On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale did unspeakable damage to Haiti, leaving at least one and a half million people homeless and tens of thousands dead. The total numbers at this writing are unknown.
On Wednesday, January 13, Pat Robertson declared that this devastating earthquake was God’s judgment on Haiti for being in league with Satan:
Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French—uh, you know, Napoleon the Third or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And so they kicked the French out of, you know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. The island of Hispanola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is…is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty—same island! Uh, they need to have (and we need to pray for them) a great turning to God.”
The media have jumped all over Robertson for this statement, calling it stupid and insensitive. Even if this were a ‘true story,’ as he claims, it would have been something that occurred two hundred years ago. Robertson didn’t explain either the who (all Haitians?) or the why (some rationale for this alleged pact with the devil affecting several generations). Further, he didn’t check his facts; he simply pronounced ‘true story’ as though by fiat he could make it so. But when he said this rebellion occurred under “Napoleon the Third or whatever,” he was off by a mile. Napoleon the Third was born four years after Haiti gained its independence from France! What confidence should we have in this ‘true story’ if a part of it is demonstrably not true? And when the rest turns out to be merely rumor with no substance, Robertson’s credibility sinks to new lows.
This is not the only thing that is troubling about Robertson’s unfounded declaration; in addition, to the outside world he is viewed as a spokesman for conservative Christianity. Is it any wonder that unbelievers think that conservative Christians are hate-mongers when they see Pat Robertson as one of us?
He doesn’t speak for me, and he doesn’t speak for millions of evangelical Christians in America. It seems to me that people like Robertson are a little too apologetically minded, wanting to defend their peculiar theodicy by finding reason to blame the victims of a natural disaster. This is not the first time he has played this card. I think a more Christian response is to weep with those who weep, and immediately to offer assistance borne of compassion and love. And as I wrestle with the great challenges of theodicy, I am reminded that in the aftermath of a terrible disaster it is genuine believers who truly reveal God’s heart by offering aid and comfort to those who desperately need it. If you want to see what God’s goodness is all about, you need look no further than the merciful deeds of his people. He acts through his children; it is through them that he manifests his love to the world.