Well just when human tragedy couldn’t get any more tragic Pat Robertson decided to get into the act. Following the 7.0 earthquake that devastated that impoverished country leveling the capital of Pot-O-Prince and killing thousands with estimates going into the 100,000 to 1.000.000 range with hurricane season approaching. Not being able to keep his mouth shut my neighbor in the Tidewater has decided to blame the tragedy on to poop people of Haiti on the alleged actions of people who lived over 150 years ago. Robertson on his 700 Club show commented:
“They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another….”
This is absurdity of course but something that has been spread by some Fundamentalist Christians for years. Robertson is not alone, blogger Tom Barrett of “The American Daily” says: “Haiti is the only country in the entire world that has dedicated its government to Satan. Demonic spirits have been consulted for political decisions, and have shaped the country’s history.” Thus speaks Reverend Doug Anderson, who grew up in Haiti with missionary parents, and served there along with his wife Dawn as a missionary until 1990. The leaders of Haiti make no attempt to hide their allegiance to Satan. Haiti’s government is a government of the devil, by the devil, and for the devil.”
Unfortunately crap like this has been floating around for years in the United States among some more conservative and fundamentalist Christians for many years. I can remember in a number of churches where former “missionaries” to Haiti spoke the same tripe. Unfortunately this is more common than any of us would like to admit and even allegedly educated and “spiritual” people who have money and power like to spout forth such hateful and un-Christian ideology.
Of course such comments are absurd as Jean Gelen of “Black and Christian.com notes:
“Obviously, the idea that Haiti was dedicated to Satan prior to its independence is a very serious and profound statement with potentially grave consequences for its people in terms of how they are perceived by others or how the whole nation is understood outside its borders. One would agree that such a strong affirmation should be based on solid historical and scriptural ground. But, although the satanic pact idea is by far the most popular explanation for Haiti’s birth as a free nation, especially among Christian missionaries and some Haitian Church leaders, it is nothing more than a fantasist opinion that ultimately dissipates upon close examination.”
In fact the issue is less related to a pact with Beelzebub than the American and French governments of the time. As historian Alex von Tunzelmann wrote in the Times Online in his article “Haiti: the land where children eat mud” said and I apologize for the long quote but I cannot say it better:
“History tells a different story. The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.
For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.” http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6281614.ece
One has to look at the practical implications of statements such as Robertson has not only on the people of Haiti but also on how people around the world view the Christian faith. To his credit Robertson’s “Operation Blessing” charity has done much good, however his statements, even when retracted or clarified by his spokespeople as was done today, damage the efforts of well meaning Christians who go to Haiti not simply to evangelize but to serve and help local churches. Additionally such statements do immeasurable harm to his fellow Christians of all types as many people who are not Christians assume that such views are characteristic of all Christians.
The reaction to Robertson’s remarks have been predicable, as usual he has played right into his detractors and the critics of the Christian faith. His words will echo far louder than all the Christian aid workers who are already in Haiti or on their way, many at their own expense. My old training sergeant when I was in my college Army ROTC made a comment that in the Army that there were “attaboys and aw shits” and that “it took 2000 attaboys to make up for one aw shit.” The same is true in life and in any form or public ministry. Robertson has as usual managed to drop a turd in the communion chalice and piss on Christians who care for the people of Haiti and spend their time and talent to help these good people.
Robertson’s comments ultimately that God would be so vengeful that he would punish the people of Haiti today for the alleged actions of people who in desperation revolted against harsh and brutal colonial masters over 200 years ago. Of course this takes Old Testament judgments against the people of Israel for their sins “down to the 7th generation” or judgments on the nations surrounding Israel and applies them to current people by isogeting scripture and outside of its historic context in order to bolster crass prejudice against Haitians. The Haitians are not viewed as people whose current situation is based on alleged “pacts with the Devil” when the only “devil” that they dealt with were the French, Americans and Germans who placed insurmountable burdens on the Haitians that when coupled with corrupt families who dominated Haitian politics for nearly a century doomed these people to the lowest standard of living in the Western Hemisphere.
Robertson and those like him only make matters worse for the Haitians and the Christians who actually go to Haiti to serve the Haitian people. It is a sad commentary that men like Robertson who have power, money and influence over millions of Evangelical Christians use their position to posit such crap which assumes that somehow God is angry at the Haitians today for things that their founding fathers allegedly did. I have to ask if this is so how can God ignore the sins of other powerful nations who not only through their ideology, economic policies and prejudices have exploited poor nations like Haiti for their own nefarious purposes. The idea that somehow the Haitians are any more under God’s judgment than any other nation is prejudicial at best and demonstrates the height of historical ignorance and cultural arrogance.
Robertson as usual has stuffed his foot so deep down his throat that his big toe is almost visible from another orifice and as usual other Christians will have to deal with his statements as they strive to love and serve God and his people.
God bless those who are already on the ground and those on their way to Haiti to help the Haitian people no matter what their religious faith is or is not. I do pray that people will do whatever they can to contribute to worthwhile organizations who will use the time, talent and treasure of those who give to actually do some good for the people of Haiti and not simply make themselves look good.
Some links are provided here:
The American Red Cross
Catholic Charities of Miami
Episcopal Relief and Development