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Who would Jesus assassinate?

Caruso, Gary | Friday, August 26, 2005

August is James Bond month on the AMC cable television channel. So it should have come as no surprise to anyone hooked on 007 that earlier this week Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, advocated the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It seems that the dog days of summer have overtaken sanity in some Christian circles with an illogically conceived question, “Who would Jesus assassinate?”

On his “700 Club” television broadcast, originally conceived as a vehicle to spread God’s word, Robertson described Chavez as “a terrific danger.” In Robertson’s view, a U.S. initiated assassination would be “a whole lot cheaper than starting a $200 billion war … and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” President Chavez has regularly criticized the United States, the largest importer of Venezuelan oil, for conspiring to topple his government and possibly backing plots to assassinate him.

Robertson has oftentimes wandered down many controversial political and social paths in the name of moral righteousness. His past is checkered with hypocrisy and human failings although he anoints himself as the moral spokesman for our nation. He preached against the evils of gambling while he owned a profitable race horse. After the attacks of September 11, he agreed with fellow evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell that feminists and gays were to blame for the attacks. Robertson recently reaffirmed his belief that judges appointed by Democrats are a greater threat to the United States than Al Qaeda, Nazi Germany or the Civil War.

First and foremost Robertson is a conservative Republican whose failed 1988 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination led to his founding of the Christian Coalition of America, a vast conservative political organization that aims to “give Christians a voice in their government again.” He consistently manipulates scripture to promote his political agenda. Following the 2004 election, Robertson proclaimed that “George Bush has the favor of heaven” and that “God has honored him.” When asked if former President Bill Clinton was also chosen by God, Robertson replied, “I think He [God] wanted to bring America to its knees so we’d start praying harder.”

Catholics make a grave mistake when they embrace one-issue politics and are too lazy to formulate their own unique political messages. Last fall a Catholic mass televised from the Midwest featured a priest whose homily warned of many social dangers and pitfalls including “secular humanism,” one of Robertson’s more popular code phrases. The priest, to make his point, dipped into Robertson’s entire rhetorical stable of warped so-called moral values while identifying with Robertson’s opposition to abortion. Unfortunately, those clever metaphors are nothing more than Robertson’s personal opinions twisted for his own political impact and gain.

The New York Times recently examined so-called “mega” evangelical churches emerging throughout the nation. Like Robertson’s “700 Club,” every mega church emphasized coincidentally similar themes not often accorded to scripture by other Christian institutions but used to increase membership. Each promoted feel-good marketing initiatives as tenets of their ministries by offering secular advice for raising children, controlling weight, reaching career goals and eliminating personal debt. Each concluded that we can best serve God when we in turn have our personal houses in order.

Pope John Paul II coined the “culture of life” phrase now hijacked by the American conservative political movement. The Vatican consistently defines “culture of life” as one that opposes all forms of man-initiated death, namely abortion, capital punishment and warfare. Yet many conservative American Catholics themselves become “Cafeteria Catholics” by rejecting the Vatican in favor of the Robertson style of politics. As one-issue voters, they identify with Robertson’s fight against abortion, but contrary to Catholic teaching turn a blind eye to embrace warfare and capital punishment.

The immediate challenge for Democrats is to ensure that each voter considers a variety of matters during an election cycle rather than rally around a single issue. It is a rouse for Catholics to accept Republicans as the party of life while not holding them accountable for warfare and capital punishment. With hope of overturning abortion laws, many hard working, one-issue voters will reject a whole slate of personally friendly Democratic economic and labor proposals (ones mega churches conclude helps them to best serve God) and band against their own personal interests in favor of the culture of life espoused by pro-business Republicans.

At times, missteps by those like Pat Robertson who manipulate scripture for political gain lose their cloaks of invincibility, laying bare their true motives and style of political discourse. Would Jesus ever advocate one government assassinating another’s president? A spokeswoman for the Christian Broadcasting Network told the BBC, “We are at a time of war, and Pat had war on his mind when he made the comments.”

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a political strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at hottline@aol.com.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.