The Problem with Political Prophets

HIT OR MISS: CBN founder Pat Robertson keeps us guessing with his prophecies about politics and world events. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Newscom)

“I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I’m hearing from the Lord it’s going to be like a blowout election in 2004. The Lord has just blessed him…. It doesn’t make any difference what he does, good or bad.” — Pat Robertson, January 2, 2004

Once upon a time, Pat Robertson prophesied and things happened. He declared George W. Bush was God’s man for 2004. And everything was good for Pat and George on Election Day.

Score one for the prophet of a small media empire and for the president accused of building an empire (you be the judge on the latter).

In November 2007, Pat decided to turn tarot cards again. This time, the anointed one was Rudolph Giuliani.

For obvious reasons, this marriage made in heaven was a strange one. Pat hates divorce. Rudy (apparently) loves it. Pat decries abortion rights. Rudy pledges to uphold them. Nevertheless, Pat Robertson bequeathed the divine blessing to Rudy.

Pat’s rationale for this prophetic endorsement was different than the one for Bush. Giuliani is God’s man to protect Americans “from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists,” Pat averred.

That second time around, however, Pat-styled prophecy failed. In January 2008, after Giuliani performed poorly in the primary elections, Pat appeared on Hannity & Colmes doing a delicate dance of doubletalk — God had revealed to Pat who would win the eventual election (and since Rudy was out it wasn’t him), but he took a vow of silence as to the identity of the future winner.

Prophecy Pat-style always keeps you guessing. So was it any wonder when on January 4, 2012, Pat Robertson deigned to make a prediction concerning our next president? Apparently, God is uttering negative prophecies now, instead of affirmative ones.

So thanks to Pat, we now know that the next President will not be … Barack Obama! As for the identity of the victor, Robertson claims it’s for him and God to know and for us unenlightened earthlings to find out. Apparently this time around, God told Pat to keep his trap shut.

Pat Robertson’s predictions and prophetic interpretations of world events have become something of a painful joke in recent years. His claim that Hurricane Katrina represented God’s judgment on the United States for its tolerance of legalized abortion was dubious enough, but then his declaration that Haiti’s deadly earthquake in 2010 was the result of a curse on that nation for its “pact with the devil” was even more bewildering.

So what are we to make of Pat’s spotty record with political prophecies? Well, one thought occurs to me right off the bat: Don’t blame all Christians for the ill-advised behavior of one believer, even if that one happens to preside over a worldwide media conglomerate that reaches people in more than 100 countries. While it is true that for many of us theology and Scripture inform our views on a myriad of public policy, few of us deign to divine in the name of God the man or woman who would be king or queen.

At the same time, let’s cut Pat some slack — as an octogenarian, perhaps his hearing is getting bad. But let’s allow Scripture (yes, religion) to have the last word for those, like Pat, who invoke God’s name on behalf of a candidate: “… when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

God is not silent. But hopefully, Pat’s presumptuous prophecies are. Be not afraid!

Condi Rice Memoir: ‘We Have a Race Problem’

‘We Have a Race Problem, Mr. President’

In an excerpt from her new memoir published in Newsweek, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she didn’t think much about dire Hurricane Katrina warnings when she left Washington D.C. to watch U.S. Open tennis in New York in August 2005. Turning on the TV after a trip to an upscale shoe store in the city, she saw the devastating images of mostly black faces in New Orleans and knew right away that she should have never made the trip.

“Mr. President, I’m coming back. I don’t know how much I can do, but we clearly have a race problem,” she recounts telling the president. “I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?”

The Lingering Wound of Katrina

Rice admits that Katrina was “the first in a spiral of negative events that would almost engulf the Bush presidency” and says the federal response was slower and more flawed than anyone, including George W. Bush, wanted. Yet, for her, the “lingering wound of Katrina” is that “some used the explosive ‘race card’ to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man.”

“It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible,” she writes, saying she remains “appalled” that it was necessary to defend him on this issue.

The Moral Case for Opposing Tyranny

In an interview with The Daily Beast about the book, Rice defends the Bush administration’s “Freedom Agenda,” framing it as both a moral and practical pursuit.

“We pursued the Freedom Agenda not only because it was right but also because it was necessary,” Rice is quoted as writing. “There is both a moral case and a practical one for the proposition that no man, woman, or child should live in tyranny. Those who excoriated the approach as idealistic or unrealistic missed the point. In the long run, it is authoritarianism that is unstable and unrealistic.”

Gadhafi’s “Black Flower in the White House”

A New York Times review of No Higher Ground focuses on clashes between Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney over the war on terror, but includes the curious revelation that recently deceased Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gadhafi was “eerily fascinated” with her and “made a video showing pictures of her while a song called ‘Black Flower in the White House’ played.”

Rice’s Biggest Regret

Neither Katrina nor Freedom Agenda challenges top Rice’s list of regrets, however. In a Q&A with readers of the Charlotte Observer this week, the former Secretary of State answered a question about what she would change from her White House tenure if she could by saying she wishes that the Bush administration had been able to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.

“Because resolving our massive immigration problem is essential to securing a prosperous future for generations, I truly wish we had been able to see those reforms come to fruition,” said Rice.

Asked what has built character in her life, she told readers that throughout every season of her life, “the Lord has built character in me as I rely on Him.”

What do you think?

Was George W. Bush’s Katrina “race problem” the beginning of the end of positive public perception for his administration? Is his record on race defensible?

Where Was God in Hurricane Irene?


A message for Hurricane Irene in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

“Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has,” said Boston University Religion scholar Stephen Prothero at CNN’s Belief blog as Hurricane Irene made her way up the East Coast over the weekend.

“When the Great Colonial Hurricane raced up the east coast and lashed New England in August 1635, its 130 mph winds and 21-foot storm surge were almost universally viewed in supernatural rather than natural terms—as a judgment of God on the unfaithful,” he said.

Now, we generally view those (like Pat Robertson) who express such views as “cranks and outliers-relics of a bygone age” because the language of science has largely “routed” the language of theology when it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, said Prothero.

As if right on cue, a campaign spokesperson for presidential candidate Michele Bachmann claimed her boss was joking Sunday when she suggested that Irene was sent to deliver a political punch. “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” said Bachmann. “We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?'”

“Video of Bachmann’s appearance in Florida shows that her remarks were delivered in at least something of a lighthearted way. If the campaign says she meant it as a joke, it’s a believable explanation. That does, though, raise the question of whether it’s appropriate for a presidential candidate and member of Congress to be joking about a major weather event that has already resulted in fatalities and extensive property damage, and isn’t over yet,” Politico’s Alexander Burns chided.

His is a good question six years after Hurricane Katrina unfurled her wrath on the Gulf Coast. The devestated Ninth Ward of New Orleans “still looks like a ghost town,” the Associated Press reported. “Redevelopment has been slow in coming, and the neighborhood has just 5,500 residents — one-third its pre-Katrina population.”

Nevertheless, there is citywide reason to celebrate.

“Entrepreneurship and civic engagement is up, city schools have shown test-score gains and the middle class is growing, according to a new report by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a group tracking the city’s recovery. Even crime — still nearly twice the national average — is being held in check and falling, the report said. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is getting closer to finishing $14 billion in work to better shield the city from future hurricanes.”

The world God created, loves, and is working to redeem and restore is a place of beauty and fecundity and of arbitrary brutality and terror,” said West Virginia Wesleyan College Assistant Professor of Religion Debra Dean Murphy at Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog. “We’ve been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies” and decide we can worship God on a mountaintop or a golf course, until an earthquake or hurricane “spoils the romance,” she said.

“The cruel caprice leaves us in stunned silence. But being the chatterers most of us are, we rush to fill the silence, to explain the unexplainable, often with well-worn pieties (‘God has a purpose in all of this’) that can be as cruel as the destruction they mean to rationalize. The biblical tradition asks us to wrestle our whole lives with this paradox.”

As a lifelong Jersey Shore resident I’ve not only wrestled, but have learned to hold these truths in tension. I revel in God’s handiwork and respect it, but worship him alone.