Columns General story Opinion Richard Mouw: Civil Evangelicalism

You have been warned, Pat Robertson!

Pat Robertson on "The 700 Club" on Oct. 2, 2017. Photo courtesy of YouTube

(RNS) — It didn’t take long for some preachers to start telling us why God caused the horrible mass murder in Las Vegas to happen. Pat Robertson led the way, declaring that it was divine retribution for the widespread “disrespect” for Donald Trump in America.

The best response to such bad theology came from a bus driver I met several years ago in New Orleans.

I was there with my wife for an academic convention and decided one afternoon to take a tour of the city. It was a year after Hurricane Katrina, and in his insightful running commentary the driver offered some personal memories of what folks in New Orleans had experienced in that disaster.

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The driver told us that he grew up in the Seventh Ward — which holds the largest African-American Catholic parish in the country. He had received a Catholic education at a school run by nuns, and as we passed his home in the neighborhood, he commented that his mentors had done a fine job. We stopped at a blocklong grassy area.

“To you folks that is just a large field,” he said over the speaker system. “But for me it is where the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Joseph stood, until the hurricane destroyed it. The wonderful community of nuns who taught me lived there, but now they have had to disperse.”

The driver then went on to make his theological point.

In the wake of the disaster, he and his family had spent some time in Texas. “It was the Bible Belt,” he noted, “and I’ve got tell to you about something disgusting that I heard there.” A local preacher had gotten some publicity, he said, for proclaiming that the destruction caused by Katrina was a judgment from the Lord on New Orleans because of the city’s many sins.

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“I get angry about that comment every time I pass this spot,” our guide said with obvious emotion. “The fact is that there was no damage done to the French Quarter — Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club is still doing business as usual. But the Sisters of Saint Joseph lost their motherhouse. What kind of divine judgment is that?”

A powerful point.

The driver knew when preachers moved into bad theological territory. There are many warnings in the Christian tradition about the dangers of claiming to know God’s specific purposes in human events.

Here is one I read recently, in a Protestant document from the 17th century: We finite creatures ought to refrain from “inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God.”

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Those of us who believe in a Last Judgment know that we may learn a little more about God’s purposes in history when that day comes. In the meantime, we had better be clear about the warning that came from Jesus himself:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12: 36).

You have been warned, Pat Robertson!

About the author

Richard Mouw

Richard Mouw is Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he also served as president for twenty years. He is the author of twenty books, including Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. He earned his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Chicago.


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  • This perverted old fossil and his fellow travelers in the Republican Party spent eight years attacking, disrespecting, slandering, and reviling Mr. Obama. But God had no problem with it, because this perverted old fossil didn’t.

    This perverted old fossil said a couple of years ago that gay people in San Francisco have special rings that they use to cut people’s hands and give them AIDS. This perverted old fossil implied that We gay people are so inhuman that after having watched our friends and loved one die horrible deaths, we would enjoy watching others.

    This perverted old fossil claimed he convinced god to send away a hurricane. God certainly had no plans to, but he was so impressed by this perverted old fossil, that he said, “sure!”

    This perverted old fossil said Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. Does capitalism include blood diamonds, you perverted old fossil?

    But here are just two of the bestest, most brilliantest, most god inspired things this perverted old fossil has EVER said, without a hint of irony:

    “Is there in all the history of human folly a greater fool than a clergymen in politics?”

    “I’m parodied as being some right-wing fundamentalist extremist, it just isn’t true. The parody doesn’t reflect reality.”

    Some things are simply beyond the capabilities of parody.

  • I would not say it is due to disrespect for Trump – I would say it may be due to disrespect for Christ – who endured much much worse to try to save people. One way or the other, these things are going to continue until Christ returns, so get ready.
    Matthew 24:3 Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?[a]”

    4 Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 5 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 7 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. 8 But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.

    9 “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.[b] 10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. 11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. 12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations[c] will hear it; and then the end will come.

  • Okay, Robertson shouldn’t say that the giant Las Vegas mass horror, is simply God’s payback for people “disrespecting” Trump. Got it.

    But Mouw and all of us need to consider something. All of us, regardless of our respective labels, already know the Jeremiah 18:7-11 truth (see link below).

    America IS under divine judgment, at least the beginning stages of it. No joke. No more shoulder-shrugging. Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Billy Graham, etc, tried to warn us about forgetting God. Big wake-up calls like Katrina and 9-11 were ignored. So now, America’s in real trouble. Clock’s ticking.

    Not singling anybody out. But the house IS on fire. Why pretend it ain’t?

  • Years ago, Robertson made some typically asinine comment disparaging Americans who adopt orphans from war-torn countries (especially non-white orphans). Russell Moore, one of the few Southern Baptists for whom I have a modicum of respect, responded with an article that contained the opening line “Pat Robertson is a disgrace to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
    I mention this simply because every time ol’ Pat opens his mouth, those are the exact words that come to my mind also.

  • Their need to pretend stems from needing to uphold silliness that is anti-Christ. If Christ is too real, they lose their “authority”.

  • Why is Robertson still on TV, anyhow? Does anybody watch it besides Right Wing Watch, who have to to get the juicy quotes? Apparently old folks are still being bilked of their savings.

  • As to specific tragedies for specific causes, I have my doubts. As to trends leading in the end to great discomfiture I am quite certain. In the Book of Revelation it states quite clearly that despite the continuing and regular Judgment of God, the hard hearted will only double down on their rejection of His precepts. It is to be mourned that apparently there are some hearts here that are just that hard. But God is not mocked, He will make His true Justice known to each and every individual in His time. Meanwhile, I am prepared to civilly witness and testify on behalf of His Gospel, with no desire to adopt an air of self-righteousness in that cause. I wish…How I wish I were more effective in my own efforts. It is His desire that none should perish but that all…let me amplify, ALL, would come to repentance.

  • Well, I’m sure you’re correct on that claim. Because if you happen to be mistaken for ANY reason, then…

  • No need for me to convince you of anything. Just keep on watching America’s headlines for yourself, till you get the message.

    Jer. 18:7-11 is no fantasy, that’s for sure.

  • It used to be because he owned the station. CBN was his big thing. He sold the channel off but still retains broadcast privileges.

    Robertson may be a crazy offensive piece of trash as a religious figure, but he was a shrewd businessman

  • Floydlee, could it be that America has lost its faith because of Christian leaders such as Robertson… and the host of false prophets who continually are predicting the end times? They’ve cried “wolf” so many times that no one listens anymore. Our faith is in things unseen, i.e., unknowable. Why all the effort to prove something that can’t be proved? Walk humbly with God and leave it at that.

  • Pat Robertson has a lot to answer including being Mobutu’s bedfellow in the rape of Zaire, his approval of Charles Taylor and Efrain Rios Montt. He is a baleful influence who pisses on the cross every time he opens his mouth.

  • He is close to a billionaire who robs pious old women of their spare (and sometimes not spare) money.

  • When we had the first black president, natural disasters were because of the *gheys*. Now we have a white man back, it’s from disrespect?

  • It’s unfortunate that Dr. Mouw cannot find anything more recent than a 17th century quotation to support his views regarding the avoidance of the “inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God.” I can understand his deep and sincere avoidance of anything that would test his worldview, but for a lot of us big things have happened since the 1600s. Most of us no longer think the world is flat or are okay with slavery. No doubt the cab driver is more evolved than the passenger.

  • Edward, every single time someone like Robbertson, who claims to be and is thought by so many to be a Man of God, opens his mouth, god is mocked.

  • Don’t you feel silly, embarrassed and ashamed to believe there is a burning hell out there somewhere that, with your god’s approval, will torment forever the overwhelming majority of mankind? You really should.

  • Whomever you follow and serve here and now, God will allow that to continue into eternity. The choice is yours. Trust him while you still have opportunity.

  • As I replied to Robin518, you, Jim, make that choice in this lifetime. Whomever you follow and serve here and now, God will allow that to continue into eternity. The choice is yours. And don’t be so certain in determining that “the overwhelming majority of mankind” will live in “torment forever.” God’s net of mercy is greater in scope than the entire universe. Trust him while you still have opportunity.

  • Your god and religion is based on a book that is mainly mythology. The book of Genesis is proven to be scientifically inaccurate – the cornerstone of your religion. Invalid creation account, no Adam and Eve thus no originalonger sin and need for redemption, no global flood. Given that why should I pay attention? Religions and gods are man made. You likely think all other religions are false – and I agree but add yours to the list as well.

  • God (or the algorithm) won’t let me read this article. I’m being forced to comment without having the slightest idea what it says.

  • Most of the people who are sure they speak for god have exactly the same problem.


  • What Pat Robertson said was, at the least, more nuanced than how Mr. Mouw casually characterizes. One could hear it as, “Our society is losing respect for the authority, including for spiritual authority, and in such environment people ‘run amok.'” Taken at face value it’s no crazier than Romans 1, and, more to the point, it’s a big jump from “divine retribution for widespread disrespect for Donald Trump.” If anything Robertson was citing human corruption, not ‘divine retribution,’ or any other ‘act of God,’ however insensitive and simplistic it still may be.

    For most people the difference is perhaps meaningless. But to display such a callous disregard for the dangers of half-truths and stripping one’s words of their nuances, is troubling for someone who claims to speak in the name of truth. It all come from the same place, and it still fails the test, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

  • As remarked by minds superior to either of ours, “the gates of Hell are locked from the inside” — and you have clearly thrown your key away.

  • Really? As my Pastor is presently teaching on Revelation, and I’ve studied it countless times over 40 years, I find your comment curious. There’s pre-trib, post-trib, mid trib, pre-millennial, post-millennial, amillennial; Not to mention the allegorical, historicist, preterist, partial preterist, and futurist perspectives. I used to be somewhat dogmatic in my views regarding Revelation; I have since learned to be more flexible. I will continue to watch and wait, but more importantly, I plan daily to be ready by cultivating my relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • I confess that I find Pat’s declarations to be quite ludicrous the balance of the time. I would prefer he focus on good works and proclaiming the Gospel, minus the prognostications. Some allowance might be made for his advanced age. Marin Luther’s worst comments regarding the Jews were clearly made after he was in his dotage.

  • Many people believe so, but they haven’t provided a sufficient argument to convince me.

  • He has been making idiotic remarks and demonstrating a remarkable degree of stupidity for nearly thirty years, as far as I can remember. His age has only meant that he makes even less sense where before he made none.

  • Sorry for delay in responding. I’d have to say “No” on your question, for most Americans — even many Christians and clergy — are **not** interested in the topic of bible prophecy anyway, (let alone making major stay-or-leave decisions about Christianity on such a basis.)

    Radio Evangelist Harold Camping made the mistake of setting an exact date of Christ’s return. Used billboards and radio to spread the message.

    Didn’t pan out, of course, but it was like nobody cared anyway. Simply ignored by nearly all secular media, AND churches, in my state. I only noticed it myself because I needed some “news of the weird” filler for a blog.

    Still, the date-setters DO cause great confusion and damage for a few folks. Can’t deny it.

    P.S. On another issue, a caveat: “unseen” doesn’t equal “unknowable.” God has gone overboard on providing humans with both natural & supernatural evidences of himself. Share ’em!

  • I do not dispute your time frame, however I would also point out that he is not a trained theologian, even as many Christians are not, but I do agree with you to the extent that he would probably be a better benefit to the faith he professes if he did not explicate quite so readily on things about which he has no sense of nuance. That is not even close to your point I’m sure, but it’s about as close as I can come to agreeing with you relative to Mr. Robertson’s fulsome proclivities.

  • Of course you don’t – not yet, anyway. What mystifies me is why someone as anti-religious as you are would bother to hang out on a religious website. Is your compulsion to mockery really strong enough to keep you coming back here week after week?

  • Pat Robertson led the way, declaring that it was divine retribution for the widespread “disrespect” for Donald Trump in America.

    OH! MY! GOD! This makes me weep!

  • Do all this hate came from belivers?
    The commentary field looks like a left-wing hate group on facebook