Religion-based bigotry has been the mainstay of Rev. Pat Robertson’s bully pulpit. And he mounts this pulpit as an uber-God, possessed with an inherent omniscience in knowing not only the mundane and wicked thoughts and actions of man but also in knowing the cataclysmic actions of God’s wrath on man.
While scientists explain Haiti’s recent natural disaster as an earthquake due to a fault it sits on along the border between two large tectonic plates – the North American plate to the north, and the Caribbean plate to the south – that slowly slide horizontally past each other, Robertson explains the disaster as “Something [that] happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.”
The something that happened a long time ago was an earthquake on the same fault in 1860. And this fault is the same type as the San Andreas Fault in California – a “strike-slip” fault.
During an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network the day after the earthquake, televangelist Robinson said “Many years ago, the island’s people ‘swore a pact to the devil.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ They kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”
Haiti didn’t have much before the quake, and what little it had has now been taken away.
But for those who subscribe to Robertson’s theodicy – imbued with violent apocalyptic images and cryptic messages of a God who must punish the “unfaithful” – this disaster is a deserved suffering Haiti is experiencing; and therefore, for Haiti to wash away its sins of the past, this disaster is an act of redemptive suffering.
Robertson’s deification of violence and natural disasters as redemptive suffering has deleterious implications that are not-so-benignly played out today.
For example, Robertson blamed 9/11 terrorist attack on pagans, abortionists, feminists, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.
When I gave a sermon about 9/11, a parishioner came up to me after church and told me she thought the Twin Towers needed to burn down as a symbolic act of God’s wrath against NYC’s LGBTQ community in Greenwich Village. She said the Towers crumbling symbolized the demise of the twin evil cities Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
And when Hurricane Katrina hit, not surprisingly, Robertson blamed it as God’s disapproval to America’s abortion policy, stating, “But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? ”
But some blamed Katrina on LGBTQ people.
For example, Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast just two days before Labor Day weekend in 2005, when New Orleans’s annual Queer “Southern Decadence” festival was to begin. While floods are a regular part of life in the lowlands of Louisiana and hurricanes are frequent occurrences all along the coastline, Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, an evangelical organization calling for “a nation in rebellion toward God” to reverse itself, had this to say: “We believe that God is in control of the weather. The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter were flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the street. We’re calling it an act of God.” For these conservative religious groups, the flood was a prayer finally answered and a sin finally addressed.
While suffering points to the need for redemption, suffering in and of itself is not redemptive, and it does not always correlate to one’s sinfulness. But rather, a person’s suffering or a people’s suffering, like Haiti’s, should serve as a lens to critically examine the connections between the abuses of power and its victimization of the helpless.
In other words, when suffering is understood as an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for, we can then begin to see its manifestation in systems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, religion-based bigotry not only in our everyday lives but also in the world.
For example, Haiti’s political and economic state has largely been due to both U.S. and European intervention. In 1791, Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave rebellion defeating Napoleon’s army winning Haiti’s its independence in 1804. Fearful that the Haitian revolution might inspire enslaved Africans in other parts of the world to rebel, bringing an end to slavery worldwide, US Congress banned trade with Haiti joining French and Spanish boycotts. These embargoes crippled Haiti’s economy to this day.
But for Robertson Haiti’s suffering is easily explained:“[Haitians] need to have a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come,”
Robertson sees God as punishing, damning and dominating. His God is to be feared.
And he sees the world as evil and filled with demons and devils we must fight.
Perhaps, if Robertson dismounted his bully pulpit for jsut a moment, he might find his own countenance in the demons and devils he’s fighting.