Friday, January 06, 2006

Loose Tongue + Hubris + Reporters Ignorant of the Meaning of Religious Language = Robertson Flap

From the January 5 edition of CBN's The 700 Club:

ROBERTSON: I have said last year that Israel was entering into the most dangerous period of its entire existence as a nation. That is intensifying this year with the loss of Sharon. Sharon was personally a very likeable person. I am sad to see him in this condition.

But I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, "divide my land." God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says, "This is my land." And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, "No. This is mine."

And the same thing -- I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated, and it was terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, he was dead. And now Ariel Sharon, who was again a very likeable person, a delightful person to be with. I prayed with him personally. But here he is at the point of death. He was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or United States of America. God said, "This land belongs to me, you better leave it alone."

Reporting on Robertson's remarks dumbed them down to a crass attack on an apparently dying man. This prompted a swift White House response, distancing itself from Robertson's remarks. A White House spokesman called the comments about Ariel Sharon’s stroke “wholly inappropriate and offensive.”

Spokesman Trent Duffy responded Friday to the Christian leader’s suggestion that the Israeli prime minister, who suffered a massive stroke Wednesday, was being punished by God for dividing the Land of Israel by evacuating Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip last summer. “I think those comments were wholly inappropriate and offensive, and really don’t have a place in this or any other debate,” Duffy said onboard Air Force One on Friday.

The Robertson statement raises so many interesting points: how does a sovereign God exercise his prerogatives in history? Should Christian leaders presume to speak for the Lord in affixing blame and assinging explanations for disasters? Why do good things happen to bad persons and vice versa? Why does the press find Robertson so interesting anyway?

However, the point I want to raise is the difficulty conservative Christians have communicating in understandable ways via the secular media. If a pastor said "I felt the Lord leading me to speak up," a secular press would be jumping to conclusions of psychosis. If one of us says that you "must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven," we would be lambasted for our hate speech or, at the very least, a shocking absence of largeness of spirit and comity with people of other religions.

People like Robertson are given to extravagant comments and controversial pronouncements. He certainly seems capable of getting himself into enough trouble on his own even without misquotations or misundersanding. But, the media appear singularly tone deaf to the peculiar language of conservative Christianity. When simple statements affirming a belief in the uniqueness of Christianity come across as hate speech and the common parlance of the church gets heard as evidence of psychotic breaks with reality, then we must ofject to the collective ignorance of those reporting the news.

All of you who find yourself in a position to offer up sound bites to the press already know how overly careful we must be to avoid sounding like lunatics when the story gets written. Robertson, who evidently has an endless store of outrageous lines for media consumption, becomes an easy enough person to misquote and take out of context. That does not explain, however, the tendency for the secular press to be so ignorant of the language of faith and the meaning of faith utterances.

One could only hope that educated and professionally experienced reporters would make a greater effort to understand the people they cite. No wonder we get the Middle East story so wrong so often. We do not fairly report what we do not begin to understand.

1 comment:

revdrron said...

Can’t touch this!

“If Christians would read the Bible, instead of just watching TV, they would understand that people who claim to know exactly why God does what He does are usually false teachers,” said Mr. Robertson. “God disciplines American Christians for their willful ignorance of the Scriptures by having me embarrass them every 60 days or so with another ridiculous remark.”

Mr. Robertson said that God had judged Ariel Sharon by making him “old and morbidly obese” and thus a high risk for cardio-vascular problems.

“It’s like a lightning bolt from heaven,” he said.