Yes, maybe the End Times have come. A couple of weeks ago in this column, I found myself defending the Rev. Jerry Falwell over the issue of Christmas. Today, I find myself wondering why televangelist Pat Robertson—host of The 700 Club, founder of the Christian Coalition, and sometime prayer buddy of George W. Bush—has suddenly become a pariah.
Robertson was roundly criticized last week for his remarks regarding Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's life-threatening stroke. Robertson, invoking the words of the biblical prophet Joel, suggested that God was punishing Sharon for dividing Israel by giving Gaza to the Palestinians. "God has enmity against those who 'divide my land,'" Robertson said. "And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations, or the United States of America. God says, 'This land belongs to me.' You better leave it alone."
Sharon's massive cerebral hemorrhage was God's doing, Robertson was saying.
The remarks generated instant outrage.
The Los Angeles Times quoted American evangelical Christian leaders who attempted to distance their faith from Robertson's. "I'm appalled that Pat Robertson would make such statements. He ought to know better," Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the paper. Land said, "The arrogance of the statement shocks me almost as much as the insensitivity of it."
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, called the remarks "outrageous" and not something he would expect "from any of our friends." The sense of betrayal is due to the fact that Robertson is a supporter of Israel and has been an admirer of Sharon.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement condemning Robertson. "It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel's leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians. His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don't see God as cruel and vengeful."
As the firestorm heated up, the White House, which has been frequently embarrassed by its friends, felt compelled to issue a statement condemning his views. "Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don't have a place in this or any other debate," said presidential spokesperson Trent Duffy.
But I don't understand what Robertson did that was so wrong. He simply expressed his belief that there was divine intervention in the political and military affairs of people at war in the so-called Holy Land.
Whether or not you agree with Sharon's politics or Robertson's faith or timing, surely speculating that God had a hand in things is not an unprecedented concept for their region. It's very familiar to anyone who reads and believes in the word of the Bible. Is anyone surprised that Pat Robertson is a Christian fundamentalist?
We know, contrary to what Foxman says, that the God of the Bible is often cruel, dealing plagues, locusts, boils, and misery upon individuals (ask Job) as well as untold generations. In Genesis, he floods the earth and wipes out almost all of humankind because of our "wickedness." In Revelation, he orders the "seven golden bowls" of his wrath to be poured upon humanity. In between, he expects strict religious and political obedience. In Psalms, we are told: "Now, therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled."
God of the Bible is angry from beginning to end. He is territorial, political, and actively engaged in human affairs, especially the affairs of the Middle East. With this profile, smiting Ariel Sharon seems entirely in character. Rather than Robertson's remarks being "un-Christian" and a "perversion of religion," they seem true to its word.
And while the White House allegedly finds Robertson's comments "offensive," how seriously can we take this complaint when the chief occupant of that residence asks for God to guide his hand in running the war against terrorism? Bush frequently invokes God and the Bible, as when he discussed the lessons of Noah after Hurricane Katrina. In 2004, he reportedly told an audience of Amish in Pennsylvania that God speaks through him. Palestinian leaders recounted to the BBC that during a meeting with Bush in 2003, he claimed that God told him to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and directs his policies in the Middle East, including his goal of getting a homeland for the Palestinians, an idea that, according to Robertson, would put Bush on the wrong side of God. The White House has denied these reports, yet they seem utterly consistent with what we know of his faith. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans has said the president believes he was called by God to lead our nation.
If the idea that God anointed Bush is theologically acceptable, why is it so "offensive" to consider that the same God knocked Ariel Sharon out of commission? Is it because divinity contradicts administration policy?
A spokesperson for Robertson, Angell Watts, was quoted defending Robertson, saying, "This is what the word of God says. This is nothing new to the Christian community."
Not new, perhaps, but apparently discomfiting to believers who are in denial about the basic text of their faith.