It's safe to say that TV preacher Pat Robertson is no fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Robertson was enraged by reports Chavez, the democratically elected leftist leader of South America's fifth most populous nation, had met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and engaged in generous amounts of U.S. bashing.
Chavez, Robertson decided, is a threat to America--and something should be done about him.
"You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Robertson told his "700 Club" audience Aug. 22. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."
The call for state-sponsored assassination--coming from a Christian minister--stunned many. Reaction was swift, pointed and uniformly unfavorable.
Robertson was roundly denounced by religious and political leaders across the spectrum. In the past, some conservatives have tried to defend Robertson's more extreme statements, aware of the power he holds in Republican Party politics. This time things were different.
Some conservative Christian leaders took pains to distance themselves from Robertson.
"Pat doesn't speak for evangelicals any more than Dr. Phil speaks for mental-health professionals," the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said.
In Cincinnati, Dr. John C. Wilkie, a longtime anti-abortion activist who now serves as president of the International Right to Life Federation, told the Columbus Dispatch, "Pat has stuck his foot in his mouth before, and he certainly did this time. Pat once was looked upon as a role model and spokesman by a lot of Christians, but I think he's outlived that."
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas also took Robertson to task, writing, "Robertson has made other remarks through the years about all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the gospel in which he says he believes. He is not alone. On the right and on the left, ordained and self-proclaimed 'reverends' and honorary 'doctors' appear to spend more time trying to reform a fallen and decaying world through politics and earthly power than they do promoting and proclaiming the ultimate answer to that fallen status."
Continued Thomas, "While these apostles of political parties and personal agendas have every right to make fools of themselves, they are enabled in their foolishness by millions of people who blindly send them money."
Some Religious Right leaders remained silent. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "Other evangelical leaders and conservative groups declined to comment on Robertson's remarks, including Focus on the Family; evangelist Franklin Graham; the National Religious Broadcasters; and the Family Research Council."
Moderate and liberal clergy were quick to condemn the statements.
"It defies logic that a clergyman could so casually dismiss thousands of years of Judeo-Christian law, including the commandment that we are not to kill," said the Rev. Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches in a statement. "It defies logic that this self-proclaimed Christian leader could so blithely abandon the teachings of Jesus to love our enemies and turn our cheeks against violence."
An old Robertson nemesis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate. Jackson, noting conservative outrage after singer Janet Jackson's breast was briefly exposed during a Super Bowl half-time show in 2004, said, "This is even more threatening to hemispheric stability than the flash of a breast on television during a ballgame."
Americans United Executive Director Barry W Lynn called on American officials to strongly condemn Robertson's words.
"It is deplorable for …