Transcript

Robertson Apologizes for Chavez Assassination Remarks

Richard Cizik
Vice President for Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals
Thursday, August 25, 2005; 12:00 PM

Conservative broadcaster Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday for remarks he made Monday on "The 700 Club" in which he called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez . Robertson said that Chavez could transmit Communism and Islamic extremism to the region and suggested that "covert operatives" carry out his removal. The State Department called Robertson's remarks "inappropriate," while Venezuelan leaders responded angrily and called on the White House for stronger condemnation. Will the controversy die down, or will there be further repercussions from Robertson's comments? How do those within the evangelical community feel about the backlash?

Richard Cizik , vice-president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, was online Thursday, Aug. 25, at noon ET to discuss the backlash against conservative broadcaster Pat Robertson's comments calling for the removal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The transcript follows.

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Rockville, Md.: Dear Mr. Cizik, I am puzzled about Pat Robertson. It appears that on the one hand, evangelists like Mr. Robertson cultivate a "higher moral authority" image, but, on the other hand, they think little of telling lies (Mr. Robertson denied saying "assassination," in spite of having had his words caught on tape) or of advocating violence in case where it suits them. Is Pat Robertson considered a moral authority in the evangelical community? Can this image be sustained where it is tainted by lies and violence? Thanks.

Richard Cizik: You raise legitimate questions, can an evangelist be a "moral authority" and defy the Scripture? No. And, it would seem that Rev. Robertson agrees, if his apologies means anything. Thanks for your comment.

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Ponce, Puerto Rico : Mr. Cizik thank you for taking my question. It might seem humorous, but do you think Rev Robertson missed the Ten Commandments class (assuming he went to Divinity?Theology School)?

Richard Cizik: Yes, Pat has his Masters of Divinity from New York Theological seminary in 1959, and surely studies the Decalogue, probably in Hebrew, as do most seminarians. He's also a graduate of Yale Law School (1955). Either way, brother Pat realizes he transgressed some important rules here and apologized.

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Laurel, Md.: Shameful. Absolutely shameful. I assume Pat Robertson is a member. At what point does the National Association of Evangelicals censure members?

Richard Cizik: Actually, the records show that Pat Robertson is not currently a "member" of the NAE, nor is the "700 Club" a member organization. All that we would have, thus, is a kind of moral suasion over his views. At times he's taken us on for our views, such as a recent show on NAE's recent study of climate change.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Good afternoon, Mr. Cizik.

Let me start of by saying, if Pat Robertson was not a reverend I would have careless about his comment. But he's a follower, and teacher for our Lord Savior Jesus Christ. My Lord Jesus Christ IS about love and peace. He would never call for anybody to be killed.

Pat Robertson should leave the politics work to the White House, if he's going to be the teacher of God words.

Mr. Cizik which Bible is Pat Robertson reading, and teaching out of? Which Jesus is he following?

Richard Cizik: I would think that Pat Robertson's apology would confirm that he's a believer in Jesus Christ and the Bible. He surely made a mistake, which we at the NAE have called him on, and he's done the right thing, wouldn't you agree? He apologized and presumably learned a lesson on how careful he needs to be with his words. But don't we all?

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Washington, D.C.: Politically, I think this story will blow over in a few weeks. The greater damage, I think, will be spiritual, since such a prominent leader in the Christian community made such a ridiculous remark... Do you think there will be any long term damage to Christians' real mission, which is to bring believers to Christ?

Richard Cizik: I am in agreement that this will blow over politically, and that the longer issue is how the comment will be used to discredit the Gospel, or ministers in general. I am worried, as my own comments in the New York Times yesterday reveal, for how some political leaders might use the comments to implicate evangelical missionaries and aid workers. This is a real concern that maybe Pat Robertson's apology might help mitigate.

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Washington, D.C.: What exactly is the National Association of Evangelicals? Who or what groups belong to your association?

Thanks.

Richard Cizik: The NAE was founded in 1942 to be a voice for the evangelical cause, and today represents, both through the office for governmental affairs, which I direct, and other ministries, over 45,000 churches, 54 denominations, and a constituency of some 30 million evangelicals.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm not sure I understand why you have a position in government affairs. What sort of affairs would a religious organization have with the government, since the two are supposed to be separate? The reason I ask is because Pat Robertson appears to be using his position as a religious leader as a mechanism for guiding government. Do you think that Pat Robertson should be considered a political pundit rather than a religious leader?

Richard Cizik: I do not have a position in government, but rather serve as a liaison between our respective denominations, churches, and individuals and the government. Hopefully, in circumstances such as these, having an "Office for Governmental Affairs" serves to help clarify what exactly it is that the evangelicals of American believe.

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Bethesda, Md.: What is your organization's stance on the war in Iraq? I am sure that you support our troops in harm's way, but what about the war itself? Thank you.

Richard Cizik: The NAE does not have a position per se on the war in Iraq, recognizing that some within our movement support the President, and others, such as historic pacifist denominations, do not.

We recently published a major document entitled "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Engagement," available at www.nae.net (Click "Govt. Affairs), which enumerates the principles which guide our Association. One of the sections of the 12 page document is on peacemaking.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Mr. Cizik, you mention over and over again that Pat Robertson apologized, but how can that apology be deemed as meaningful when he lied and attempted to say he was misrepresented in the reporting of his original statement (which was clearly caught on tape)?

Is an apology wrapped in a lie enough for you to let Pat off the hook on this one? That seems absurd.

Richard Cizik: You raise a legitimate point, namely why didn't Pat Robertson come straight out and apologize, rather than try to say he didn't really mean "kill" Chavez? It seemed an awful lot like the usual mea-culpa in this town in which someone says, "Well, if I hurt anyone..." You have a right to be cynical, although I am not, and try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I've made mistakes, and will so again and yet hope I'd just come clean and say "I was wrong, forgive me." That's the best approach.

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Detroit, Mich.: I think many critics of Robertson dismiss him or his comments too quickly and as if the comments are coming from someone who is deranged. I am not an evangelical Christian and I disagree with many of Robertson's views. However, I have seen him a few times on the 700 Club and when he has been interviewed. He is well informed about events, people, politics, etc. concerning issues such as the Middle East: perhaps more so than the many of those in our Federal government. If people want to counteract him, they need to address his his views and comments and not the man.

Richard Cizik: Agreed, it's all too easy in today's society to personalize these conflicts and to let our own emotions carry us down the road to improper responses. There's a willingness on the part of the critics of Pat, including critics of evangelicals generally, to pile on. I sincerely try not to "pile on" with criticism when mainline Protestant or Catholics make a mistake, and thus would urge my friends across the religious and political aisle to grant a little forgiveness here. That said, let the record show that the NAE publicly disagreed (yesterday's New York Times, etc.), by comments by myself and our President Ted Haggard (e.g. CNN, etc.) and needed to do so because of the implications for misunderstanding overseas, particularly in the Muslim world.

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Charlottesville, Va.: I am puzzled by the discrepancy between the references on Mr. Robertson's Web site to his 'clarification' of his statement calling for the assassination of Chavez, and the fact the mainstream media is saying he apologized.

Why is it that evangelicals sometimes find it so difficult to admit error, when that very action is a tenet of Christianity? Do they think it would make them weaker?

Richard Cizik: Good question. I think, and you presumably agree, that "confession is good for the soul," as the expression goes. So, that being the case, why not own up right away to our sin, and calling for the assassination of anyone is sinful, apologize and ask for forgiveness.

While I don't know whether he has done so, I'd say that Pat Robertson owes President Hugo Chavez an apology and a request for forgiveness, regardless whether it is accepted or even understood. It would be good for the cause of moral uprightness, social righteousness and biblical justice, as this is what evangelicals stand for.

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Ore.: Mr. Cizik, Although I can't think of any practicing Christian I know personally who has advocated killing a head of state, virtually every single one of them is pro-death penalty. How do Christians square this ideology with the teachings of Christ? Moreover, how can they call themselves pro-life at the same time? Thanks.

Richard Cizik: Not every evangelical Christian is in favor of the death penalty, au contraire. There are some conservatives, to be precise, who do not believe that the state should have that kind of power. And, in my own case, I am re-evaluating my own position on the issue, given the inequitable application of the penalty. The NAE, to be clear, has not changed its position, which is that if no crime, no matter how heinous, warrants the death penalty, then the value of life itself is undermined. Lastly, I don't think that its an oxymoron or a contradiction to be "pro-life," to want to protect innocent human life, the unborn, and to sanction the ultimate penalty by the state against wrongdoers or evildoers.

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Midland, Mich.: Mr. Robertson should apologize to President Chavez. Listeners may have been "offended" but Mr. Chavez is the one wronged here.

Richard Cizik: Agreed, and note my earlier answer.

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Rockville, Md.: You seem like a thoughtful man. Can you give us an idea of what other thoughtful evangelicals are saying among themselves about Robertson?

Richard Cizik: Thanks, and you need to know that there's quite a bit of conversation going on, particularly that Pat made an unfortunate and tragic mistake, yet there's also a willingness to forgive. That said, a wholesale change of leadership is going on with evangelicalism, away from para-church leaders such as Pat Robertson to pastors and others.

You might want to check David Brooks's column in the New York Times entitled "A Natural Alliance" (May 26, 2005) as it talks about this change, particularly how evangelicals have become the leaders on global poverty, human rights, religious persecution, etc. and have been collaborating with liberals for the "common good." Check it out.

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Detroit, Mich.: As someone who is a Christian and a Republican, I find it outrageous that Christian Coalition types find it necessary to ram their views and beliefs down society's throats. Equally audacious is the belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong, how ignorant and closeminded is that? These are not the principles that Christianity is based upon, don't you consider this a paradox?

Richard Cizik: You're right that the "religious right" has an image problem, most of its own doing. As for style, I happen to advocate an approach that seeks the common good of society, not simply what I as an evangelical may deem "moral" or "right." In other words, not a zero-sum game style of "winner take all" but a collaborative approach that is inclusive, bipartisan, etc.

Indeed, this new style of politics [post-religious right] has been responsible for evangelicals taking the lead on responding in Congress to religious persecution, HIV/AIDS,human trafficking, genocide in south Sudan and now Darfur, and similar realities in North Korea. This is a far-cry from the kind of politics practiced by others with a more narrow agenda.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Well, no, he DIDN'T exactly apologize. He apologized in his web page. On TV, he said that what he said was "take out" a leader like Chavez and that "take out" can mean a whole lot of things. He said is words were misinterpreted by the media, which, he says, happens a lot. I don't call that an apology, I call that being a weasel.

Richard Cizik: Hmm...I didn't realize that Pat hadn't apologized to his listeners, and only on the web. Is that right? If so, then he needs to come clean and apologize on the "700 Club" for all to see and evaluate. I'll have to check this out.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What is the deeper story here? Years ago we wondered why Pat Robertson was talking about Liberia. Well, we found out that he was trading blood diamonds with African tyrants. What's his financial stake in Venezuela?

There's more here than just Pat Robertson making outrageous comments.

Richard Cizik: I don't know of any financial interests in Venezuela by Pat Robertson.

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New York, N.Y.: I find it interesting that there is a current of disapproval in this chat over the NAE's involvement in government affairs. From what I can see, Catholicism, Judaism, and non-evangelical Christian religions have extensive participation in influencing our government policies.

Richard Cizik: Well, we do have an ongoing "experiment" in this country with religious liberty, and it's a model for the world. All religious groups have equal rights, and a place at the table, not just economically but politically as well.

I'm among those who shun any triumphalism and believe that we can respect, and even learn from other traditions. If there's any current of concern about how we [NAE] do governmental affairs, that individual ought to know that we have been lauded by liberals, such as Nicholas D. Kristof, (NYT), for being the "new internationalists" who can be found in the farthest most reaches of the world aiding the sick, comforting the dying, and generally making a positive different for "the least of these." We've also begun to engage on issues such as climate change, and other unlikely issues, at least by normal expectations about what we are about. Check us out!

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Anonymous: Sir, do you have any opinion about the attention this has received in the media? Granted we shouldn't fail to rebuke Christians calling for the assassination of foreign leaders, but in political terms, how prominent a leader is Mr. Robertson today? Does the amount of coverage this comment received reflect how large a role he plays in Republican or conservative politics today?

Richard Cizik: No, clearly the amount of coverage this controversy has received is disproportional with the amount of influence that Pat Robertson has within evangelical circles, as well as politics generally. I don't recall if Pat has ever addressed the NAE, though my tenure here is 25 years. In other words, he would be considered a "friend" of the movement, but surely not a "power broker" or anything of the kind within the NAE.

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Bethesda, Md.: Apropos of Pat Robertson, and with your government affairs hat on, do you see reaction to his comments as part of the re-centering of American politics? That is, are we all finally getting sick of the left-left and right-right?

Richard Cizik: Amen. The document "For the Health of the Nation" on our Web site, and the large numbers of signers, both left, right, and center, is indication of a new consensus. Check it out at www.nae.net. You'll like it!

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Here's the problem...: I'm a Christian, but not a fan of Pat Robertson's. I read what he said, and I'm having trouble thinking that what he said has no merit. The fact is that the world would be a better place without atheistic dictators like Mr. Chavez is becoming in adulation of Fidel Castro. Isn't removing an obstacle to human suffering a worthwhile goal? Whether than means assassination (and good luck with that!;) or regime change is a matter for the politicians, but Mr. Robertson's point should not be dismissed lightly.

Richard Cizik: Ah, yes, removing suffering is a legitimate goal, but not by assassination. By no means! And, as you seem to acknowledge, it doesn't work [e.g., Cuba, ) or the regime change (e.g., from leftist Allende to right-wing Pinochet) is worse than leaving countries alone to determine their own futures.

For a Christian to advocate violence, such as regime-change by assassination, in such a troubled, violent-prone world, couldn't be more wrong-headed not to mention immoral. Sorry, but I disagree with you.

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Credibility: How much does this hurt the credibility of other Evangelical organizations which refused to condemn the call for assassination yesterday? A number claimed to be "too busy" to respond according to press reports.

How can these organizations have any credibility of moral issues or issues of Right To Life if they are "too busy" to make a straightforward statement that of course they condemn calls for assassination?

Richard Cizik: It obviously hurts their credibility, no need for me to say so, however. There is at times a sin of omission, as much as commission, and let's face it, we have no trouble disagreeing with our fellow believers in our churches, so why not publicly disagree with Pat? It is certainly not personal on my part, that is, disagreeing publicly with Pat Robertson, as I have a great deal of love for the man.

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Washington, D.C.: Pat Robertson is a brilliant person. He should know that Venezuela's President Chavez was elected twice, there is press freedom, there is economic growth and social success for the poor, and its popularity in Latin America and the Caribbean. What could drive him to make such silly statements?

Richard Cizik: Good question, maybe he should tell us.

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Potomac, Md.: Mr. Cizik, You have said that Mr. Robertson is not a member of the NAE, but if he were what would the NAE's actions be? How does the NAE keep its message clear and prevent accidental or intentional statements by its members that go against the NAE's stated stands and policies?

Richard Cizik: Quick answer: by only allowing the staff, or designate officials, to speak to the public about our [NAE] position stands. Make sense?

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Richard Cizik: Dear Chat-line friend,

I've got to sign-off but be assured of my appreciation for all your thoughtful and engaging questions and ideas. (I'm told there are lots more than I can even peruse on this site.)

If anyone would like to contact me by e-mail, I can be reached at RCizik@nae.net, with the caveat that you may have to wait some time for an answer. For general information about our work, go to "Governmental Affairs" at www.nae.net.

Bless you all,

Richard Cizik

NAE

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