PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland - Word of Pat Robertson's outrageous remarks recommending the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reached this small seacoast town. A local man asked me what I thought of his comments. "Not much," I replied with some embarrassment. I'm sure the non Christian world is having a fine time ridiculing this latest example of un-Christ-like behavior.
Robertson has made other remarks over the years about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the gospel in which he says he believes. He is not alone. On the right and on the left, ordained and self-proclaimed "reverends" and honorary "doctors" appear to spend more time trying to reform a fallen and decaying world through politics and earthly power than they do promoting and proclaiming the ultimate answer to that fallenness.
While these apostles of political parties and personal agendas have every right to make fools of themselves, they are enabled in their foolishness by millions of people who blindly send them money. These money-senders are looking in the wrong place for their deliverance. While paying lip service to eternity, they seem to prefer immediate political gratification.
Few would pay attention to political preachers if these ministers did not have access to television and radio. And they would not have TV programs if people did not send them money which, in addition to buying TV time, is used to set most of them up in lifestyles that resemble the "rich young ruler." Jesus told the ruler to "sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Luke 18:22), but many TV preachers seem to expect you to sell what you have and give to them.
Much of what is proclaimed as God's will on TV and in fundraising appeals is false religion. People who respond with checks are either ignorant or willfully disobedient to what their spiritual commander-in-chief and the early apostles taught and practiced.
One of the great pronouncements on a Christian's relationship to the world is contained in 1 John 2:15-17: "Do not love the world or anything in the world. . For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away."
Too many Christians think if they shout loud enough and gain political strength the world will be improved. That is a false doctrine. I have never seen anyone "converted" to a Christian's point of view (and those views are not uniform) through political power. I have frequently seen someone's views changed after they have experienced true conversion and then live by different standards and live for goals beyond which political party controls the government.
Repeatedly in the Scriptures, which TV ministers regularly and selectively quote, are teachings, admonitions and commands that are antithetical to the high-octane rhetoric spanning the ideological and theological spectrum - from Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson.
Here is a partial list: God's strength is made perfect in human weakness; humble yourself and God will exalt you; he who would be a leader among you must first be your servant; love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; pray in secret, not publicly; give to the poor; God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; the last place at the table; the widow's mite (the message is that she gave all she had, not great wealth); the mustard seed (about the smallest amount of genuine faith); the washing of feet (as demonstrated by Jesus).
These virtues are virtually absent among the "resounding gongs and clanging cymbals" one sees on TV.
If people who bear the label "Christian" want to reduce these embarrassments, which interfere with the proclamation and the hearing of "true religion," they should refrain from sending money to TV preachers and contribute more to their local church.
Local giving not only would allow the giver to better monitor how the money is spent, but also, if the pastor occasionally says something he should not have said, the embarrassment will remain within the walls and not be a rhetorical shot heard around the world.
Pat Robertson eventually apologized for his remarks about assassinating Hugo Chavez. His penance should be to retire and to take his bombastic conservative and liberal colleagues with him.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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