Pat Robertson, founder and host of the “700 Club,” demonstrated this past week just how far right wing Christianity has drifted from the teachings of Jesus. During a recent telecast, Robertson said that he believes the United States should assassinate Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.
The remark came during one of Robertson’s characteristic tirades. He does this quite often on his show. He will zero in on some issue and rant about it, seemingly unrehearsed given the rambling character of his speech, until he either runs out of steam or gets interrupted by one of his colleagues.
In regard to Chavez, Robertson said the U.S. government ought to go ahead and assassinate the Venezuelan leader “because it’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.” Robertson accused Chavez of allowing his country to become a “launching pad for communism and Muslim extremism.”
For Chavez’s part, he’s no Boy Scout. He has been openly critical of President Bush, even referring to him as a “jerk.” Relations between the United States and Venezuela have become strained as Chavez has built strong ties to Cuba. That a confrontation is looming sometime in the future is very possible. But if we plan to assassinate all world leaders that might give us trouble down the road, we are going need a lot of bullets.
I would be the first to admit that it is probably not practical to believe that the radical character of Jesus’ teaching can be fully incorporated into a national policy. It’s just not going to happen that nation states will ever “turn the other cheek,” or “resist not evil.”
But through the centuries Jesus’ words against violence have created a climate in which some governments, including our own at times, have viewed violence and war as actions of last resort. There has even evolved over time what is known as the “just war theory.” This theory serves as a moral guide for political leaders contemplating war.
The fact that such a theory exists and that politicians at least give lip service to having considered its wisdom, stands as a monument to the power of Jesus’ vision. Because of him we at least pause a moment before we pull the trigger.
But what happens when Christian leaders, the folks who are supposed to be most in touch with Jesus, abandon his wisdom? Whatever reluctance to use violence may have existed as a result of Jesus’ teaching disappears entirely as Christian spokespersons distort the message the way Robertson has done.
This is but one symptom of deeply rooted problem among evangelicals. Christians are all too glad to embrace Jesus as the one who can save us and give us eternal life. But when it comes time to live our lives, his life is not seriously regarded as a role model for us.
There is lip service given to “what would Jesus do,” but oftentimes what we actually do, even in Jesus’ name, bears no connection to the things he taught and the ideas he cared about. Our neglect of the poor and our love of violence stand as two striking examples.
Even though Robertson later apologized for his remarks, it is hard not wonder how a Christian leader could even think such a thing. It would appear that Robertson has been more influenced by the gun slinger culture of the Wild West than by the sober teaching of Jesus about violence. In Tombstone, the sheriff may go down to the OK Corral and shoot the bad guys before they get out of hand. But the vision of Jesus suggests that we try to overcome evil with good, not with more evil.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.