Should Christians celebrate the death of Hugo Chavez?

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Screen shot of Drudge Report homepage taken on March 6, 2013 at 12:08 am.

Screen shot of Drudge Report homepage captured on March 6, 2013 at 12:08 am.

When news of Hugo Chavez’s death was first released, some people broke out their party hats. More than 200 patrons of El Arepazo, a Venezuelan restaurant outside of Miami, celebrated late into the night. Jim Treacher of The Daily Caller penned a column entitled, “Buh-Bye, Hugo Chavez,” saying, “The Vice President [of Venezuela] claims Chavez’s cancer was induced by his enemies … I don’t know about you guys, but I’m happy to take credit.” And under a giant picture of Hugo Chavez’s face, the editors at the Drudge Report posted the following caption: “HELL’S A-BURNING.”

They weren’t the only ones. Some Christians joined in too, using Twitter to announce their jubilation.

Todd Starnes is a Fox News Radio Commentator who is an outspoken Christian. He formerly served as assistant editor for Baptist Press and Communications Director for Union University, a Christian college in Jackson, Tennessee. He sent several tweets including one that said, “Hugo dead. The good news is now Saddam, Osama and Adolf have a fourth for Canasta” and “Hell is burning a little bit brighter tonight.”

Starnes, in the words of Baptist Press, “seeks to help the cause of Jesus through his work.”*

Loren Heal of the Heartland Institute, who describes himself as a “logical Christian,” tweeted, “A moment of silence [for] Hugo Chavez. OK, I spent my moment picturing you enjoying hell, jackass.”

And we wonder why many non-believers think Christians are judgmental and hateful?

Sadly, even some Christian pastors responded in kind. One student minister at a Christian church tweeted a link to a story about the president’s death adding, “The world is BETTER OFF!” He also retweeted a snarky note from the leader of a faith-based advertising agency, which said, “Sympathies to Danny Glover, Sean Penn and President Obama in the loss of Hugo Chavez.”

I can’t help wondering what kind of students this ministry is producing. Is this what we can expect from the future leaders of American evangelicalism?

While Hugo Chavez was alive, he was one of the world’s most polarizing figures. He declared a socialist revolution in his country, and his administration was notoriously corrupt. Though poverty rates in Venezuela were cut in half during the populist’s time in power, he made a name for himself as a heavy-handed dictator and America hating socialist. The man is now dead at 58 years old, two years after being diagnosed with cancer, an event which leaves Christians wondering how to respond.

Should Christians celebrate the death of this man knowing that his oppressive rule is now over?

I asked myself this same question nearly two years ago upon hearing that Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy Seals in his Pakistan hideout, and I penned an article for Relevant Magazine wrestling with the issue:

I admit that there’s a part of me that wants to pump my fist, signal a flyover and spit on the dead man’s corpse. But is this an appropriate response for a Christian, to celebrate the death of the wicked? Or, to push it further, can a Christian ever celebrate the death of a non-believer?

I’m reminded of the words of Ezekiel: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (33:11). The outcome that God desired and we should have too is that while Osama bin Laden was still breathing, he would have rejected doing any more evil and confessed Christ. This would have been cause for a true celebration—even the angels in heaven would have rejoiced (Luke 15:7). Anything short of this is a tragedy.

I concluded:

When justice is served to those who wish only to harm others—as it was last night—we may perhaps express relief. Relief in knowing innocent people woke up to a safer world this morning. But relief … not celebration. God loves those innocents, and I believe He desires to see them free from fear and violence. Yet even as our spirits lift knowing that this man will do no more evil, our eyes should burst forth with weeping knowing that bin Laden will likely spend eternity like he spent his life: separated from the true God.

Today, Jesus-followers cannot rejoice over news that Hugo Chavez has passed away. We exhale, perhaps, but do not rejoice. Instead, we pray that God will bless Venezuela & its people. We hope that freedom will begin to burst forth in this country even as they mourn the death of their leader. And we remind ourselves of our own depravity, recognizing that you don’t have to be president of Venezuela to harm others. You can simply log onto Twitter.

As it turns out, we all need grace.

* Editor’s Note: This post has been amended to clarify that Starnes’ desire to “help the cause of Jesus through his work” is the characterization of Baptist Press, not Starnes himself.


  • Pingback: Should Christians Celebrate the Death of Hugo Chavez? | Jonathan Merritt()

  • Lucky for me I’m a Jew. I’m celebrating.

  • Peter Rapp

    Don’t be a troll.

  • Not so lucky for you, so was Ezekiel.

  • jms

    Hugo Chavez was nominally a Christian, but the only prayer I ever heard him make was for Jesus Christ to spare his life so he could continue his iron-fisted dictatorship. It didn’t sound like prayer of a humble man to an almighty God. It sounded like a man trying to bargain with his equal. I don’t celebrate his death, but I do celebrate the end of his pestilent reign.

  • erom

    I don’t believe in rejoicing at the death and sure judgment of the wicked – that’s God’s prerogative alone. But acknowledging plain fact is left to us. Christ said “Repent or you must perish” (Luke 13:3). Did Chavez – a camera-loving guy – ever bring forth visible fruits of repentance? No.

    It is appointed unto men once to die; after this, judgment.

  • Kay

    Good article. To celebrate the death of another human being is wrong, no matter what the circumstances. I, too, was initially glad when ObL was killed. I was glad that a curse that had haunted our country for eight years was over. Then I realized that this had not really changed anything, indeed it may have brought others to a higher level of hatred for us.

  • Deb

    When my husband was in grad school, he kept a note on his computer that read, “God bless N. Korea”. Not many understood, but for him, it came from a desire to see restoration rather than destruction, which is the essence of God’s gift to the wretched – you, me, and Chavez, too. Thanks for sharing this post and God bless Venezuela.

  • Deb: Love your thoughts here.

    Kay: Agreed.

  • Leon

    You call yourself ‘Christians’ yet you celebrate the death of a man that has worked tirelessly to end poverty in his country. He was also democratically elected on 3 occasions, so hardly a dictator imposed on the people. No wonder Christainity is dying out here in the UK and around the world.

  • Robert K. Mitchell

    A few weeks ago a young boy was kidnapped a not far from where I live. His kidnapper killed the boy’s bus driver, and then took the boy into an underground bunker where he would hold him for about a week. In the end the FBI shot and killed the man and freed the boy. There was reason for celebration, because a boy, his family and a community had been set free. In the same way there is reason for celebration because of this evil man’s death. In both cases the men could have chosen to repent and move in another direction but they did not. It is not good to rejoice that these men apparently never repented, or to boast about their eternal judgments. Christians understand through God’s Word that Jesus Christ is the only hope for this lost world, and there will be no escape for the wicked. Taking advantage of this opportunity to remind people of that is not an evil thing to do. I think that in either of these cases if the men had shown true signs of repentance you would have seen a wild celebration of praise from those who are truly Christians. I celebrate a new chapter, and renewed hope that Venezuela will rise up and begin again. None of us can talk Hugo Chavez into or out of hell. He has lived his life, and he has made his choices. I agree that Christian should not be making snide, or flippant comments about anyone’s death, but just as we have grieved with the people of Venezuela we can now rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

  • Jay

    “By their fruits you will know them.”
    Christendom has produced nothing but false christians. Anyone who rejoices over death is a false christian. Jesus said that we should continue to LOVE our enemies and PRAY for those who persecute us. Yet christendom produces “christians” who rejoice in the death of their enemies, harbor racism in their hearts and clamor got bigger and bigger guns. Wicked fruits from a crooked, twisted and wicked group of so called “christians”.

  • Robert K Mitchell

    When David’s son was alive he fasted and prayed, and when his son died he got up dusted himself off and ate. We should love our enemies and pray for those who use us while they are alive, but rejoicing with others after a man’s death is not a sin. God will judge our hearts. Judge with the same measure that you will be judged. I agree that we should not take pleasure in a person’s death, but it is not evil to rejoice with those who may find some sort of relief from a persons evil deeds after he is dead. Also this man died because of cancer not because a gun shot.

  • Donald Denney

    We should not celebrate when a wicked person dies, but we can be happy that we do not need to worry about them causing more evil.

  • Scottydog

    Mr. Merritt, Thank you for an interesting article. I’ll grant you that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” (Mt 5:44), but lets not forget that David, writing from the bottom of his Holy Spirit inspired heart wrote, “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked . . . Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” (Ps 139:19-22). I’m guessing you haven’t suffered the losses that those in the Venezuelan community have. Attacking the brethren who may be rejoicing for good reason rises to the level of sanctimonious tripe. If they are sinning let the Lord and the their conscience convict them. It’s always easier to repent of someone else’s sin than your own.

  • Scottydog:

    This is not an effective or appropriate place for a full discussion of your point, but I think we can employ a better, more sophisticated hermeneutic here. We don’t want to simply quote something David said out of context and pretend that this is how we should think or act or talk. (No more than we should blindly mimic everything David, or any other Biblical character, did.) Instead, we remember that we read the scripture in the context of the full sweep of a Bible that later introduces us to Jesus, the one in whom all the prophets and law are fulfilled. “All scripture testifies about me,” Jesus would remind us. So the question we ask is, “How are we to understand David’s words in the context of Jesus, specifically his radical position on loving one’s enemies? What is God up to in the full sweep of the story here, and what implications does this have for my life?” I love the Psalms and the way they express the common yearnings of the human heart–particularly the yearning to see God inflict pain on our “enemies.” But to blindly read the poetry of the Psalmist as some sort of model for Christian ethics is not helpful or a very good handling of the scriptures, I’m afraid.


  • I don’t see any exhortation not to celebrate the death of unrepentant, evil men in the verse you cited, Jonathan. You go from “we SHOULD share God’s attitude” to “we MUST share God’s attitude.”

    Should we weep for every enemy who intends to harm us that we vanquish or is vanquished by time? Our attitudes are not the same as God’s or angels’. God exhorts us to love Him and love man. Love for man leads me to smile at the death of unrepentant, evil men.

    “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” -Proverbs 11:10

  • Joseph,

    You’ll be hard pressed to find a Biblical scholar who will support the way you seem to intend to use Proverbs there. Proverbs is a set of wise sayings, not law or rules or didactic absolutes, and Bible scholars will tell you that it should not be read or applied like other books in other genres. This verse is bursting with truth. There are actually shouts of joy when the wicked perish. But is this prescribing for us the same response or describing the way the world works? And if it is prescribing a response, what is the joy directed towards? Dropping that verse like Kanye with a microphone doesn’t settle the matter.

    Regarding your first point(s), I’m not sure I understand your point. Our attitudes may not be the same as God’s–often they are not–but the question is, “What OUGHT our attitudes to be in a situation like this?” If God is not the model, what is? What ever you feel “led” to do? Is that the model?

    I think you need to do some more reflection here.


  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    Most humans, myself, a Catholic, included, do a poor job at confronting evil. We must hate the sin, but love the sinner. To follow Christ, we must pray for the souls of all of the deceased, even monsters, e.g. Hitler, Stalin, and Chavez. Even the worst had some good, so we must leave them to a just Judge. Our job is to struggle to reverse Shakespeare’s finding that their good is buried with them but their evil lives on.
    The people of Venezuela have suffered much under his boot; I wish them well.

  • My point is that God may “take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” but that is far from a prohibition on US. Ezekiel is no more an exhortation to not celebrate the death of unrepentant, evil men than Proverbs is an exhortation to do the opposite.

  • CMR

    I TOTALLY agree with Jay! Christendom is FULL of hypocrites! God has already judged “her”, calling her “Babylon the Great” (Revelation Ch.17). YES, the time of her judgement has arrived and soon she will be completely destroyed never to rise again. (Rev. Ch. 18) AMEN

  • CMR

    Proverbs 11:10 is a declaration of human nature… not a prescription for a particular reaction or behavior… and yes, the Bible tells us to “love OUR enemies and pray for them” but David was saying he “hated” those who hate GOD (not those who hated him-David)
    I don’t think a true Christian should make such snide remarks or “celebrate” the death of the “wicked”. Maybe to some of his people he was a “hero”. It’s all perspective anyway. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter….

  • gilhcan

    Absolutely not. What should have been mourned all along were his despotic ways, his dark presumption that matches much of the history of the Catholic hierarchy, that he was better than others, that he had some god-given right to dictate to others.

    All should be “communion.” And community/communion should always be respectful, if not “holy.” Of course, people like Chavez and Castro and Stalin, though they may–I repeat, “may”–have had original motives of improving the lot of the masses who were despised, exploited, and downright abused by the wealthy in their societies should be respected to any degree that was true.

    Even in Russia before the Soviet dictators, just as in the U.S. today, while the upper 2% like Mitt Romney who have nothing but contempt for even more than the “lower” 47%, continue to economically abuse the masses to increase their personal wealth, we must be on guard against those “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who try to deceive us. “By their works, you will know them.”

    We must guard against them, recognize their true motives as the self-aggrandizement they are and stop them. Let us try and hope that stoppage can be done in the spirit of a “holy communion,” if not, we must stand up for our equal rights. Those equal rights are the most sacred aspect of our existence, they do include living in misery and poverty and sickness.

    Stop them, we must. Mourn their absence, not necessarily. Celebrate their passing because of disease or otherwise, absolutely not. Then we would be guilty of mindsets like their own. Even that would be a crime against humanity. It is the equal, fair, honest sharing of our humanity that is the true and only “holy communion.” Evil exists in motive. Self-defense should never be an imitation of evil.

  • netprophet

    Thanks for your proper perspective.

  • netprophet

    Please explain how Hugo Chavez “worked tirelessly to end poverty in his country”? I confess I don’t know much about that aspect of his leadership.

  • Dave

    He did so by redistribution of wealth. I don’t agree with it, but he did a lot to immediately help the poor of his country.

    I’m still trying to figure out the “Un-Christian” things that he did. He was a practicing Roman Catholic and received last rites. If you believe the book, he’s in heaven right now.

  • dave

    He received last rites.

  • dave

    Well, if you believe in the good book, he’s in heaven now. He requested and received last rites.

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  • Salah Said

    Except this is total hogwash. Chavez became increasingly more public about his religious faith as he, and his presidency, aged. How on earth is Chavez a dictator, by the way? Was FDR also a dictator? Hugo Chavez was reelected multiple times, by increasing margins.

  • Salah Said

    Some of the comments about being happy about OBL’s death, because of what he did, struck me as odd. Let me put some food for thought-lets say President Bush or General Petreus dies, and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who suffered a great deal as a result of their policies, take to the streets and celebrate. Would these same people who were “happy” about Bin Laden be as understanding about the “happiness” Bush’s death would bring to the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq? That the Bush administration (with bipartisan support) wrecked more havoc on Iraq and Afghanistan than Bin Laden wrecked on America is obvious, yet I imagine many of these people who were happy about Bin Laden’s death would be disgusted at Afghani’s taking to the streets to celebrate Bush’s death.

  • Salah Said

    Hold on, who is the “WE” you refer to? Chavez was not a threat to the global Christian community, so I can only assume the “WE” you refer to is the United States. By making such a claim, you betray your own wickedness and dedication to satan-you have made a false God of the USA, and you conflate what is good for Christianity with what is good for the United States.

    I pray that God heals your wicked heart and turns you away from your satanic idolatory; otherwise, you will burn for your evil.

  • Salah Said

    Suffered so greatly that they reelected him by increasing margins, and took to the streets when he was couped and the constitution was suspended. What sort of satanic nonsense are you getting these ridiculous claims from?

  • Pingback: GetGetReligion: the Ghost of Hugo Chavez | Spiritual Politics()

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