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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