With liberal reporters since 9/11 frequently equating conservative Christians with Quran-thumping Muslims, WORLD has tried to delineate the real differences (see "Osama bin Ashcroft," April 27, 2002). For example, Islam initially expanded through the slaughter of opponents, but Christianity grew through the martyrdom of believers. Muslim extremists issued fatwas against their enemies, but the apostle Paul taught Christians in Rome, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink."
Pat Robertson last week, 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: "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. . . . I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but . . . I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it." Two days later he apologized, stating, "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration . . ."
It's good that Mr. Robertson recognized his fault, but the original ad lib already had provided ammunition for enemies of Christ such as Venezuelan VP 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 had also played up the story, often treating Mr. Robertson as if he were the Protestant pope.
Mr. Robertson's comments also had made the day of some Islamic groups. Under the press release heading "PAT ROBERTSON'S FATWA," the Muslim American Society went on offense, screaming 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."
(Muslim clerics, of course, have done more than talk about killing lots of people, with fatwa followers murdering intellectuals such as Faraj Foda, Hussein Muruwwa, Mahmoud Taha, and Al-Sadeq Al-Nayhoum-and most Americans have never heard their names.)
None of these prudential concerns would matter much if Pat Robertson had been biblically correct in calling for assassination-but it's hard to see either general or specific biblical warrant for his original 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. 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 assassinations of those who fought Israel 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, are Venezuelans, one of whom wrote on WORLD's blog site worldmagblog.com of Mr. 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!" Yes, and pray also 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 invent our own. If we are careless, we bring dishonor to God's name by making many believe there is no difference between the preeminent religion of peace and the many religions of violence.