If, as we are told, we render unto Caesar what he is due and unto God what He is due, then what shall we render unto Marion (Pat) Robertson? Shall we treat him as the politician he has become or as the religious leader he once was? As far as the other candidates are concerned, the answer is clear: they prefer not to treat Robertson at all.
As a result, Robertson goes his merry way, blithely contradicting himself with, it seems, impunity. By a form of asexual reproduction unknown in higher animals, there are now two Robertsons: the one-time television preacher who said some astounding things and the new presidential candidate Robertson who denies saying them. The two ought to be introduced.
For instance, Robertson once said that Christians and Jews "are the only ones qualified" to govern "because, hopefully, they will be governed by God and submitted to him." Robertson's formula imposes an insurmountable poll tax on nonbelievers and adherents of other religions -- so insurmountable that Robertson has denied making the statement. "I never said that in my life," he told Time magazine. "I never said only Christians and Jews. I never said that."
Unfortunately, Robertson's statement was made on his television show, "The 700 Club," and it was taped. The remark even seemed to surprise the show's co-host, Ben Kinchlow, who questioned whether Robertson meant what he said. "Yeah, I'm saying that," Robertson said. "I just said it." Robertson now acknowledges the remark, but says it was made as a minister and not as a presidential candidate. Only for Robertson is the past not prologue.
Robertson has made similar statements. He once said that Christians are more patriotic than others. When questioned about that, the former minister once again had a lapse of memory. But when confronted with a tape, Robertson fessed up -- sort of: "I didn't remember it. I didn't remember saying it that way."
Robertson is entitled to his religious views. But he is now, as he proclaims almost daily, a politician, and he ought to be judged and held accountable by secular standards. For instance, his convenient forgetfulness -- not to mention his change of identity from evangelical television preacher to communications executive -- is the sort of thing that got both Gary Hart and Joseph Biden into trouble. They also had a hard time remembering things -- Hart's date of birth, for instance or, with Biden, the origin of a speech.
These are what we have come to call character issues. Robertson proclaims his character by thumping the Bible and flashing his twinkly smile. But the forgetting of important matters is not something easily excused. A recent Washington jury refused to buy that line from Michael Deaver and convicted him of perjury. It hardly mattered to the jury that Deaver said he had forgotten certain episodes, and neither did it matter to the judge that Deaver claimed his mind was addled by drink. The issue, plain and simple, was truthfulness.
Yet the other Republican candidates have made an exception for Robertson. As with Jesse Jackson, he is patronized. There are two reasons for this: first, he is not expected to win. Second, all the candidates want to woo Robertson's constituency. At the moment, that's 8 percent of the Iowa vote -- ahead of Rep. Jack Kemp, Pete du Pont and Alexander Haig. But Iowa is a caucus state where the premium is on organization and commitment. Robertson appears to have the organization, and his followers appears to have commitment. His showing may be far higher than his current poll ratings.
The issue of truthfulness is a snap compared with religious conviction. But even here, there's no reason other candidates cannot judge Robertson by the secular standards he now invites. NBC recently aired a tape of Robertson claiming to cure a woman of cancer. Other tapes show him "rebuking" a hurricane, turning it away from his transmitting tower. He claims he did this once before. "I know that it was God's power that spared this region and also our CBN tower," Robertson wrote. Would that Robertson would use his influence to bring rain to Ethiopia.
There are sufficient inconsistencies in Robertson's record to raise troubling questions about his character. Yet Republicans who gleefully reacted to the downfall of Hart and Biden and who accused Democrats of refusing to confront Jesse Jackson on his association with the anti-Semitic Rev. Louis Farrakhan are mute when it comes to Robertson. In their own way, they're doing what Robertson does -- pandering to his constituency. Their silence is eloquent. By saying nothing about Robertson, they say plenty about themselves.