Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Christian Policy of Assassination?

It probably comes as little surprise to most readers that I tend not to support the statements of Pat Robertson. But recent remarks on his "700 Club" broadcast really take the cake. He has all but called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Now, I don't know enough about Venezuelan politics to comment very far, but it sounds like Chavez is not the best of leaders. But the fact that one of the most prominent Christian leaders in the country would suggest killing a foreign leader is absolutely appalling.

Take a look at these quotes:
"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
From a purely secular logic, some of this might make sense. But aren't we as Christians to be held to a higher standard? It is the privilege of God to kill an ungodly ruler. It is not a privilege humans may enjoy (unless commanded by God to do so, and unless Robertson's had some communication from the Almighty that he's not telling us about, he's had no such instruction. Even this is in extremely rare cases!). To do so would be vigilantism. Or, to be more blunt, it would be murder.

Already the Bush administration is trying to distance themselves from Robertson's remarks. They've been accused by Chavez a number of times already of working to have him assassinated, which they naturally deny. (Even if they were, one expects they're not stupid enough to announce it beforehand. One could even argue that Robertson is spoiling the administrations plans! But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.) US relations with Venuzuela (indeed, with most foreign countries) are on shaky ground as it is. We certainly don't need such remarks making matters worse!

And perhaps even more importantly, such remarks from a prominent Christian leader do great damage to the reputation of Christianity. Venezuelan vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel perhaps made this point the best in his sarcastic remarks about Robertson's statement: "very Christian." If we are to be an evangelical witness to the world, we absolutely must be different than all the secular leaders of the world.

Or perhaps the Christian leaders actually are being different, and that's the scariest thing of all. How did it happen to become the case that the leaders known for their "Christian faith" seem to be the ones lobbying for assassinations, preemptive wars, and other generally oppressive behaviors, while the "secular" leaders are the ones calling for peace through negotiation and diplomacy?

UPDATE: August 24, 2005 - It appears that Robertson is trying to backpedal. I'll just quote the appropriate part of this article:

"I didn't say 'assassination,'" Robertson said Wednesday on his Christian Broadcast Network show "The 700 Club" about remarks reported by The Associated Press and other media outlets.

"I said our special forces should 'take him out."Take him out' could be a number of things including kidnapping.

"There are a number of ways of taking out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP, but that happens all the time."

But a video of Monday's telecast shows that Robertson's exact words were: "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

Sounds pretty much like "assassination" to me. And even if we grant the possibility that he's not talking strictly about killing, he's still going way over the line.

FURTHER UPDATE: A couple of hours later - Robertson has apologized. (And click here for the full version of the press release) If I had any belief that he actually had a clue what he'd done wrong, I'd be more impressed. Robertson rightly cites Dietrich Bonhoeffer's reasoning to join a group that would have assassinated Adolf Hitler. But Robertson neglects to mention that Bonhoeffer still considered assassination wrong, even if it was better than any alternatives. Why can't we have this level of complex reasoning today?

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