Pat Robertson on the Haitian Earthquake: Truth, Error, and Distortion

I used to watch the 700 Club with some regularity, but I did not greatly enjoy Pat Robertson. I thought he was a profound Bible teacher, and I still think one of his books, The Secret Kingdom, is among the best of its kind. On the other hand, he liked to give advice about investments, nutrition, politics, etc., and always gave me the impression he really didn't know what he was talking about. Therefore, I am never surprised when he makes a comment that attracts a massive outpouring of criticism and condemnation.

From all accounts, it appears that Robertson has blamed the recent earthquake in Haiti on God's judgment of a pact the Haitian people made with the devil, that God cursed Haiti, and that the earthquake resulted from that curse.


Pat Robertson's comments

Commentary generally portrays him as a smug, racist, judgmental buffoon. I decided to look for his actual remarks. The entire clip displays a toll-free number for CBN's disaster relief fund, and it is evident that it begins in the middle of a conversation. Whoever mounted it on You Tube cut directly to the controversial comment. [The first URL I used is apparently broken. I could not find the same version. With the current link, I refer to the second of two clips.]

Toussaint L'Ouverture
Toussaint L'Ouverture

Robertson's remark, apparently an aside, opens saying that Haitians "were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon III or whatever." He clearly hadn't bothered to bone up on Haitian history, or even French history for that matter. Haiti won its war of independence from the French in 1804, four years before Napoleon III was even born. 

Under French rule, the blacks in Haiti, who vastly outnumbered the whites, included many slaves, but also many freed slaves. In 1790, after the French Revolution had started, the colonial government faced unrest. They could expect no support from Paris, so they decided to grant civil rights to freed slaves, but not to free the rest of the slaves. This half-measure sparked a successful slave revolt, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture. When Napoleon I decided to retake control of Haiti, Toussaint won again.

Did Toussaint make a pact with the devil? Apparently Robertson heard that somewhere and passed it on. His remark simply confirms my decades-old observation that he doesn't know what he's talking about when he's not dealing directly with Scripture.

On the other hand, I have heard about Toussaint's pact with the devil before. I have no idea if it's true, but Robertson's display of ignorance does not mean it's false. And if it's true, it would certainly explain more than two centuries of  political instability and grinding poverty. It would not explain the earthquake. Nothing in Robertson's remarks makes that connection!

Poverty in Haiti even before the earthquake.
Poverty in Haiti even before the earthquake.

After the aside, Robertson declared that the people of Haiti need to turn to God (doesn't everyone?) and that he is optimistic that good will come out of this great tragedy.

This whole dustup repeats an all too familiar pattern, and not just that Pat Robertson displayed his ignorance of some topic to a mass audience. People have again taken one remark, an aside in a plea to fund a disaster relief project, and used it to portray a compassionate man as some kind of monster.

That is how Christians must expect to be treated nowadays. People who care nothing about God are quick to take remarks out of context, twist them, and express outrage. With instant communications, the outrage will go viral, and hardly anyone who adds to it will show any sign of having even seen or heard first hand whatever started the controversy.

So, did Toussaint L'Ouverture or anyone else in Haitian history make a pact with the devil? In the context of responding to the earthquake, it doesn't even matter. Historically accurate or not, the whole discussion is irrelevant.

Consider this familiar passage from John's gospel:

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:1-5, NKJV)

Passing by a blind man, the disciples wanted a theological discussion; Jesus refused to take part in it. In his compassion, his immediate desire was to give sight to the man. To make the point clearer, may I modestly suggest a slight change in punctuation? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But that the works of God should be revealed in him, I must work the works of Him who sent Me."

Healing the man revealed the works of God in him. Analyzing the source of his trouble did not. An outpouring of compassion will also reveal the works of God in Haiti, whereas analyzing the source of its trouble will not.

But don't miss the implication of the last part of Jesus' comment: Jesus is the light of the world. For the blind man to truly see, he must see Jesus. After healing the man's physical vision, he followed up to make sure that the man knew and believed in Jesus as the Son of Man (John 9:35-41). At that, the healing was complete.

We are already seeing the outpouring of compassion for Haiti. People are raising money, gathering supplies and equipment, and even preparing to make whatever personal sacrifices are necessary to go there to help comfort, heal, clean up, and rebuild. That glorifies God, but is not enough by itself.

Robertson rightly declared that Haitians need to turn to God. Their national religion, Voodoo, has nothing to offer to them but false comfort and a national identity that has prevented them from accepting outside help in the past. Only Jesus is the light of the world, and Haiti, like every other nation, must see him in order to complete whatever other healing they receive.

Meanwhile, Jesus did not immediately answer his disciples' question of who sinned, but it does not remain unanswered. Scripture clearly tells us that the man was born blind--and that millions die in earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, traffic accidents, epidemics, etc.--because Adam sinned.

Adam, the generic Hebrew for human being, must be understood as collectively as meaning all of us. Each of us therefore, in order to receive our utmost healing, must see and worship Jesus, the only light of the world. Don't condemn the messenger, no matter how poorly he or she delivers the message. Take it to heart. Repent. Discover the glory of the Lord. And reach out to a hurting and devastated world with God's own compassion.

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Comments 8 comments

itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

A very balanced and impressive hub-I agree with you 100%.


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks, itakins. I appreciate your comment.


Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

This is a very good, thought-provoking hub. But I'm still not sure on where I stand with the Robertson statement, he may not have had all the facts but isn't the gist of it that the wages of sin is death, that there are consequences to evil actions which include practicing voodoo?


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

That is a good question, Cari Jean. I don't know the answer, simply because I do not know if the Haitian revolutionaries actually did perform voodoo ceremonies to dedicate the revolution to voodoo gods. If they did, that would seem to explain the 200+ years of isolation, instability, and poverty Haiti has suffered.

It does not explain the earthquake. That's why I think Jesus' answer to his disciples about the man born blind is a good principle to follow: compassion first, theological questioning later if ever.

By the way, even the secular media report how surviving Haitians praise God and thank Jesus even in the midst of the devastation. In hunger, thirst, and pain (both physical and emotional), many rejoice and give thanks in worse circumstances than any American is ever likely to suffer. Meanwhile, if anyone has reported anything about voodoo ceremonies, I haven't heard it. The same outlets have reported a lot about voodoo in previous stories on Haiti. Maybe we're seeing the return to Christ that Robertson hoped for. If we are, I can hardly wait to see what wonders God will work for them in the near future!


SOBF profile image

SOBF 6 years ago from New York, NY

People - Please perform five minutes of research on the devlish religion you call voodoo (which in actually vodou) and you will find that it is very similar too christianity. The entire problem with this claim that Haitians invoked the Devil in order to win their freedom fails on one very simple fact. There is nothing that resembles the devil in the religion vodou - the devil can only be found in the christian faith and thus the claim of devil worship was of christian origin.

The poverty suffered in Haiti is easily explainable and runs from the international boycott after the rebellion, the 80 year payment of reparations to France for winning their independence, and the occupation of the US that seized all the country assets and payed 40% of its national income to French and American banks for high interest loans taken out to pay the reparations.

These are the reasons for the poverty in Haiti and I doubt that every natural disaster in the history of the world was initiated by a pact with devil.


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

SOBF, you are accurate enough that the devil can be found only in the Christian faith (although it is in Islam, too) and that the claim of devil worship is of Christian origin (although the roots of it can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures). I cannot accept that Vodou is as all similar to Christianity, and I have read your Hub on the subject.

Christianity teaches that the human race at its inception chose to obey Satan rather than God in the Garden of Eden, thus falling into sin; that God,the creator of the universe became a human being, Jesus, to deal with sin; that Jesus died in order to endure the just punishment for sin and rose to life again; and that any other gods are demonic deceptions intended to keep people enslaved to sin. Vodou does not teach that!

I have no interest in getting into an argument. You are entirely correct to point out that anyone who considers Vodou rituals to be demonic is (at least probably) a Christian.

You have pointed out part of the reason for Haiti's poverty in historical and economic terms--and of course, there is much more detail in your Hub and still more in any substantial history of Haiti. Those are natural reasons.

One thing you can legitimately claim that Christianity and Vodou have in common is a belief that activity in the spiritual world has an impact on the natural world. The two religions have very different ideas about what constitutes good and evil in the spirit realm.

From a Christian point of view, it follows that Vodou is the worship of a false god. It also follows that _if_ it arose as a rejection of the Christian church, and _if_ the Haitian revolutionaries dedicated their new nation to it, that their demonic god, caring nothing about their well being, would let them down. I do not know, historically, if either of the conditions in that last sentence are correct, but if they are, it gives a spiritual reason behind the agreed facts of Haitian history.

I remember that during the Duvalier years, most of the news from Haiti referred in some way to the regime's (and the country's) devotion to Vodou. What strikes me most about the news coverage since the earthquake is the complete absence of references to Vodou and the sheer number of Haitian people who praise Jesus on camera--and that despite my general sense that our news networks are somewhat biased against Christianity. From my view, if the nation truly turns to the living God, it has a future as bright as the past two centuries have been painful.

Oh, one more thing. Every natural disaster in the history of the world _was_ initiated by a pact with the devil--the pact that occurred in Eden. God through Christ is in the process of undoing it. The disasters are not God's judgment on sin. They are the result of Adam's unwitting decision to let Satan run the world.


dan 6 years ago

I wouldnt trust his scriptural interpretations either. if he boldly lies about one thing or another then he cant be trusted at all. Isa 8:20 if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is NO LIGHT in them.


allpurposeguru profile image

allpurposeguru 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

dan, you could be right, but I don't equate speaking ignorantly with lying.

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