Was It Wrong to Criticize Pat Robertson’s Comments about Haiti?

Pat RobertsonI received the following comment about my blog on Haiti and Pat Robertson's comments: I am no fan of Pat Robertson, but I have listened to the clip where he talks of Haiti over and over and I have never heard him even ONE TIME say that God punished or judged Haiti. What Robertson said was that Haiti has been cursed since making a pact with the devil. The difference between those two statements are night and day. You have gone on hearsay to condemn a fellow brother in Christ, and that sickens me. You have misrepresented the facts, either through carelessness or through intent. Either way, you owe an apology to Pat Robertson.

In writing that blog, I did not act on hearsay, but carefully listened to Pat Robertson's broadcast myself. (Click here to read and hear his actual words.)

In my mind, the obvious point of him saying that Haiti had made a pact with the devil was to explain why the earthquake had come. He distinguished Haiti from the Dominican Republic, saying that Haiti has been “cursed by one thing after another”—in context the latest curse could be nothing but the earthquake, which was what was being addressed. The subject was not Haiti in general but the Haiti earthquake in particular. Pat's comments, which I listened to in context twice, were clearly intended to shed light on why the earthquake hit Haiti.

CBN, Robertson’s network, has issued a statement regarding his comments. They claim, “Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath. If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson’s compassion for the people of Haiti is clear.”

In my opinion, the second statement above is entirely accurate. But the first statement is only partly accurate.

I do listen to people’s criticisms and have made several public apologies over the years. So I took this blog reader’s words to heart and watched that portion of the broadcast again. The blog reader argued, "I have never heard him even ONE TIME say that God punished or judged Haiti. What Robertson said was that Haiti has been cursed since making a pact with the devil. The difference between those two statements are night and day."

I respectfully disagree. The difference is NOT night and day. Yes, he did not use words punish or judge. Or as CBN said, “Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.” But the question is whether the words in context meant punish, judge, or the exercise of God’s wrath.

Think with me. Suppose a young man dies in a terrible car accident and people are gathered in my living room, asking "Why?" These are people who are looking to me for spiritual answers. In the context of discussing the accident, I speak up and say this: "A lot of people don't know this and don't like to talk about it, but... the truth is this young man's grandfather made a pact with the devil, and his family has been under a curse ever since. Many terrible things have happened."

Now, what would you naturally understand me to be saying? Undeniably, that there is a direct connection between the young man's death and his grandfather's pact with the devil. Why else would I be saying it? To explain other bad things that have happened to the family over the years? Well, that could be part of my intention, but my clear and unmistakable point would be to explain precisely what we are all talking about in the first place—the young man's car accident.

Suppose when people took offense at this I replied, "But I never said God judged this young man and killed him because of his grandfather's pact with the devil. I never said anything about punishment. What I said was as different from that as night and day!" Well, I didn't use the word "judge" or "punish" but that is exactly what I have claimed, simply using other words. Given the fact that we were talking about the young man’s car accident, how else could anyone in my living room interpret the true meaning of what I said?

Haiti victimsNow, some people DID misrepresent Pat Robertson as saying the people of Haiti didn't deserve our help. You will notice (if you reread my blog post) that I said, "To Robertson’s credit, by the way, he did say we should reach out and help the people of Haiti." I agree with CBN’s statement, “If you watch the entire video segment, Dr. Robertson’s compassion for the people of Haiti is clear.”

I believe it would be slander to say Pat Robertson didn’t express compassion for the people of Haiti. But it is not slander to point out, as I did, that what he said was unfortunate and presumptuous, since we cannot know for certain why the earthquake hit Haiti.

Public figures take on a great responsibility. If it was just my friend who said such a thing at the dinner table, I would talk to him privately. But Pat Robertson is a public figure who is widely understood to be speaking on behalf of other Bible-believing Christians. Since most of us have no private access to Pat Robertson, the only way we can respond, and try to do damage control and correction when unbiblical positions have been taken (e.g. Robertson's endorsement of pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani for the presidency) is to speak out publicly. I take no pleasure in doing this, but when these things happen, to be silent is to appear to agree with what may be misguided and harmful.

In the radio segment I linked to, I emphasized that God does sometimes judge nations and people for their sins, but that we can be certain of this ONLY when the Bible tells us, and not otherwise, because sometimes we will be wrong in saying God is judging people for their sin—e.g. in the cases of Job and the man born blind (John 9:1-3). Many God-fearing people were killed in Haiti, people who never dreamed of making a pact with the devil. And countless God-hating people in many nations continue in prosperity, for the moment. I also emphasized that our nation deserves severe judgment, if for no other reason than our mistreatment of the unborn.

I appreciate much that Pat Robertson has done, and I am glad that most of my careless words, and yours, don’t travel as far as his. I have said many stupid things, and I’m confident every reader has too. But we should seek to be especially careful as more and more people hear us. We’re told, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Teachers of God’s Word have a wider audience than other members of the body, and their potential for misrepresenting God’s Word is great. I am painfully aware of this in my own teaching and writing ministry.

I truly wish our brother Pat Robertson the best. I hope he and all of us will be more careful not to speculate about the specific reasons that disasters fall on people. Job’s friends did that about the causes of Job’s suffering, and Jesus’ disciples did it about the causes of the blind man’s suffering. Scripture makes clear that they were wrong to do so, and we should be careful not to do the same.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries