Liberal reporters since 9-11 have frequently equated conservative Christians with Quran-thumping Muslims, but the differences between the two religions are huge. For example, Islam initially expanded through the slaughter of opponents, but Christianity grew through the martyrdom of believers -- and the apostle Paul taught Christians in Rome, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink."
Early this week, Pat Robertson, on his long-running TV show "The 700 Club," seemed more Muslim than Christian when he suggested that U.S. operatives assassinate Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Yesterday, he said he was misinterpreted and was suggesting kidnapping, not necessarily assassination, but he already had caused an international furor by using the A-word.
The televangelist should have remembered Spiderman's message that "with great power comes great responsibility." By his blurting, Robertson aided Venezuelan autocrats such as Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who sarcastically said that assassination advocacy was "very Christian" and went on to argue that "religious fundamentalism is one of the great problems facing humanity."
National and international journalists also played up the story, often treating Robertson as if he were the Protestant pope, as did some Islamic groups. Under a press release heading, "Pat Robertson's Fatwa," the Muslim American Society screamed that "someone should remind the darling of the Christian Right about the Ten Commandments. About the one that says 'thou shall not kill.' If that had been a Muslim cleric talking about killing a head of state, you would have never heard the end of it."
(Actually, Muslim clerics have done more than talk -- their fatwa followers have murdered intellectuals such as Faraj Foda, Hussein Muruwwa, Mahmoud Taha and Al-Sadeq Al-Nayhoum, and U.S. reporters have largely ignored that.)
None of these prudential concerns would matter much if Pat Robertson were biblically correct in calling for assassination -- but it's hard to see either general or specific biblical warrant for his fatwa. In general, as Paul wrote to Timothy, Christians are to pray "for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions."
Hugo Chavez is an evil tyrant, but so were many Roman emperors -- and Paul told Romans to "bless those who persecute you. ... Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." Last time I looked, "assassin" was not on the general list of honorable callings. Wartime is different, but last time I looked, we weren't at war with Venezuela.
Applying Old Testament history to current politics is sometimes exegetically tricky, but the wartime assassinations in Judges 3 and 4 -- Jael hammering a tent peg into Sisera's brain, Ehud the left-handed man thrusting his sword into the fat belly of the king of Moab -- also do not provide warrant for taking out Hugo Chavez. Nor do any of Christ's words or deeds suggest a WWJA (Who Would Jesus Assassinate?) list.
The people most affected by last week's tempest, of course, were Venezuelans, one of whom wrote on www.worldmagblog.com of Chavez's demagoguery and election-rigging, but noted that "after decades of corruption and ignoring the needs of the poor, our country may deserve a leader like Chavez. The fact is that Venezuela needs revival; corruption ... is a way of life there. All potential leaders are corrupt, and we could end up with someone worse than Chavez. Pray for my people!" Prayer should also be for missionaries who now face greater danger.
God is the God of history. He raises up leaders and strikes them down. The Christian goal is to follow biblical principles, including "just war" ones, and not to create new orders. Christians who are careless bring dishonor to God's name by making many believe there is no difference between the pre-eminent religion of peace and the many religions of violence.