Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Prophet or Profit?

Is Pat Robertson God’s prophet?

Yesterday on his TV program The 700 Club, Robertson claimed that God had spoken to him during a recent retreat and revealed a major terrorist attack on the United States in late 2007, a “mass killing” involving multiple cities and potentially millions of victims. “I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear,” he clarified. “The Lord didn’t say nuclear.”

Damn right he didn’t.

Fundamentalist Christians focus on “Biblical prophecy.” Tim LaHaye, co-author of the reprehensible and heretical Left Behind novels, likes to point out that “twenty-eight percent of the Bible is dedicated to prophecy.” Millions of American Christians have come to “understand” the Bible as a secret code that reveals events as signs of the end of the world.

Fundamentalists addicted to “end-times” theology eagerly await mass disasters like the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the attacks of 9/11. They cheer on the war in Iraq, because they believe destabilization of the Middle East will bring about the “nuclear armageddon” necessary to usher in the Second Coming. Nuclear warfare plays an enormous role in the current end-times fantasies. The Left Behind books open just after a full-out nuclear assault by Russia on Israel, and LaHaye has commented that “ours is the first generation that has the technology and opportunity to uniquely fulfill the many prophecies of Revelation.”

Therein lies the significance of Robertson’s prediction. He isn’t warning us out of concern for our safety; he is announcing gleefully that millions of people are going to die, and Christians should rejoice because nuclear carnage means we are just that much closer to the return of Jesus and the baseless fundamentalist “Rapture” fantasy.

But like everything else Robertson and extremists of his ilk preach, these ideas about “Biblical prophecy” are fundamentally in error, based on a profound and heretical misunderstanding of Scripture. Prophecy, in this instance, does not mean foretelling future events.

Evangelical pastor Jim Wallis, in his best-selling book God’s Politics, calls the Biblical prophets “ancient moral articulators.” “Whom were the prophets speaking to?” he asks. Rulers, kings, judges, employers, landlords, owners of property and wealth. “Those in charge of things were the ones called to the greatest accountability. “And whom were the prophets usually speaking for? The dispossessed, widows and orphans (read: poor single moms), the hungry, the homeless, the helpless, the least, last and lost.” And “what were their subjects? Quite secular topics, really – land, labor, capital, wages, debt, taxes, equity, fairness, courts, prisons, immigrants, other races and peoples, economic divisions, social justice, war and peace.”

Lutheran pastor Barbara Rossing says, “Their task was to set God’s vision before the people so they could see it and live it. Prophets condemn injustice and greed; they advocate for the poor, for widows and for orphans.”

In short, “Biblical prophecy” is, nine times out of ten, not at all about predicting the future, but speaking truth to power.

“The Lord has just blessed him. It doesn’t make any difference what he does, good or bad,” said Robertson, speaking of President Bush in January of 2004.

Does that sound like the language of Isaiah, Micah, Amos and Habakkuk?


Jarred said...

I don't disagree with anything you said. However, I am a bit disappointed you gave that ranting maniac any attention whatsoever.

I've come to the conclusion that the world as a whole should respond to him with nothing more than a pat on the head and a patronizing, "That's nice Pat."

Andy said...

I disagree, and for two reasons. One, Robertson's visibility and the tendency of the media to simply report his outrageous statements results in people believing that this is what Christianity is really about. Two, too many Christians believe this is what Christianity is really about. "End Times" theology is lethal. (It is largely responsible for the Iraq War.) It would be nice if the media would ignore Pat Robertson, but Christians cannot afford to. We cannot continue to passively sit by and let this man continue to preach these tortured misrepresentations of Scripture. There is too much at stake.

Jarred said...

On your first point, I will have to take your word for it. Personally, I find it hard to imagine. Even a great many conservative Christians I know -- most of whom actually agree with many of Robertson's political and theological views -- openly admit they think the man is an egomaniacal nutjob. If people think he is what Christianity is about, I find myself wondering if they've ever spent time talking to Christian friends.

On the second point, I agree to a degree, but find myself wondering if you're not overstating things a bit.

Jarred said...

As I think about your points and the thrust of your post, I think I'd like to revise my position slightly:

I wish there was an effective way of addressing the issues Robertson brings up and represents while completely ignoring Robertson himself.

Fair enough? ;)

LeshDogg said...

I'm about halfway through God's Politics right now and find it completely fascinating. Matter of fact, I'm sort of pulling double duty right now and reading Misquoting Jesus along side.

Side bar: Politics is a far meatier read, I think, than Misquoting is, but they are both quite good (for those who care).

I have to agree with Andy on this one (specifically in reference to the book). In God's Politics, Wallis calls on all Christians to sort of take back their faith from the right-wing mouthpieces of the world. We do need to pay attention to the old windbag (Robertson), if for no other reason than to show the world how full of poo he is.

My deepest concern is that the nutjob makes so many asinine predictions of doom and gloom, that he's bound to get one remotely right sometime, especially if he keeps it vague like he usually does ("sometime in late 2007"). All it would take is one remote relation of one his predictions to an actual catastrophic event, and it gives him that much more credence, regardless of his "batting average."


Jim said...

"Armageddon" will come about if enough people want it to, even if it's just to prove a point--so they can go "see see see! I was right!" It's an odd want, held by those who glorify death (and the after-life) over life, which unfortunately, is a great deal. It's the same ilk as those who like dental pain or a 9 volt battery on the tongue. With life all evil, there is nothing titillating left but death, so why not usher in the pale rider with a bang? It's much easier to comprehend Armageddon rather than the fact that we (if we smarted up) have several million years more to go.

kr said...

Cogent analysis, as usual : ).

How did we (humanity) let the people get in charge whose default position is "We should purposely fuck up the world so God will come save us faster?" (I suspect this applies to the extremist Muslims as well as the extremist Christian apocalysts.)

I agree with you; last time I checked the Bible was mostly about making good in your own life and times, duh.

I think, though, you've maybe drawn the wrong parallel with that last sentence ; ) --perhaps P.Robertson was not trying to sound like The Prophets when speaking of GWB, perhaps he was implying GWB's similarities other OT figures: the OT kings (of Abyssina etc) who were given a green light by God to destroy the Children of Israel. Observably bad news to believers, and a strange balance of Good(?) and Bad generally more in line with GWB's Administration ... (I'm joking, except that I'm pretty sure if I thought about it I'd start crying).

(PS hey, Leshdogg, welcome back : )! )

Gino said...

some time ago, i used to have a small level of respect for Pat.
being catholic, i never gave much wieght to anything he said of a theological nature, but thought of him as an honest and well-meaning, decent man.

about 7-8 yrs ago, i was watching some talking heads show, Pat was there quacking away like a silly goose, and i had a revelation of my own: "What an Ass!"

kr said...

The sad thing is, he used to be all about healing and that (I had non-Catholic relatives who left the 700 Club on All The Time). With occasional diatribes against one misguided sect or another, of course.

I think all the evil in the world tweaked his head.

Apocalyptism is a very easy answer for all the evil in the world. How much stress do most of us here at this blog suffer, trying to reconcile our desire for good with the observable level of bad in ourselves and other humans?

Like so many (all?) social questions, though, the easiest answer isn't a good one.

The Law Fairy said...

As an avid fan of apocalyptic fiction, I sure do wish Robertson could be magically transformed into a character on the pages of a scary, thrilling book. He just doesn't fit here in the real world, and there are people who might actually listen to him.

I used to be (if I'm recalling the correct term) a pre-millenial dispensationalist, like virtually every other fundamentalist evangelical. What's interesting is that, even during that time, I attended classes and seminars in which they talked about the various gifts listed in Corinthians (prophecy, serving, teaching, mercy, tongues, etc.) and even the fundamentalists agree with your and Pastor Wallis' assessment of what a "prophet" is. Someone with the gift of prophecy, I was taught, is someone God emboldens to speak the truth, much like Nathan the prophet was used by God to rebuke David for his sin with Bathsheba.

So it's unclear where the thought evolved that a prophet is someone who predicts the future. In the Bible I think they called those people "seers" -- and God's people, if I recall correctly, were not supposed to listen to most of them.

Also, there are parts of the Gospels where Jesus himself foretells the future (much more clearly predicting things, I might add, than John's Revelation, whose predictive value is ascertained by implication rather than direct language). Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars (but this is not the end yet), and predicted the emergence of "false Christs" and false prophets.

Food for thought...

GaryDavisonJr. said...

An idea-?

Andy said...

Gary: thank you, I signed! I thought it was well-worded.

LF: my January pet project is to write about Revelation and such. (Hopefully not exclusively.) I was never exactly a pre-millennial dispensationalist, but when I was younger my dad did fill my head full of stuff about the rapture and the mark of the beast and all that. I confess that I only fairly recently realized that the reason I couldn't find "the rapture" in the Bible is BECAUSE IT'S NOT THERE.

Mark G. said...

Is Pat Robertson God’s prophet?

True prophets are never wrong and Robertson has been wrong many, many times. I'd listen to my dog before Pat any day.

BTW, love the blog.


Andy said...

I think a case can be made that Jonah was wrong.

Mark G. said...

Jonah gave the people a warning, they listened and they were spared.

The book of Jonah wouldn't make much sense if he warned the city of Nineviah (sp??), they repented and then were wiped out anyway.

I have to think about if he was really wrong or not.


Andy said...

Yes, but Jonah was ticked off at God for relenting....

...which brings me to another point about Robertson. Is this a "threat" from God, something that's coming *unless* we do something, or is it going to happen regardless? The latter most definitely doesn't fit with God's track record, even in the OT.

kr said...

"Shape up or bad things will happen" is certainly in line with OT, Jesus, Revelation (what I recall of it), and post-Apostolic prophetic traditions ... .

A nice illustration, actually, of God believing in the essential goodness/oneness/logic of world: if you don't live reasonably in tune with the way things should be (eg., honoring other people, honoring the physical environment), you should expect things to go poorly (personal anger/crime/war, e-coli/local flooding/global warming).

It's like that "Do unto others" discussion--the fundamental necessity of the premise is built into the system (otherwise we commit communal suicide), but sometimes God tried to give us a philosophical shove: "hey, life will be SO much better SO much faster if you figure this out now."

Which is not to lend credence to Pat Robertson as a prophet.


Side thought, Biblically legitimate prophets can come from outside of the Biblical people: Balaam--the one with the talking donkey--is right there in the OT, proof to any Biblical literalist that God speaks to people besides "the Children of Israel" (and so also, presumably, besides Christians). The NT event where someone "who is not one of us" was driving out demons in Jesus' name and Jesus chose not to stop him would lend further credence to God active outside of the direct-line "Biblical" spiritual lineage ... .


Law Fairy, your note about "seers" vs. prophets is right on with what I learned growing up charismatic Catholic. Man, I kind of wish we had had formal classes on the various charismatic gifts.

Mass with everyone singing in tongues is pretty amazing, though.


Jonah, to me, is a great example of the humanity of prophets ... they are just as "wrong" as the rest of us--except when they are God's mouthpiece.

But then, as a Catholic, that meshes with my understanding of the special charism given the Popes ; ).

Andy said...

KR: just to clarify, are you agreeing with me? Because...I think you are. You should be, at any rate. (See 1 Timothy 2:12. Kidding!) Robertson doesn't seem to have said the attack will occur unless we ban gay marriage/depose Nancy Pelosi/tie Andy to the back of a van and drag him across Arizona/etc. He just sort of "announced" it.

steve chapman said...

I am so glad that I am a reformed Christian. Having been in a non-denominational congregation that would support much of what Robertson teaches, I am now on the outside looking in because of my homosexuality.

I am so glad my eyes have been opened to the deceit and false peity of people like Robertson.

Anonymous said...


kr said...

Snerk : ). People are welcome to not listen ; ).

Yes, I think Mr. Robertson is pointlessly fearmongering, which has nothing to do with prophecy in the Biblical tradition.