Religious leaders on Tuesday denounced religious broadcaster Pat Robertson for saying United States operatives should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Monday’s “700 Club” broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network profiled the socialist president of the oil-rich Latin American nation, comparing him to Fidel Castro.
Chavez has accused the United States of trying to assassinate him and predicted that if it happened Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, would stop exporting 1.3 million barrels a day to the U.S. and send them elsewhere.
Robertson said Chavez has “has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he’s going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.”
“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…. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists called Robertson’s remarks on a Christian program “disgraceful” and “disgusting.”
Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said Robertson’s call for violence should be condemned by American officials.
“It is deplorable for a Christian preacher to go before his vast audience and urge the American government to murder a foreign leader,” Lynn said. “His bloodthirsty commentary is over the top, even by Pat’s rather elastic standard.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Robertson “illustrates what happens when fundamentalist Christians ignore the social teachings of Jesus and use their religious platforms to advance naked aggression against others—they sound like their ideological kinsmen within Islamic fundamentalism.”
Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches called Robertson’s call to murder a foreign leader “appalling to the point of disbelief.”
“It defies logic that a clergyman could so casually dismiss thousands of years of Judeo-Christian law, including the commandment that we are not to kill,” Edgar said. “It defies logic that this so-called evangelist is using his media power not to win people to faith but to encourage them to support the murder of a foreign leader.”
Edgar, a former six-term congressman, was one of 12 members of the House Select Committee on Assassinations from 1976 to 1979.
Lynn said President Bush should “immediately disavow Robertson and his extremist rhetoric.”
Robertson ran for president in 1988 with the support of many leaders in the religious right. Jimmy Draper, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention who now heads LifeWay Christian Resources, hosted a reception for then-candidate Robertson at the SBC annual meeting in 1987.
“Regrettably, the Republican Party has validated Robertson’s legitimacy over so many years that he and other members of the religious right are seen as theological representatives of the White House,” Parham said. That “diminishes the global perception of the goodness and common sense of the American people.”
After his failed presidential bid, Robertson started the Christian Coalition, a grassroots religious right organization that today claims 1.2 million members.
Robertson, who started CBN in 1960, has a history of controversial remarks.
Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Robertson agreed with Jerry Falwell’s statement blaming liberals, feminists, abortionist and gays for making America vulnerable by removing God from the public square.
“We have a court that has essentially stuck its finger in God’s eye and said we’re going to legislate you out of the schools,” Robertson said. “We’re going to take your commandments from off the courthouse steps in various states. We’re not going to let little children read the commandments of God. We’re not going to let the Bible be read, no prayer in our schools. We have insulted God at the highest levels of our government. And, then we say, ‘Why does this happen?’ Well, why it’s happening is that God Almighty is lifting his protection from us.”
In 2003 he said someone should use a nuclear device to blow up the U.S. State Department. He once urged supporters to pray that God would move three justices on the Supreme Court to retire. He accused the Bush administration of removing a Christian president in Liberia and replacing him with Islamic insurgents. This spring he said “activist” judges are a greater threat to America than terrorists.
He described homosexuals as “self-absorbed narcissists who are willing to destroy any institution so long as they can have an affirmation of their lifestyle,” and said Islam teaches violence “at its core.”
Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, said Robertson “and other extremists have hijacked our faith and they are destroying the credibility of the gospel in the eyes of the world.”
“There ought to be some way to distinguish Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus from those who wear the label while ignoring the teachings of Christ and defaming the name of Jesus–particularly when they literally advocate violence on a broadcast beamed around the world,” Prescott said.
Venezuela’s vice president on Tuesday accused Robertson of making “terrorist statements” and suggested how Washington responds to Robertson’s comments would put its anti-terrorism policy to the test.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.