In the world of facebook, many of my clergy colleagues have been posting on their statuses: “Pat Robertson does not speak for me,” an important affirmation that hateful (ignorant, racist, bitter, inane, homophobic, sexist, self-important, life-defeating, godless) language that is spoken by a self-professed Christian does not mean that it is, in fact, Christian language.
I take serious issue, alongside my colleagues, with Pat Robertson’s recent statements regarding the devastation in Haiti (and with many other things that Robertson says), for all of the reasons noted parenthetically above and for theological reasons as well. As one colleague posted on facebook, “Robertson does not speak for me. Robertson does not speak for God.”
Robertson’s remarks do not reflect my theology of a God of grace…nor do they reflect my theology of a God of judgment and justice (a congruous theology of divine roles, contrary to popular opinion). But I find that Robertson’s comments also do a grave injustice to the ancient and deeply faithful practice of lament—an issue that is absent from facebook statuses and the blogs that I frequent.
By blaming the earthquake’s devastation on Haitians’ ancestors—or blaming Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 on gays and abortions—Robertson denies and demeans our common need for lament. He attempts to cut off the necessary space within Christian faith for wailing to and at God (1), and for anguished reflection on the nature of God and the nature of humanity (2).
(1) As part of the life of faith, lament draws us closer to God as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death—not further away, as one might think—because in lament we pour out all of our grief and rage directly to God, like a child who kicks and cries in torment to her mother because she knows that her mother is the safest outlet for all of her childhood angst. We cry aloud and beat our breasts (or we sit in stunned silence) before God, because the devastation of an earthquake is God-level stuff…and because we trust that God can handle it. No need to rationalize that a travesty is somehow part of God’s plan; God can handle the irrationality of the world, the intensity of human pain, and the anger of our prayers. (There are reasons why God is God!) Robertson’s God, it would seem, cannot handle human accusations, so Robertson attempts to divert our suspicion and blame away from God to—in this case—Haiti’s history and its complex religious traditions.
(2) Lament, as a faith-filled response to horrific events, is the necessary (albeit difficult) space in our religious tradition for theological/critical reflection on who we are and who God is. The lamentations throughout scripture often include an element of confession—not a scapegoating “confession” as we hear from Robertson, but self-revealing confession. For example, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts…or else my wrath will go forth like fire” (Jeremiah 4:3-4). “Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing” (Joel 2:12-13).
Sidebar: check out John Stewart’s The Daily Show from 1/14/10 for a fantastic, if irreverent, reflection on who we are and who God is.
It is not Robertson’s place to “confess” (scapegoat) any supposed sin of the Haitians to satisfy his image of a judging God. It is his place—and ours, living in an industrialized and market-driven nation—to confess our collective sin of selfishness and neglect of our neighbors, to put sackcloth on ourselves (not on others), and to amend our ways—immediately and generously—even as we add our own voices to Haiti’s lament, trusting that God hears us and that God’s goodness is sure:
When people don’t understand life, they say things like:
But I want to know, where is God?
Where is God when innocence is infested?
Where is God when dreams are scattered?
Where is God when potential is interrupted?
I once thought that chaos and evil and death
were the doings of people.
But I guess that sometimes God just says,
And life is abandoned, and God is at fault.
Tears go uncomforted.
Wounds are not healed.
And God is silent.
Where is God when sorrow wallows and anger festers?
Where are the promises?
Where is the palm of God’s hand?
Where is the one who knit us together in our mothers’ wombs?
Where is God?