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.]
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!
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.