- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Preachers, assassins and tin-pot strongmen never make good bedfellows, but they sometimes make good copy.

The Rev. Dr. Pat Robertson, the talk-show host and sometime presidential candidate, has knotted the skivvies of an assortment of fellow preachers and politicians, as well as a few editorialists, with his remark that an assassin might be better than an army, if one is ever needed, to take out Hugo Chavez, the mischief-making president of Venezuela.

Pat Robertson sometimes talks first and apologizes later, much like the man offering wit and wisdom at the end of the bar, and that’s what makes his “700 Club” telecasts popular on cable TV, where only the quick and the outrageous survive.

“If [Hugo Chavez] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him,” he told his audience the other night, “I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”

Nobody in Washington took this for more than routine cable-TV blah-blah, but it was unusual advice from a man of the cloth, and some of his godly brethren offered to lead him down the sawdust trail to the mourner’s bench for repentance. The most eloquent reproof was offered by Dr. Albert Mohler, the president, no less, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

“With unmistakable clarity and an apparent lack of self-consciousness, [Mr.] Robertson simply called for an assassination, presumably to be undertaken by U.S. military forces in violation of U.S. law,” the reverend doctor said. “In so doing he gave the Venezuelan leader a propaganda gold mine, embarrassed the Bush administration, and left millions of viewers perplexed and troubled. More importantly, he brought shame to the cause of Christ. This is the kind of outrageous statement that makes evangelism all the more difficult. Missing from the entire context is the Christian understanding that violence can never be blessed as a good, but may only be employed under circumstances that would justify the limited use of lethal force in order to prevent even greater violence.”

The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council in Washington, demanded that Mr. Robertson apologize, retract, clarify, and reflect on “what the Bible and Christianity teaches about the permissibility of taking human life outside the law.” Others, like the Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, fretted that the kerfuffle would make it difficult for Christian missionaries, often harassed by tin pots of the Fidelista strain, to preach the Gospel. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose interests run more to how to run a scam than how to run a church, demanded that the Federal Communications Commission see about bouncing Mr. Robertson off the air. If Janet Jackson’s boob, revealed in the most memorable moment of Super Bowl XXXVIII, has to go, then Pat Robertson has to go, too. “This is even more threatening to hemispheric stability than the flash of a breast,” the Rev. Mr. Jesse said. (He has said nothing yet about how this fits into a scam, but we can be sure he’s working on it.) Even Fidel Castro, not heretofore known for his theological insights, invited Mr. Chavez to Havana and said: “I think only God can punish crimes of such magnitude.”

Chastened, Mr. Robertson apologized, sort of. He really meant to say kidnap, not kill. For their part, President Chavez and his friends in Caracas are huffing, puffing and threatening everything just this side of declaring war against the United States. Who can blame them? Our South American neighbors rarely have anything beyond a disputed soccer match to go to war over, and they’re deluded into thinking the Robertson remarks were scripted by a committee of Karl Rove, Sgt. York and Audie Murphy.

When you’ve aimed insult at Washington as often as Hugo Chavez has, you naturally have to worry a little. Even a cable-TV talk-show host might give the president of the United States ideas. Mr. Chavez no doubt understands that it was the affront to diplomacy and good manners, not his math and logic, that made Mr. Robertson’s remarks irresponsible, outrageous, unacceptable, odious, appalling and so forth and so on.

But if an assassin had eliminated Saddam Hussein a decade ago, we might all — including the 1,864 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq — be raising cheers and giving thanks this morning. Some things are not meant to be said out loud. Besides, the target of assassination is not supposed to know he’s a marked man until he wakes up dead.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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