Religion-based bigotry has been the mainstay of Rev. Pat Robinson‚Äôs 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‚Äôs wrath on man.
While scientists explain Haiti‚Äôs 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, Robinson explains the disaster as ‚ÄúSomething [that] happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.‚ÄĚ
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 ‚Äústrike-slip‚ÄĚ fault.
During an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network the day after the earthquake, televangelist Robinson said ‚Äú Many years ago, the island‚Äôs people ‚Äúswore a pact to the devil. True story. And so the devil said, ‚ÄėOK, it‚Äôs a deal.‚Äô They kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.‚ÄĚ
Haiti didn‚Äôt have much before the quake, and what little it had has now been taken away.
But for those one who subscribes to Robertson‚Äôs theodicy - imbued with violent apocalyptic images and cryptic messages of a God who must punish the ‚Äúunfaithful‚ÄĚ - this disaster is a deserved suffering Haiti is experiencing; therefore, in order for Haiti to wash away its sins of the past, this disaster is an act of redemptive suffering.
Robertson‚Äôs deification of violence and natural disasters as redemptive suffering has deleterious implications that are not-so-benignly played out today.
For example, Robinson blamed 9/11 terrorist attack on pagans, abortionists, feminists, and LGBT 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‚Äôs wrath against NYC‚Äôs LGBT 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, Robinson blamed it as God‚Äôs disapproval to America‚Äôs abortion policy, stating, ‚ÄúBut 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? ‚Äú
But some blamed Katrina on LGBT people.
For example, Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast just two days before Labor Day weekend in 2005, when New Orleans‚Äôs annual Queer ‚ÄúSouthern Decadence‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúa nation in rebellion toward God‚ÄĚ to reverse itself, had this to say: ‚ÄúWe 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‚Äôre calling it an act of God.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs sinfulness. But rather a person‚Äôs suffering or a people‚Äôs suffering like Haiti 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‚Äôs political and economic state has largely been due to both U.S. and European intervention. In 1791, Toussaint L‚ÄôOuverture led a slave rebellion defeating Napoleon‚Äôs army, winning Haiti‚Äôs 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‚Äôs economy to this day.
But for Robertson Haiti‚Äôs suffering is easily explained:‚ÄĚ[Haitians] need to have a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy, I‚Äôm optimistic something good may come,‚ÄĚ
Robinson 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, however, if Robinson dismounted his bully pulpit for just a moment and faced his own demons, and not chase those he perceives of others, he would see that it is his countenance that appears.