I MAY BE STEPPING IN THE VIPER'S NEST, but here I go.
Following the earthquake in Haiti, televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson made this statement: "They (the Haitians) were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. . . .They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the Devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. . . .But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."
Since then Robertson has gotten almost nothing but scorn and derision for his comment. Even Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the comments "embarrassing" and the result of "theological arrogance matched to ignorance." Mohler mostly faults Robertson for presuming to know the mind of God -- which, looking carefully, this statement by Robertson does not do. (I have more of a problem with Robertson quoting the Devil. What was his source on that?)
Robertson also did not say God has cursed Haiti. He said "ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another." This statement seems undeniable in the figurative if not the literal sense. If ever there was a nation cursed, Haiti would be it.
Notably, while this "pact with the Devil" may never have occurred (it has many earmarks of a legend), many Haitians believe it did. Boukman Dutty, the acknowledged leader of the Haitian revolt, was a Voodoo priest. According to journalist Edward Fudge, "a report commissioned by the Haitian Ministry of Culture and submitted in 1999 included evidence of such quantity and detail . . . that [the event’s] authenticity is well confirmed."
Still, let us step back from Robertson's statement, so full of inference and implication, to several possibilities and the questions they engender.
Either there is a spiritual world or there is not. Either there is a God or not. Either there is a devil or not. Most Americans believe in all three. (Even for the most controversial, according to polls by Harris and Gallup, about two-thirds of Americans believe in the existence of the Devil.)
So, I infer, most of us think there is some sort of spiritual war going on around us.
When we sing and pray "God bless America," those acts imply there is an alternative. That is, God may not bless America. Most Americans believe he has and hope he will continue to do so.
Now, if God can bless, presumably he can withhold blessing. If he can protect, he can withhold protection. If someone doesn't believe that why would they expend their breath praying?
As to the spiritual state of Haiti, Lynne Warberg, a photographer who has documented Haitian Voodoo for more than a decade, says this: "One common saying is that Haitians are 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, and 100 percent Voodoo." More technically, according to AP reporter Michael Norton, in 2003 an estimated 70 percent of Haiti’s 8.8 million people practice Voodoo to some extent. And in April 2003 an executive decree by then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide sanctioned Voodoo as an officially recognized religion.
I don't know what God or the Devil has been doing to Haiti, but if spiritual choices have material consequences, then the whole world, Haiti included, makes more sense than if they don't.
I can't be certain who cursed Haiti; I do know who has been trying to bless it: Operation Blessing International, a charity that operates in 105 countries, according to its website.
Beginning before the earthquake, Operation Blessing partnered with a Haitian charity to help fund a fish-farming program that will provide food and income for nearly 100 families, worked with the Haitian ministry of health to provide every school-aged child in Haiti with anti-parasite medication and basic hygiene, and conducted a pilot project with Lifesaver USA to distribute portable, family-size water filters to villages lacking clean water sources.
Further, Operation Blessing was set to start a hatchery for Gambusia – tiny fish that eat mosquito larvae – as a sustainable method of mosquito control and has two ongoing projects focused on providing clean water to hospitals. (Incredibly, even before the earthquake none of the general hospitals in the country had clean, running water.)
Since the earthquake, Operation Blessing set up a medical clinic and is installing a water purification plant in the national soccer stadium as well as delivering hospital equipment to Dr. Paul Farmer's Partners in Health.
Did I mention that Operation Blessing is a ministry founded by Pat Robertson? So, that’s what he's been doing to bless Haiti. What about you?
Gary D. Gaddy went to grad school in Virginia Beach where he spent a lot of time not believing everything Pat Robertson said.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday January 29, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy