The Preacher’s Response to the Haitian Earthquake; Pat Robertson’s comments

Last week my friend asked me to lead the discussion for the “Next Gathering” a group of budding theologians who meet for a couple of hours once a month to discuss theology in a slightly more formal setting than just over hot wings and drinks.  My colleague asked me to give the preacher’s response to the crisis following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

At first, when it happened, I really didn’t know what to say about Haiti.  I don’t have relatives down there, I don’t have any Haitian friends, nor do I have any Caribbean friends who had talked about knowing someone there. Combined with the fact that I don’t have cable and I wasn’t treated to teh 24 hours news cycle that I’ve been hearing has covered this story extensively, I wasn’t treated to the graphic pictures and satellite images of the devastating aftermath.  Therefore, I remember remarking to a friend that for all intents and purposes, I wasn’t all that moved by what happen.

I realised that I wasn’t moved because it wasn’t real to me.  Even as the death toll climbed rapidly, I still really wasn’t moved.  I hadn’t really talked about it–because it wasn’t real.  Then that same morning as I mentioned it to my friend, it was my first time talking about it and I really wondered that age old question that many believers face at one point or another in their life: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This is an age old question we often times ask ourselves when we’re faced with personal disasters of a car crash that kills a whole family, or a house fire that kills two old people who were the life of the neighborhood.  Or even we ask it when we see great natural disaters–the kind that no one foresees or can predict.  Generally we ask them when faced with death or when the quality of life is threatened. When we’re faced to have to deal with the absence of God in a situation we sometimes have a crisis of faith.  It is here at this crisis moment the preacher is supposed to offer a word from God.

Please understand a few things.  The “word” from God is not just what the Bible reads.  Be careful when a preacher defines the “word of God” as solely what’s written in the Bible.  When the prophets of the Hebrew Bible spoke what “thus saith the Lord” they were not referring to some compilation of writings that were a few thousand years old, but they were speaking on what God had posited into their spirit; after getting an overview of the situation, the prophets went into their secret place and listened to what God had said to them.  The true prophet, in the Old Testament sense, didn’t usually side with the status quo.  That’s why when Amos was recorded as saying “Woe unto those in ease at Zion” he was attempting to unsettle those who were comfortable in doing what they had been doing. 

To answer the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” requires one to have an innate appreciation for humanity and human life.

This was clearly not where Pat Robertson was when he made his comments.

Robertson clearly sees the Haitian people as bad people.  So naturally in his mindset, bad people will experience bad things happening to them.  Mind you this is the same mindset that prompted Barbara Bush to remark that the individuals and families that had sought shelter in Houston’s Astrodome following the aftermath of Katrina were doing better than they were in New Orleans.  It is this capitalisitic mindset that has kept nations like Haiti at the bottom.  This deep-seated belief that hardwork will pay off is tied to Christianity; the belief that blacks are inherently lazy and we don’t take advantage of opportunities totally negates the fact that it is NOT a level playing field.

  And also, as Christians, when one believes in the remarks from Pat Robertson and his ilk, we are spouting the embedded kataphatic doctrines that we generally don’t question. Such as:

  • God is all-powerful and all-knowing
  • God knows what we’re going to do before we do it
  • God has planned out our life (even though we generally believe in free will)
  • God loves us and cares for us, but God is a just and a jealous God (whatever the jealous part means)

By the same token we assign the apophatic forms of theology to God as well:

  • God is not confined to our concepts of time
  • God is not a creation as humanity understands it
  • God is not evil
  • That neither existence nor nonexistence applies to God

I could go on, but you get the picture.

What happens when we apply these set rules to God and don’t question them, we’re left asking the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and we’re forced to apply those rules to our everyday existence.  Concerning Haiti, we’re left either taking a Pat Robertson approach of saying that they did something to deserve what happened to them, or we’re left in the lurch trying to figure out what happened.

So, if I can take a minute and tell you what this preacher’s response is.

Seeing as how I do believe that God is active in the lives of us today, I have to believe that somehow God was up to something with the earthquake in Haiti.  I am not trying to paint God as some vengeful God that caused this earthquake to happen to show the Haitians a lesson, nor am I trying to paint God as some masochistic deity that sits up high and has fun with the little creatures that have been created.  No, I don’t know.  I don’t know what the lesson or the meaning or the causation behind what would cause family members here in the United States and abroad to go into panic mode as they try and find out what happened to their loved ones on the western half of this Caribbean island.  I don’t know why people are forced to walk around in a daze as everything they ever knew was reduced to rubble.

And seeing as how I don’t know why this earthquake happened, I do know that the vast tragedy in Haiti could have been prevented.

Western civilization, namely the United States need only rewind the tape four and half years back to Katrina and be reminded the devastation following Katrina in New Orleans was because the levees broke.  In other words the city that suffered 80% flooding could have been prevented if the levees had been built properly.  So if the United States and western thought had NOT treated Haiti like some awful stepchild, then perhaps the lack of water and the lack of food and the lack of supplies making it to the island would not be such an ordeal.

I think the lesson for those of us who are benefactors of Western civilization’s wealth and as denizens of the Empire of the United States is that God is exposing how treatment of the “least of these” and force a critical consciousness in the minds and hearts of those so far removed from the grinding poverty of such an independent nation.  We’re worried about Haiti post-the earthquake of last week, but that stops far short of worrying about Haiti post-independence in 1804.

Let the record show that in the 20th century when the United States occupied Haiti that they established a shaky financial government that left the country another $40,000,000.00 in debt no longer just to France but to the U.S. as well, giving the U.S. an excuse to always be involved with Haitian affairs.  Let the record show that this country, the United States fully supported and supplied money and arms to the Duvalier regime of both Papa Doc and Baby Doc from 1957 to 1986.  Yes, this country, the United States supported the despotic government of a meglomaniac who saw himself as Jesus Christ incarnate and the U.S. supported him because of his tactical criticism of Cuba and Communism in the Western Hemisphere.  Let the record show that this country, the United States entered Haiti in 1994 following the ouster of Aristide, for the first time.  Let the record show that this country, the United States in 2004, forceably removed Jean-Betrand Aristide, the legally elected president of a the Democratic Republic of Haiti and exiled him to the Central African Republic of Congo.  After all of the U.S.’s shady dealings with Haiti over the last century, how DARE Pat Robertson get his fat, nasty face on television and say that this happened as a result of dealings with the devil!

We, in the Western world, particularly those who are reading this are enjoying creature comforts such as electricity to power the computer or handheld device.  You’re probably in a climate controlled environment be it in an office, a train coming home from work or in the comfort of your home.  Given the time of day, you’re wondering where you will go to eat with the following options of the kitchen, or getting in your car to run to get some fast food or the closest carry-out spot.  Nine-times out of ten, you’re fully clothed wearing garments that aren’t patched and that don’t have holes in them. 

So how dare we act as if God caused this calamity to happen to the “least of these.”

This was not a natural disaster but rather the result of our gross negligence as fellow humans.  We always act as if natural disasters are some major sign that the world is coming to an end.  Please!  Natural disasters have occured all throughout human history.  We get shocked when four hurricanes hit Florida within a two month time period of 2004, but yet and still no one asks the question, well why did people settle in a land that suffers such great natural calamity.  The same for those who live in New Orleans–Katrina aside, living in a flood prone area something on that magnitude was bound to happen (although I’ll fully argue that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 should not have been that time). It’s like saying that God is trying to tell you something or that the world is ending when an earthquake happens–but you live in California!

As people who have more, we’re expected to do more.  So in the words of Nike, Just Do It.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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7 responses to “The Preacher’s Response to the Haitian Earthquake; Pat Robertson’s comments

  1. Good post. Interesting thoughts. Were all of us as Christ desired us to be…we WOULD sell all we have and give it to the poor. But American’s are NOT gonna give up what we praise as ‘The American Dream.’ It is NOT God ‘dream.’ It is the American ‘dream.’ And for all the ‘light’ you directed on the subject of Robertson’s comment….I don’t understand why you ‘were not all that moved by what happened.’ The character flaw of ‘not being all that moved’ when we learn of the devastation of others….is why we materialistic Americans were so numb to the previous plight of Haiti…before the earthquake. But not all Americans were ‘numb’ to their plight of poverty. Thousands have spent countless hours there serving and helping…in the small ways available to them….the precious Haitian people. But the majority of Americans…and people the world over…are concerned more with their ‘own’ situations….be they good or bad. We may not all have the means to ‘serve’ Haiti and other peoples of equal economic distress. But if, in the deepest pit of the heart, one cannot ‘FEEL’ strong hurt for the plight of the Haitian circumstance…..he shoud fear the lessons to come his way which teach of ‘humility.’ And concerning what America could have or should have done in times past for Haiti….America can’t help itself. How can it help Haiti. It’s like all nations ‘in the world’….it’s in darkness. The blind lead the blind. But God continues to ‘RULE IN THE KINGDOM OF MEN..AND SETS OVER IT THE BASEST OF MEN.’ God loves the Haitian people. He is there with them…in the midst of the suffering. He keeps alive those who are buried for days. And others…He has taken to Himself…or left them to consequences fo their choosing. But knowing the depth of hurt that has come to their….our compassion has to meet with equal measure….their hurt. As I watch the reality which is Haiti…on CNN…I see the presence of God in the strength of many of the beautiful people. Life has never been about the comforts of the outter man. It has always been about the inner man and his dependence on the Father for Life. I perceive that God is very present amidst these precious people. I’ve heard more ‘praise of God’ from their mouths…in the midst of their suffering…than I’ve heard from many I encounter each day. God WILL give them comfort, hope, courage, and PEACE…in the midst of the storm. So the desire of my heart rises to Him continually for ‘thy will be done’ in the circumstance of the Haitian people…and with all who suffer. God is faithful….in life…and in death.

    Again, very good post. Good thoughts.

  2. Uppity,

    I really appreciate this blog. It was important for me to read the entire ‘Preacher’s Response’ today. The lessons shared pushes us all to grow forward, keeping our eyes on the prize. Thank you for addressing the need to care. It is too easy to allow ourselves to become distracted on this journey.

    Uppity is about radically caring.

  3. Excellent post. It is good to disclose the historicity of this countries atrocity upon other nations–it relinquishes the mendacity of conversation into the forum of real talk.

  4. It amazes me that people have this old testament way of thinking. If you “sin”, God will smite thee. If that were the case, many of us would be in bad shape including Pat Robertson. But Christ said he came to give life and to give it more abundantly.
    I do believe in the supernatural power of God, but I also believe in the scientific to explain natural phenomenon. If Pat Robertson actually dust off and crack open his Bible, he would know that God isn’t trying to punish or avenge anyone because of something he or she did or did not do. It “rains on the just and the unjust.” (Matt. 5:44-45)

  5. It’s a shame that the media doesn’t give more attention to preachers or ministers who’s thinking falls more in line with everything you’ve said here. It seems the only time the media pays attention to “Christian thought” is when it’s enough of a firestorm to create ratings.

    What Pat Robertson said was just plain terrible. It is not our job to try and figure out what it is that God is up to, but to simply follow the path that he has told us to follow and clearly outlined for us in his word. In scriptures God commands us to DO something more than he tells us to SAY anything, and the only times he does tell us to SAY something is in prayer or spreading the Gospel.

    There is no social/racial group of people in this country or the world that is completely innocent of anything. The only people that Jesus has said are innocent are children. Saying that Haitian people somehow deserved what has happened to them is a lot like the pot calling the kettle black. In Romans 2:11 the bible clearly states that there is no respect of persons with God. ALL human beings have a sin nature and are in need of salvation through our lord Jesus Christ.

    Unfortunately, when people look at America, they don’t see a people who present themselves with humility before God or even amongst each other. In American society, it’s all about how well you can “one-up” the next person no matter how trivial or grand. Democrats are always trying to prove how much more intelligent they are than Republicans, and Republicans are always trying to prove how much more family-oriented they are than Democrats. Goth/Emo kids are always trying to prove how much more intellectual/deep they are than everyone else, and jocks/fratboys cheerleaders/sorors are always trying to prove how they’re much more cool/sociable. It never stops.

    In American society everyone regardless or religion, class or creed suffers from the same disease: the need to ALWAYS be right and prove how wrong everyone else is. Even if it means shooting down all logic or compassion. Pat Robertson has no problem coming off as having no compassion because all that matters is that he is right according to conservative standards. An elementary school doesn’t mind suspending and mentally evaluating an 8 year old child with special needs when his drawing of Jesus on the cross is thought to go against the school’s policy of violence; as long as the school was right according to the school rules, that’s all that matters.

    The problem isn’t only that Americans lack a great deal of humility in how we view other nations, we lack humility in how we treat each other. I don’t think we will ever see an America that can present itself with humility before the world until it’s very own people can learn how to treat those within their borders with humility.

    No matter how many books someone may have read or written, sermons heard or preached, and people seen and met, that it is impossible that human beings can know everything or everything about some one; only God holds that ability. We don’t know how to WALK in humility. As a matter of fact, humility is an action and is not something that can be spoken of. I heard some one once say that the minute you believe you are humble is the minute you no longer are.

    But some people will continue to ignore what is so obvious and clearly set before them.I am hoping that for every Pat Robertson, there is a preacher or minister that preaches the Gospel the way that Jesus would have intended it.

  6. Natural calamity means natural disaster which is caused by nature. Every year many country falls victim to various natural calamities. They are flood, earthquakes & many other natural calamities. The effects of the natural calamities beggar description. They leave a vast trail of devastation. The affected people & animals suffer untold sufferings. They cause heavy damage to our life & properties. Houses are destroyed, cattle are washed away, crops are greatly damaged and trees are uprooted. Thousands of people and other animals remain without food for many days. The after effect of some natural calamities are more serious. Famine breaks out. Many people & animals die for want of food. The prices are all necessary things go up. Many dangerous diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery etc. break out in an epidemic form. By raising public awareness and taking necessary precautionary measures and steps natural calamities can be prevented. The government and all the conscious citizens should come forward with concerted efforts to prevent natural calamities.

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