WASHINGTON — Televangelist Pat Robertson‘s call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez provoked a storm of criticism today, triggering condemnation from his fellow religious leaders and international outrage, while the Bush administration said he was a “private citizen” whose remarks were “inappropriate.”
Robertson remained publicly silent during the furor, in which he was criticized across the political spectrum in the United States by former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole as well as several liberal Democratic members of Congress and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The head of the National Assn. of Evangelicals said Robertson was endangering the lives of Christians in Venezuela.
Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition of America, was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. His conservative Christian fans tune in to his 700 Club television show daily.
On Monday’s program, Robertson said that the Venezuelan leader would make his nation “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.”
Killing Chavez, an ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, would be “a whole lot cheaper than starting a war,” Robertson said.
In Venezuela, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said today that Robertson’s remarks were “terrorist statements.” He condemned them as incitement to commit murder, and called on U.S. officials to make clear that the law applies “even to such Christians.”
– Proverbs 17:28
Speaking at a news conference in Caracas, Rangel said, “The ball is in the U.S. court after this criminal statement by a citizen of that country. It’s a huge hypocrisy to maintain this discourse against terrorism and at the same time, in the heart of that country, there are entirely terrorist statements like those.”
Robertson’s remarks caught the deep tensions that have existed between the Chavez and Bush administrations, as Chavez seeks to maintain his political foundation with open hostility toward the United States. The U.S. government, wary of Chavez, nevertheless looks to Venezuela as a reliable supplier of oil.
The scope of Robertson’s influence drew considerable debate. His syndicated television program, which had only recently been described as reaching an audience of at least a million, has drawn an average audience of 863,000 a day during the 2004-2005 television season, according to Nielsen Media Research.
His political reach was at an apex in the 1988 presidential campaign.
However, a leading national evangelical figure said Robertson’s influence among evangelicals in the United States had ebbed.
“He’s an old man and there’s a group of old women and old men who watch him,” said this leader, who asked to remain anonymous because he said he respected Robertson’s past ministry and also did not want to alienate Robertson’s followers. “The spokespeople for evangelicalism are significantly distanced from him politically and spiritually. The Moral Majority days are long gone. It’s a different world.”
Robertson’s office did not respond to a telephone call and e-mail message seeking comment.