Take Pat Robertson, please

robertson timeThe latest wave of Pat Robertson madness has rolled on throughout the day. Here is a large chunk of one of my favorite statements. The name of this game is to guess the source.

I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God. Pat Robertson should know better.

A far greater expert on God’s will than Pat Robertson will ever be, the Apostle Paul, declared, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?’ (Romans 11:33-34 KJV)

The Bible clearly reveals God to be a God of justice and righteousness as well as a God of forgiveness and mercy. Does God judge? Yes. However, whether or not a particular event is God’s judgment is something that the Apostle Paul has told us is ‘past finding out.’ No one ‘hath known the mind of the Lord.’

Even if one agreed with Pat Robertson’s position that the Israelis do not have the right to grant part of the Holy Land to the Palestinians, it would be well beyond Rev. Robertson’s competence to discern that these tragic events were in any way, shape or form the result of God’s judgment on any individuals. I am almost as shocked by Pat Robertson’s arrogance as I am by his insensitivity.

National Council of Churches? Jim Wallis? Jimmy Carter?

Actually, this is from Dr. Richard Land, the Oxford-educated president of The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Land went on to say that he asked a classroom full of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students today what they thought of this latest statement from Robertson and they were “embarrassed and incensed.”

I do not have a URL for Land’s statement, yet, but click here for Baptist Press coverage.

So here we go again. Is this latest Robertson statement a news story?

Of course it’s a story.

When I say that I wish that journalists would excommunicate Pat Robertson, I say that knowing that it will make headlines when a famous person spews out a remark of this kind. What concerns me is when this point of view is portrayed as typical of the Christian or even evangelical mainstream. Is it typical of many so-called Christian Zionists? Yes. All of them? No. Of all conservative Christians? Way, no way. Of traditional Christian beliefs in ancient churches, including those in the Middle East? Get out of here.

So would it be valid to use this Robertson howler as a hook for a story on what various Christian groups believe about the Middle East? Yes. Journalists can compare and contrast all they want and I urge them to dig deep, because there are many different types of Christians out there with many different beliefs on this topic — even on the right side of the church aisle.

I am happy to report that quite a few people are beginning to raise concerns similar to those I voiced in my Poynter column. Consider this essay today at the CBS News weblog by Brian Montopoli. He notes:

I asked “Evening News” host Bob Schieffer for his thoughts on Robertson and whether he thought there were others who better represent evangelicals. Schieffer, who considers himself a religious person, has covered Robertson and interviewed him several times in the past, and says “at the beginning he represented a particular point of view, and articulated it quite well.” But he’s reluctant to cover him now.

“I think we have to be very careful about quoting Robertson, because I’m not sure who he represents anymore,” he said. “His comments have gone beyond interesting and into bizarre.” …

This isn’t, ultimately, just a religious issue, says Schieffer. It’s rooted in larger questions about the way the media functions. “One of the problems we have in TV is that we too often go to the first person who has something to say — and that’s often the person we should be paying the least attention to,” he says. “We go out and find the people who are on the most extreme sides and let them scream at each other.”

This CBS essay also quotes, among other hyper-linked sources, a Washington Monthly blog essay by the omnipresent Amy Sullivan, who notes:

… (That) the evangelical community (and even the conservative evangelical community) is very diverse and doesn’t have one acknowledged leader. But given that, there are a few different groups of people who should be (and sometimes are) featured as evangelical voices. For religious leaders, there are Ted Haggard of New Life Church and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, Brian McLaren of Cedar Ridge Church, Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church, Rod Parsley of World Harvest Church, and Franklin Graham (Billy’s son). Political voices include Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Richard Cizik of NAE, Joseph Loconte of the Heritage Foundation, and Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

And then, of course, there are your white liberal evangelicals (Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo) and your black evangelicals (Herb Lusk, TD Jakes).

There are many excellent contacts in that list. Then Sullivan adds, speaking from the left, the point that I have been trying to make for several years now.

Preach it, lady:

As for Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, their heyday was 20 years ago; the only reason they’re still booked as talking heads is that most producers don’t know these two men no longer have any power. But more than that, they’re just not representative of today’s evangelicals. Robertson is a Pentecostal and Falwell is a fundamentalist, and while you could broadly say that most Pentecostals and fundamentalists are evangelicals, not all evangelicals are Pentecostals or fundamentalists. That’s why some of the more extreme theological statements you hear from those two (God let 9/11 happen because of gays and women and the ACLU) aren’t shared by a lot of evangelicals. That’s not to say that many evangelicals (and some of the names I mentioned) don’t hold intolerant, troubling views. But when we criticize them, we should be able to distinguish between widely-held beliefs and the wacked-out positions of a couple of has-beens.

So, let’s run over the basic points again. First, is the Robertson statement news? Sadly, yes.

Who does he speak for? Himself and a large, but declining, number of Pat Robertson fans. Consider him the Bishop Jack Spong of the far right.

Is his viewpoint of the Middle East newsworthy? Yes. Cover it and interview the legions of people who think his point of view is out of line. (In biblical terms, is “Israel” a zip code? A chunk of land? A people? A kingdom with a small “k” or a large “K”? The questions go on and on.)

Are journalists betraying their bias or laziness if they continue to act as if Pat Robertson is a major player in modern evangelicalism or the wider movement of politically active conservative Christians? I’ll leave that one up to you.

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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.

  • Daniel

    I found this article interesting. CBN had $186 million in 2004. Combine this with the influence of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is a major player among cultural right legal groups, and it does appear that Robertson has influence.


  • Daniel

    I forgot to add a law school and a university. Is there anyone on Amy Sullivan’s list who has their own university and law school?

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  • matt

    “Consider him the Bishop Jack Spong of the far right.”

    That was a good line. Does this mean Bp. Spong is a whacked out not very influential voice on the left?

  • Herb

    As disgusting as Pat Robertson’s remark is, I’m concerned that the baby will get thrown out with the bath-water. I am troubled by Land’s remarks as well, which seem to me to be a cop-out, a sort of, “let’s not ask any hard questions, because we can never know the answer — only God does.” Ultimately, that is always true, but Luke 13:3 keeps coming back at me. When disaster occurred, Jesus did not say, “don’t judge anybody here, for no one is at fault” — he sounds like more, “you all deserve the same fate, in fact, you will get it, if you don’t repent.”

    And I doubt that the prophet Jeremiah would have agreed with either Robertson or Land.

    As usual, there are several strands in the “rope” of truth. We tend to pick one strand out to the exclusion of all the others.

  • http://www.malottblog.blogspot.com Chris Malott

    First, I disagree with what Mr Robertson said about Sharon.

    Secondly, Mr Robertson has been used by God to do many great things for the Kingdom.

    And, the opinions of a 75-year-old preacher, concerning Old testament teachings and current events, is reported as news only because it suits the secular media’s agenda to report it as news.

    How do we handle Pat Robertson? We disagree with him publicly and defend him personally as we would our own brother… because he is.

  • http://shanewilkins.blogspot.com shane wilkins

    I also like the jack spong of the right line. and yeah, i think spong’s heyday has passed, even among ‘liberal’ episcopalians. I was speaking with an episcopal bishop who voted for the elevation of gene robinson and he confessed to me that he thought spong was “a bore” and that his theology “wasn’t the way forward”.

    to herb, I don’t think land is telling us not to ask hard questions. i think he is asking us not to pretend that we are God. it always irritates me when people read events as portents of the will of God because everything can be interpreted in more than one way. Why is dying god’s punishment. maybe the Lord is just calling bro. sharon home as a reward for bringing peace to God’s people. Maybe robertson’s own recent health problems are God’s way of punishing him for calling for the assassination of the Chavez, etc.


  • http://mwerntz.excogito.org myles

    a question to chris lamott:

    if the tables were turned and this were, say, john shelbey spong or marcus borg or any of the “left-wing nutjobs”, would you say the same thing? would we love pat publicly and differ privately? hardly. you’d have them on a stake by the day’s end.

    the time has come for the church to do as the church has always done and say that what pat is doing now is out of bounds. yes, he’s done some fine things in Jesus’ name, but when he gets in position of saying that Sharon is dying at the hand of God for breaking up a rocky hole in the ground, you’re just nuts. Origen was great until he got to transmigration of souls; Servetus was great until he crossed Calvin; Arminius was fine until misinterpreted by Augustine. It’s time that Pat Robertson was held accountable as well.

  • tmatt


    What church would that be? PR is a Baptist minister who stopped being a Baptist minister to run for president, who was then reordained in a multi-church ceremony that even included the laying on of hands of an Episcopal bishop (Father Pat Robertson in the same Communion as Spong?). Only PR is not really a Baptist, he is kind of a postmillennial Charismatic.

    I wish you could all read the classic Harvey Cox piece in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Warring Visions of the Religious Right” — which NAILS the fact that PR is, in many ways, a wild man out at his own Regent University.

    The only place people can correct PR is in his true church — the media.

  • http://guildedlilies.tripod.com/ Steve Nicoloso

    So why don’t you tell us what you really think, Terry! ;-) But seriously, with that, Robertson’s “true church” is the media, I think you’ve nailed it.

  • http://www.lightreflected.org prof B

    The problem, of course, is that he’s represented as The voice (or one of them) of evangelicals by the msm. I don’t know who actually watched/listens to him, or how many of them there are. The question becomes if he doesn’t adequately or accurately represent us, who does? I know many younger evangelicals feel the answer is: no one.

  • http://www.nationalnitwit.blogspot.com Subcomandante Bob
  • Jeffrey Weiss

    How do we ID real leaders and separate them from quotable blowhards? We have the same trouble with Islam. Does the imam who calls for violent jihad deserve the headline or the one who says “not in my Quran?” Robertson (and Falwell) may have peaked a while back. But the 700 Club is on every day. Somebody is watching. Lots of somebodys, actually. Maybe they nod along with PR 999 times and roll their eyes indulgently when he falls off the tracks on his 1000th comment?

  • http://www.malottblog.blogspot.com Chris Malott

    Prof B:

    Ofcourse the MSM ID’s PR as an Evangelical leader because it suits their purpose which is to make the religious right look bad.

    You never hear the MSM talk about the lives changed for the better or the hungry people that are fed, etc… but let Robertson or Falwell say something stupid or controversial and the press is suddenly interested in religion.

    And myles, my impression was that Robertson had quoted the Book of Joel and said God [might] be punishing Sharon for dividing the land. I’d have to see a transcript because the media can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

  • http://www.malottblog.blogspot.com Chris Malott

    Here is the quote…

    Robertson said:
    “In the book of Joel, the prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has ‘enmity against those who divide My land.’ God considers this land to be His. When you read the Bible, He said this is my land. For any Prime Minister of Israel who decides he will carve it up and give it away, God said, “No, this is Mine.”

    I don’t find this terribly outrageous. Did this occur on a slow news day?

    I also found this:

    “According to his [Robertson's] spokesperson, Angell Watts, Robertson is simply reminding his viewers what the Bible has to say about efforts made to divide the land of Israel.

    She also expressed Dr. Robertson’s outrage at People for the American Way, who have a clear left-wing political agenda and who, on an ongoing basis, lift his comments out of context and widely circulate them in an attempt to discredit him.”

    Ahhhh… A left-wing group going after a Christian and taking his comments out of context. Shouldn’t this be the story?

  • http://molly.douthett.net molly

    In the picture he looks like he is clutching his chest. Is he pledging allegiance or having a heart attack?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Left wing, Chris? I beg your pardon? Richard Land is “left wing?” Where exactly do you put your middle? Torquemada? No kidding, the response to PR’s comment by other conservative Christians seems to take it out of the position of a “left wing” smear job.

  • http://www.malottblog.blogspot.com Chris Malott

    J. Weiss,

    Perhaps the other conservative Christians were misled as I was. Its obvious that Robertson expressed his opinion about scripture and related it to a man he knew… liked… respected… prayed with… There was nothing hateful or mean-spirited in it.

    Mr Weiss, now that you’ve read the actual Robertson quote are you going to feign outrage out of stubborness?

  • http://www.theagapeletters.com Jake Tribble

    Sunday January 8, 2006

    In response to Terry Mattingly article on Pat Robertson’s comment, which included the picture of Time magazine with PR on the cover, Gospel TV Religion, Politics and Money.

    In response to your statement,
    start quote,
    “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God. Pat Robertson should know better.

    A far greater expert on God’s will than Pat Robertson will ever be, the Apostle Paul, declared, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?’ (Romans 11:33-34 KJV)

    The Bible clearly reveals God to be a God of justice and righteousness as well as a God of forgiveness and mercy. Does God judge? Yes. However, whether or not a particular event is God’s judgment is something that the Apostle Paul has told us is ‘past finding out.’ No one ‘hath known the mind of the Lord.’
    end of quote.

    Will you agree with my statement, “Christ Jesus knows the mind of God”.
    Quoting the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:16 NIV
    “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
    Now, many have taken PR’s comment out of context or whatever it is called, the Apostle Paul spoke as one who knew something about the mind of God.
    But, then again, the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:15 KJV,
    “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

    Lots of God’s WORD for me to study, and so little time until Christ returns, I must be busy doing the will of God, our master’s business.


  • Hugh Kelly

    The problem I have with PR using Joel as a basis for condemning AS (other than the obvious problems associated with the divining of God’s judgement) is the fact Israel was divided long before AS came along. Even overlooking the sub-dividing of Israel into Judea and Galilee (not to mention Samaria) centuries before, turnng to the Gospels it becomes clear that Israel was terminally divided by her rejection of the Messiah. Therein lies all of the problems of division which have faced Israel since that unfortunate rejection to the present.
    For some He was the cornerstone, for others a stumbling block. “The child will be a sign of contradiction…” Joel’s words of wisdom, having been rejected by man long before, most certainly became a mute point when Israel rejected and put to death her long-awaited Messiah. Hard to blame that one on AS.
    Looking past Joel and other Books of the Old Testament comes the Gospel. The Good News teaches that God is less interested in physical boundaries of States that come and go at the whim of man, than the boundary of sin which more importantly seperates man from God. Only the acceptance of Christ the Savior by all can end true division existing in Israel or elsewhere. PR would do well to remember that the One he serves came to save people, not to condemn them. The secular media would do well to remove the biased anti-Christian plank from their own eye before pointing out the splinter in the eye of PR.

  • http://stevegriffin.no-ip.info Steve Griffin

    I wonder how many people remember that Sheryl Crow said there would be “huge karmic retributions” for the war in Iraq. I’ve never understood the difference between a quote like that and the Robertson quotes that the press goes gaga over, but Crow gets a pass.

  • saysay

    I think the difference is that Sheryl Crow was speculating about things that might happen in the future, not claiming to know the mind of G-d. Had she said something about (for example) Cheney’s health problems being Divine Retribution for the war in Iraq, and then quoted Scripture in support of her opinion, I’d expect the press to make a bigger deal over it. Although probably not to the same extent, since she’s a musician and not a religious leader.

    “Maybe they nod along with PR 999 times and roll their eyes indulgently when he falls off the tracks on his 1000th comment?”

    A friend of mine explained it as a part of southern tradition that I’ve (apparently) forgotten since moving north of the Mason-Dixon line: the tradition of the crazy relative. As she said, nearly everybody has at least one complete fruitcake in their family, or one person who generally treats others with love and kindness but says the most outrageous things about a certain group. She thinks most people think of PR like they think of that slightly loopy old uncle.

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  • http://stevegriffin.no-ip.info Steve Griffin

    No, she was not just speculating about things that might happen in the future. There are specific religious meanings to the word “karma,” and they involve more than speculation. Like Robertson, she was claiming that the truths of her religion would be the downfall of people she disagreed with. Even without specifically disapproving of either person, you can see how the press arbitrarily treated the one different than the other.

  • trierr

    I realize this is quite a bit tardy in terms of response times to blogs, but how does Richard Land’s comments about PR compare to his comments about Bill Clinton prior to the 2004 elections:

    “Said Land: “Speaking personally, the glass I see through is a lot less dark than Bill Clinton’s, evidently.”


    Here, Land intimates that he knows the mind of God better than Clinton.