Alone, in his television studio … he can say almost anything he wants. Alone, in his studio, airing his own show, he can spew venom and make up facts. If I were to say such things, you would walk out, or stand and turn your backs in protest. And well you might.
But, alone in his studio on his own show, he can make up what he wants. He can make it up out of whole cloth, claim it to be true and broadcast it around the world. Alone, from his studio in Virginia Beach, Virginia, he can - he has! - claimed that Hurricane Katrina is God's punishment for a liberal America.
Just the other day, sporting a green suit jacket and orange tie, he said - and this was broadcast around the world and quoted and re-quoted in print, and television and blogs - that the country of Haiti brought down upon itself the wrath of God. Alone, in the isolation of his television studio, he said that Haiti swore a pact to the devil; that the earthquake was God's vengeful response. He claimed that the catastrophe of that earthquake is the fault of the people of Haiti, that they asked for it, they had it coming.
Alone in his television studio with no one to contradict him, Pat Robertson, televangelist, gave his version of a thumbnail sketch of the history of Haiti. In order to get out from under the heel of the French, said Robertson, the people of Haiti swore a pact to the devil. The earthquake, he said, was there punishment. "True story," he said.
And there was no one to contract him.
There was no one to tell him that Haitians rose up against slave masters and threw them off. No one to say that Haiti is the only nation whose independence was gained as a part of a successful rebellion of enslaved persons, throwing off and overcoming cruel oppressors. There was no one to challenge his racism, or his Christian triumphalism, or to turn their backs and walk out on him.
In addition, because what he said was so shokcing, it has been quoted and quoted and quoted. The Youtube video has massive amounts of hits. I suspect that in the past few days the words of no other Christian or minister have been quoted more than those of Pat Robertson.
Robertson can say whatever he wants and make it up because he is isolated in a complex of luxurious buildings in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Now, here's the contrast; here is the difference; it is all the difference in the world:
The people of Israel are returned home to Jerusalem after hundreds of years of Babylonian captivity and exile. Their great city, Jerusalem, lies in ruins and their homes are rubble. But they are home. They are back. They are free. They start to rebuild. They rebuild the walls of Jerusalem … they rebuild the great Temple, the center of their lives, the home and house of God. Stone upon stone upon stone they begin to rebuild.
Slowly and steadily, the rubble begins to take shape. Slowly, slowly by the sweat of their brows and the strength of their backs and the courage of their spirits the city begins again to take shape: out of the rubble arise walls, homes, shops, streets … the Temple.
And then, as their first act of community, they all gather together. Everyone comes together. Old and young. Male and female. Rich and poor. Wise and foolish. Forlorn and hopeful. Broken and whole. They all come together. Everyone!
They come together at the Water Gate … right under the walls of the great city of Jerusalem. Everyone is there. This free people who are just returned home to their land, they are all there.
And they say to Ezra (now Ezra is a scribe, so he reads and writes better than most; he was voted the best out-loud-reader in all of Israel! But there is something else about Ezra. Ezra has a James Earl Jones voice, or a Martin Luther King, Jr. voice. He has the kind of voice that simply has to say the word "Freedom" to send chills down your spine)" "Ezra", they say, "Go get it, Ezra. Bring it here. Go get the book Ezra, the one that tells about Moses, and Pharaoh and freedom. Go get the book, Ezra, and bring it here and read it to us. Read aloud to us Ezra. Read aloud the story of our freedom … the story of how God heard our cries, our moans, our pain, our despair. Ezra, we want you to read aloud to us the story of how God rescued us …and loved us, and escorted us through the wilderness, and brought us to a good and broad land, a land of milk and honey."
Ezra disappears to fetch the book.
While Ezra is away, the people settle in for a good story … a great story. They lay blankets down and unpack toys for the kids. They open their picnic baskets and the settle in. They wait for Ezra, and as they wait they look around at the city they have rebuilt from rubble. They see how beautiful it is.
Ezra returns. He opens the book. The guy with the James Earl Jones voice … or maybe the Martin Luther King, Jr. voice … opens the book.
An amazing thing happens. They stand. As if on cue. Everyone last one of them stands: the old ones and the young ones, the male and the female, the wise and the foolish, the poor and the rich, the goatherd and the high priest, the mothers and the barren ones, the forlorn and the hope-filled, the broken and the whole …. Every last one of them stands in the presence of the story, their story, of freedom … in the presence of God, whose story this is … who is their story's hero.
Here's the thing … here is where Pat Robertson failed. It says it so clearly in the eighth chapter of the Book of Nehemiah. It says it so clearly: all the people gathered together read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. And, it says right there in the Book of Nehemiah, the passage that tells this story, that they gave the sense of it so that the people understood it.
It's not easy understanding God. God's ways are mysterious … sometime inaccessible, impenetrable. It takes a community, a whole community to read and understand this book that is at our center.
The book can be complicated. It needs to be approached carefully. In the wrong hands it can be dangerous. That's why we do it together … that's why we study it, discuss it. If I get it wrong, badly wrong, you will let me know. You will turn your back or walk out.
God and God's word require our communal attention. It can't be read or understood from the isolation and privacy of a TV studio.
Let me give you an example. Imagine a bunch of slave owners getting together for a prayer breakfast. (Powerful men seem to like prayer breakfasts … have you noticed this?) A bunch of slave owners are gathered together for a Power Prayer Breakfast. They are enjoying eggs scrambled by their slaves, and crisp bacon cured and fried by their slaves (yum … so good) and orange juice just squeezed by their slaves.
They are at a prayer breakfast and they open the book, the Bible, and they read that slaves shall be subject to their masters (they all nod) and that women shall be ruled by their husbands (they nod).
Those slave owners taste those words … they are to them as sweet as honey. But to the enslaved person who is refilling their cups with steaming coffee, the words are bitter. More than bitter … worse than bitter … they taste rotten, putrid.
That's the point of this story from the Book of Nehemiah: it takes everyone to understand. Everyone one was there: rich and poor, male and female, young and old … everyone was there and it takes everyone, the whole community, to read and understand this book together.
If something tastes sweet in my mouth and rotten in yours, then we have a problem.
The word of God, when it is rightly interpreted … it will be sweet for everyone. That's the trick, the interpretive key we need to know … if it is only sweet for a powerful few and if it is bitter, poisonous, killing for a majority, we don't have it right. (Pat Robertson doesn't have it right.) We need to work at it together, study it together in the context of our varied and disparate lives. When we arrive at a place where everyone can agree it is sweet as honey, then we are hearing God.
Maybe you know this. Maybe you know that some years ago Pat Robertson sold his Christian Broadcasting Network to ABC, which in turn, is owned by the Walt Disney Company.
So, in fact, while Robertson owns his own studio and while the 700 Club is his program, it airs courtesy of ABC. Here's another way of putting it: Pat Robertson is a product of Walt Disney.
After Hurricane Katrina - after Robertson proclaimed that the hurricane was the hand of God lifted against a liberal nation - ABC added a disclaimer that appears each time Robertson's 700 Club airs: "This show does not necessarily represent the views of ABC."
I believe, however, that by continuing to air the 700 Club, ABC is harboring a hateful and dangerous man … a man whose words and views are poisonous … hateful and racist … a man who is morally criminal.
I have written to ABC … to their chief information officer and board of directors. This is what I wrote:
Sirs/Madams of ABC Family's Board of Directors:
It is long past time to sever ABC Family's contract with Pat Robertson. His words are heinous. No disclaimer (i.e., "does not represent the views of ABC Family") undoes the harm and pain he causes. Nor does your disclaimer free or buffer you from accountability for airing his hateful views.
We live in perilous times. There is so much hate, ignorance and violence abroad upon the earth. Robertson is among the purveyors of the kind of hate and ignorance that engenders violence. ABC Family gives Robertson voice. ABC Family gives him stature and credibility. ABC Family gives Robertson safe harbor.
I understand that you have contract - a pact - with Robertson. You know and I know that there is no legal pact that cannot be broken with the assistance of excellent attorneys and a little money, both of which I suspect you have in abundance.
Gentlemen and Gentle Ladies of the board of ABC Family: it is long past time to break the pact you swore to Robertson. Do the right thing. Rise to the occasion. Muster the moral will.
Nancy S. Taylor
It is the work of God and the work of the Church, not to add to this world's pain, but to ease it. Not to add to the divisiveness, but to heal it. Not to heap suffering upon suffering, but to bear witness to love. Not to participate in hate … but to stand up to it … and to practice the arts of gentleness, forbearance, hospitality and grace.
We cannot do these things in solitariness … only in community.
This is our work. This is our calling. This is our purpose. We have much to do. Let's get to it.