Rescue crews hadn’t even begun to unload supplies before Pat Robertson began to upbraid Haitians for their “pact with the devil.”
Robertson said Haitians joined forces with Satan’s army. “They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ They kicked the French out. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.”
That curse includes punishing poverty, howling hurricanes and now an earthquake so violent the foundations of their finest buildings have crumbled like Graham crackers in the hands of a toddler, leaving an untold number buried alive and many more dead.
While more compassionate souls offered help with antibiotics, bandages and cases of bottled water, Robertson offered advice: “[Haitians] need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God.”
His callous comments drew push-back.
“Go to hell Pat Robertson – and the sooner the better,” said the Rev. Paul Raushenbush, a Baptist minister and editor at the Huffington Post. “Don’t speak for Haiti – and don’t speak for God.”
Ari Rabin-Havt, vice president of communications and research at Media Matters, suggested that Robertson’s comments “represent right-wing media figures’ willingness to use any tragedy to forward its own agenda.” (Of course, Mr. Rabin-Havt’s response appears to represent his own left-leaning agenda to bash right-wingers.)
Everyone is so focused on berating Robertson that they have completely missed how he reached his conclusions.
“The island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle,” Robertson explained. “On one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous today, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God.”
Robertson is right about one thing: We Americans equate prosperity as proof of God’s favor. People of all faith traditions believe God rewards those he loves best with material blessings.
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No longer is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – the most quoted Bible verse.
It’s been replaced by Jeremiah 29:11 – “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
This notion that God desires us to be wealthy is not new. “It has been the warp and woof of the American soul since the Puritans came over with their divine enlightenment and Calvinistic work ethic,” said Michael Spencer, a biblical scholar and the author behind InternetMonk.com.
Spencer is one of the prosperity gospel’s most vocal critics. The prosperity gospel maintains that God wants us to have bigger homes, better cars, that job promotion and better health. It is most often linked to the Word of Faith movement and to its leaders: Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts and now America’s most popular preacher, Joel Osteen. Osteen urges his followers to “expect God’s favor.”
Spencer says the prosperity gospel takes its purest form here in America: “It is deeply wound up in who we are and far more mainstream than Joel Osteen. I grew up hearing my entire life that if you tithe, God will pay all your bills.”
Like most TV evangelists, Robertson preaches the “law of reciprocity”: give money to God and he’s going to give it back to you 10 times over. Embedded in this theology, however, is the misguided belief that material goodies come our way because we’ve been faithful to God. And if bad things are happening? Then, we need to straighten up, fly right and return to God.
What Robertson has done in the name of Jesus is deplorable. But perhaps even more troubling is the insidious ways in which all of us continue to buy into this notion that God loves Americans best and that we are the people who honor him most, which is why we are so rich, so beautiful, so smart and so immune to the sorts of disasters decimating other “pagan” people.
While it’s true that having money can inoculate a people and a nation against some diseases and some disasters, wealth should never be considered proof of God’s love or favor toward a people or a country. Nor should it be the standard by which we judge – or misjudge – a people or a nation’s devotion toward God.
Perhaps we would all do well to remember the one thing Jesus did promise us: “In this world, there will be trouble” (John 16:33).
The question for believers and unbelievers alike is not why there is trouble, but what are we doing to help alleviate the suffering it creates?
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of the forthcoming “Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? ‘Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV.”