Is Haiti Cursed By God?

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Evangelical and former Republican Presidential candidate Pat Robertson recently suggested on his show "The 700 Club" that the tragedy in Haiti was retribution for a age-old "pact with the devil" made by Haitians. But is this notion of "God's Wrath" commonly held among Christians? And what are the theological underpinnings of such a belief? Host Michel Martin talks to Rev. Hershael York, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, in our Faith Matters conversation youve heard of people coming out of the closet because they are gay or have conquered an addiction, but New York writer Ada Calhoun says she recently came out as a Christian to her mostly secular circle of friends. Well talk about that in a few minutes.

But first, more on Haiti. In the face of the tragedy unfolding there, many people are looking to faith to ask why? American evangelist and former Republican presidential nominee Pat Robertson apparently did that also. But his answer has drawn widespread criticism.

A day after the earthquake, Robertson speaking on his widely watched program The 700 Club suggested Haitis people had brought the tragedy on themselves in part by signing a pact with the devil to free themselves from French rule. Here it is.

Mr. PAT ROBERTSON (Host, The 700 Club): They said we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True Story. And so the devil said ok, its a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.

MARTIN: Of course, this is not the first time Pat Robertson has stirred controversy with similar comments. He blamed 9/11, for example, on American faithlessness. And when the former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon had a stroke, he called it divine retribution. But even though Robertson has been heavily criticized, we still wanted to understand more about this notion of Gods wrath, and is there a theological underpinning?

So, for that weve invited back one of our regular guests Reverend Hershael York. Hes pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. Hes also a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he joins us from the studio. Welcome to you, sir. Welcome back. Happy New Year.

Reverend HERSHAEL YORK (Pastor, Buck Run Baptist Church): Hi, Michel, thank you and to you as well.

MARTIN: Now, first I should mention, we certainly invited the Reverend Robertson to join us, he declined. His office sent us a statement, which well post on our Web site and Ill read a little bit of it later. And to you, Pastor York, certainly Im going to ask your opinion about this.

But first, I wanted to understand exactly what he is saying. Is there a notion of Gods wrath being visited upon a people for something that may or may not have happened hundreds of years ago? Is that theologically sound?

Rev. YORK: Well, every time theres a natural disaster of some kind, there are people who look to that. And you do have to understand, there is a theological backdrop against which natural disasters occur. You know, the Bible does teach that humanity is sinful. God does indeed judge humanity. He does indeed judge nations.

However, the problem comes when we begin to draw direct lines of cause and effect between particular sins and particular acts, because there a lot of nations that have done tremendous evil that weve seen go pretty much unscathed. I mean the Psalms wrestle with this problem in the scriptures themselves. You know, why do the wicked prosper, when sometimes good people, Gods people languish in poverty, in disease, and oppression?

And so, the problem comes when you try and see cause and effect in particular things. The Bible of course teaches that Gods going to judge the world. Second Peter chapter 3, teaches that. We also know that the truth is there is a theological sense in which we deserve every bad thing that happens to us, because we are as a race at enmity with God, and yet thats what Gods grace is about that He doesnt just give us what we deserve.

So, Evangelicals believe that God has sent Jesus to deliver us from that. And to be able to trace this natural disaster back to something that happened, you know, I forget exactly what year it was.

MARTIN: 1791.

Rev. YORK: 1791, first of all, I think that has a very deficient view of God. That God would visit on these people today. Even if you did believe that there was a pact made with the devil, why would God punish these people for something someone did generations ago?

MARTIN: So, you dont buy that theologically?

Rev. YORK: I dont buy it at all.

MARTIN: As a Southern Baptist, you share the denomination that Pat to which Pat Robertson belongs as a teacher, as a preacher, in that denomination, you dont agree with that interpretation?

Rev. YORK: I dont agree with it at all. And frankly, Pat Robertson is tremendously outside of the mainstream of Southern Baptist. I think he was ordained as a Southern Baptist, but hes really not been part of a Southern Baptist Church or Southern Baptist life for some time. Hes much more in the Pentecostal wing of evangelicalism.

And I think my deepest criticism would go to that whole - its rather the flip side of what I consider, you know, the health and wealth gospel, that Gods primary purpose is just to make us healthy and happy. And the flip side of that is if you displease Him or do step out of His will that youre going to have terrible things visit on you.

The truth is good people suffer, bad people prosper, and this is the injustice this is part of being in a fallen world that sin has tainted.

MARTIN: Well, we will have more on this on our Web site. If you go to npr.org, and then go to programs and click on TELL ME MORE. Well have the full statement that was provided to us by the Christian Broadcasting Network, which of course Pat Robertson founded. And well have a little statement explaining exactly what he thinks he was talking about.

And, Reverend York, we want to thank you once again for joining us and helping us understand these matters further.

Rev. YORK: You are very welcome, thank you.

MARTIN: Reverend Hershael York is pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church. Hes a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he joined us from their studios in Louisville.

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