What could have misled Pat Robertson?

There have been many reports in the press about Pat Robertson’s interpretation of recent events in Haiti, which basically says that the people of Haiti are suffering the inevitable consequences of the fact that a leader of the uprising against France a couple of centuries ago made a pact with Satan in order to pull off the rebellion successfully. Some accounts say that the pact was made by a rebel leader named Dutty Boukman (eg the Washington Post), others put Jean-Jacques Dessalines at the head of the negotiations (eg the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Robertson doubtless knows the prophecy of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31.29f, one of the features of which will be the principle set out there in the words ‘In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own sin’. Whatever the truth of Satan’s influence on the life of any nation, no Evangelical can simply shrug off a disaster like this as the inevitable result of someone else’s sin.

Why would any Evangelical make such a mistake? What blinkers were limiting the scriptural view here? Readers can doubtless supply many answers—prejudice of one sort or another, the mischievous urge to be controversial—but what came to my mind was something a bit different. I suspect Robertson’s mistake was caused by an assumption that has become widespread in recent years among Evangelicals of all denominations that what happens to people is dependent on what their leaders do or don’t do.

This has certainly been the case among Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church in recent years. We are doomed if Gene Robinson remains among our leaders, but we can be saved if we transfer our allegiance to Peter Akinola or Bob Duncan. It’s not enough that we be faithful Christians, many of us have been told explicitly; without a faithful leader, our obedience is faulty and our salvation imperilled. When did Evangelicals begin thinking any leader can come between them and Christ, whether for good or ill?

The traditional Evangelical means of reformation has been the ploughboy knowing the Bible as well as the Minister does, as Tyndale put it. Leaders only lead people astray if people follow them astray. Even insisting that Robertson get the biblical facts right doesn’t address the real problem. The Christian community is treading a difficult path through a maze of misleading signs and false landmarks. We need everyone checking the map and compass regularly, not just the person in front.

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