“World Magazine” senior editor Marvin Olasky says Pat Robertson’s call for the murder of a Latin American leader doesn’t represent evangelicals, but that the Bible would condone assassination during a time of war.
“Biblically, assassination may be used in times of war,” Olasky said Tuesday on MSBNC. “Last time I looked we were not at war with Venezuela. We’re supposed to pray for those in government and those around the world in positions of leadership, not assassinate them.”
Olasky said Robertson “doesn’t represent a Christian view as far as his interpretation of Scripture, and I’m not sure how many people he represents in the evangelical community. He ran for president 17 years ago, and at the peak of his popularity he didn’t get a whole lot of votes, so I’m not sure what clout he really these days either.”
Olasky, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, coined the term “compassionate conservatism.” He also created the concept of “directed reporting,” where Christian journalists strive not for objectivity but factual accuracy shaped by a “biblical” worldview, a philosophy embraced by Baptist Press.
Asked by anchor Norah O’Donnell whether Robertson was right that evangelicals are concerned about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Olasky said, “Oh sure, there’s concern about Chavez.”
“From everything I’ve read, he’s a dictator. He probably rigged the last election, and so should really not be in office,” he continued. “But that still doesn’t give you a rationale for going and assassinating him.
“There are particular ways to act: pray for those in that situation, hope God will change that situation, but we’re not supposed to be taking the law into our own hands in a vigilante style like that–or asking our government to do things when we’re not at war with a country.”
Robertson, 75, at first said on Wednesday that he was misinterpreted, but later he backtracked and issued an apology. “Is it right to call for assassination?” he said in a statement on his Web site. “No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him.”
There are several stories of assassination in the Old Testament. David, while hiding in the Judean wilderness, had two opportunities to kill Saul, who was seeking to assassinate him, but declined out of respect for Saul’s office.
In II Samuel 4, David ordered execution of soldiers who assassinated a son of Saul’s while he slept in his house. Deut. 27:24 pronounces a curse on “he who strikes his neighbor in secret.”
In Judges 3, however, a left-handed man named Ehud, who assassinates a Moabite king, is hailed as a deliverer. Joab, David’s commander in chief, dispatches of one enemy in II Samuel 20 by grabbing his beard while pretending to kiss him and thrusting a sword into his belly.
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics disputed Olasky’s interpretation that the Bible allows room for political assassination today.
“Olasky’s half-baked biblical literalism is wrong headed,” Parham said. “Biblical stories about human behavior do not mean those actions are always moral. King David’s assassination of Uriah is a perfect example of a story about assassination that doesn’t justify assassination. Hopefully, Olasky knows better than to say that biblical references to prostitution and polygamy justify those practices.”
Robertson, who on Tuesday’s “700 Club” broadcast said of Chavez: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.”
On Wednesday, however, he claimed he was misrepresented on a “slow news day.”
“I didn’t say assassination,” Robertson said at the beginning of the show. “I said our special forces should take him out. Take him out can be a number of things including kidnapping. There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted.”
A State Department official termed Robertson’s original remark “inappropriate,” and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he knew of no consideration ever having been given to assassinating Chavez.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “should immediately rebuke and disassociate the administration from Robertson’s comments.”
Fellow conservative Rob Schenk, president of the National Clergy Council, called on Robertson to “immediately apologize, retract his statement and clarify what the Bible and Christianity teaches about the permissibility of taking human life outside of law,” in a statement quoted by the New York Times.
Other conservative Christian organizations, the Times reported, were silent, with leaders at the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition saying through spokesmen that they were too busy to comment.
Southern Baptist Convention president Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., distanced himself from Robertson. “The Southern Baptist Convention does not support or endorse public statements concerning assassinations of persons, even if they are despicable despots of foreign countries, and neither do I,” Welch said in Baptist Press.
Welch, a decorated war hero in Viet Nam who applied military imagery to spiritual warfare throughout his 2004 book You, The Warrior Leader, in 2003 defended Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin against criticism over framing the war in Iraq as a religious war, calling Boykin “an unbelievable patriot” and his critics “backstabbers.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.