion, moral clarity, sound thinking, and influenced millions around the world to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

    They might now be saying, “we do not known the man”, but eighteen months ago Robertson was apparently chosen by his peers to act as the keynote speaker for a movement of 40,000 churches which support Israel. Has all that support really evaporated?

  • Avram

    It wasn’t the NY Times that dubbed the park “Jesusland”; here’s the Times of London passing along the nickname four days ago. And I’ve found bloggers using the nickname as early as last November. I guess it’s pretty obvious if you think of it as a Jesus-themed Disneyland.

  • Avram

    D’oh! I should have read more carefully; I didn’t notice that Terry had already linked that story.

  • Mike


    No one that I know of. And that’s my point. Christians shouldn’t be expected to have him prosecuted or castigated. That’s like asking a vegetarian to protest another vegetarian’s actions by eating meat. It’s wouldn’t be a response that is consistent with their credo. It should be enough for us to ignore him or disagree with him. And there has been plenty of that.

  • Stephen A.

    Not that Robertson doesn’t deserve all the stuff being thrown at him, but I wonder if Mayor Ray Nagin will get some trouble for saying “God is mad at America” because we’re in Iraq and beause ofour treatment of blacks.

    Note that in this article (this first one, anyway) no effort was made to seek out “outraged” conservatives, as we get from the standard, boilerplate Robertson stories. But then again, Nagin’s an ameteur religious demagogue, not a pro.

  • brian

    Check out this column by David Waters of Memphis.