Over the weekend Kenyans on Twitter went to town with their sarcastic prowess after a clip of Pat Robertson saying one can catch AIDS from towels in Kenya went viral. Mr Robertson was responding to a viewer’s question on last Thursday’s episode of The 700 Club. The anonymous viewer was worried about the Ebola epidemic and wanted to know if the trip would be taking an unnecessary risk.
Robertson’s response sounded reasonable enough except for a few generalizations and flippant statements. On Ebola, he said “not in Kenya” and every Kenya who was watching “amen”ed to that. Then he added that even though one should not worry about Ebola in Kenya, they should be wary of other diseases such as AIDS, Malaria and stomach bugs.
He advised against eating fresh vegetables and drinking un-sanitized water. Although the 84-year-old Christian conservative said all these things in generalities that may have exaggerated the sanitation situation in Kenya, the one statement that really rubbed Kenyans the wrong way was “… you might get AIDS, the people have AIDS in Kenya, you gotta be careful, I mean, the towels could have AIDS…”
And in their usual #SomeoneTell hash-tag activism, many Kenyans on Twitter had a field day giving Pat Robertson a piece of their mostly sarcastic mind.
I empathize with my countrymen. I really do. It hurts to have my country so grossly misrepresented by someone who has never even set foot on Kenyan soil (I think). It is only reasonable to be particularly sensitive about what Robertson said concerning Kenya.
But one thing that many seem to have missed is that Pat Robertson has been making such ridiculous statements on global TV for decades. We are only more aware of him now because he was talking about Kenya. I bet most Kenyans who probably regularly watch the 700 Club did not flinch when Pat said the following things:
- To a caller who said that he is often insulted by his wife, Robertson jokingly advised the man to move to a country such as Saudi Arabia, “where wife-beating is legal”.
- On feminism: “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
- To the question of husbands who cheat on their wives, Robertson casually told a viewer that “males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”
Robertson has also, on several occasions, described abortion as a “lesbian conspiracy”. But the statement that got him the most heat was what he said in reaction to the 2010 Haitian earthquake:
“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti… They were under the heel of the French… And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out… ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.”
In other words, Robertson believed the Haitians had it coming.
So it is now Kenya’s turn, and that’s why we are lining up to take our jab at Mr Robertson. Yet, in light of the man’s record and reputation for being flippant, bigoted and all other words that describe a serious lack of wisdom or discretion, should we really be wasting our breath and time reacting to his latest episode of verbal diarrhea?
Robertson’s age is confusing. At 84, one would naturally expect more mellow, nuanced and generally wise advise coming from the man who has been dishing it out for decades. But he only seems to be getting worse.
Robertson’s context is also more confusing. He is speaking as a Christian leader and his show The 700 Club targets a largely Christian audience (considering it is distributed by Christian Broadcasting Network, which was founded by Robertson). Many of us who lay claim to the same faith find ourselves in a precarious situation when it comes to this man. We are embarrassed by him, and we are naturally quick to disassociate from him.
I don’t intend to dwell much on this issue, but I felt I should point out one lesson that stood out with this incident: Pat Robertson is what happens when we rely on the wisdom of man rather than God. Robertson seemed to have weaved his way into the trust of millions of people who regularly watch his show. He gets thousands of letters seeking advise on various topics about the Christian life and ministry. But the one thing that stands out in more than 90 per cent of Robertson’s responses is that they are just that: Robertson’s responses.
He seems to be his own authority. His answers are based on his own judgment, experience and personal opinions. Very rarely does he quote the Bible or even attempt to wrestle with what God says about an issue over what Robertson thinks about it. It is simply assumed that he has earned the authority to give answers without even doing a little research on the issues involved. “I don’t know” is seldom an option. His conspiracy theories go without question.
So what do I think of Pat Robertson in light of all this? Well, the only word that comes to mind is “warning”. Yes, Pat Robertson should be a warning to all of us on the folly of relying on ourselves and our theories and philosophies instead of God’s Word.
Consider yourself warned.
“Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7