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My old boss Pat Robertson prayed last week that God would turn Hurricane Florence and move her out to sea without harming the coast. That’s a paraphrase, of course, but a fair representation of the prayer. He “commanded” the thing to move in the name of Jesus, according to the Charlotte Observer. The question is did his prayer work?
“In the name of Jesus — Hurricane Florence, we speak to you and we command the storm to cease its forward motion and go harmlessly into the Atlantic. Go up north away from land and veer off, in the name of Jesus. We declare a shield of protection all over Tidewater and we declare a shield of protection over those innocent people in the path of this hurricane. In Jesus’ holy name, be out to sea!” he called.
Robertson then predicted to those who prayed with him from church pews at CBN that “we will live to mark this day and say, ‘I remember, I was there when we saw that Hurricane Florence averted.’”
It’s important to note that at no time was Florence a threat specifically to Tidewater, for it was only at the north end of a range of locations the models predicted the hurricane’s path might take. Granted, I used to live there and know well the respect and fear of such monster storms, but Pat’s a promoter, and his promoter’s hat was clearly on for this whole event.
That’s because the ministry was in the midst of its annual 7 Days Ablaze programming for what is billed as a week of prayer between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s also, however, one of two annual telethons that fund the ministry, so the hyperbole is always raised a notch in the name of getting people to open their wallets. Praying a Hurricane away is certainly conducive to people giving their money, and note how Robertson carefully phrases himself to shine light on the ministry of CBN and The 700 Club:
“We prayed and look at that,” stated Robertson. “We asked the Lord to take it out of here and He did … It’s like a shield that God has put around us.”
“Why? Because God’s people prayed and that’s what happened. This is a miracle ladies and gentlemen … When we pray, God does miracles.”
But did God do a miracle here? Absolutely not, and it’s not even remotely “miraculous” that the storm turned more south (as predicted by the models). The Bible teaches that the test for a prophet is whether his prophecies come true, and in this case, Robertson “commanded” Florence to miss the coast entirely. It did not. Nevertheless, he took credit for it “missing Tidewater,” for the narrative he’s selling is that God answers prayer FROM VIRGINIA BEACH because CBN and all of its partners need it to be so. They will never admit to such, but the term “evangelistically speaking” includes a certain approval for bending the truth as far as possible in selling the gospel.
But even worse than declaring victory for CBN, this celebratory tone was entirely inappropriate given the enormity of the
disaster left in the hurricane’s wake. There’s something rather haughty about delighting that God protected you but beat the crap out of others. Wouldn’t it be merciful to pray that the hurricane would hit us rather than destroy innocents further to the south? Robertson chose to gloat for purposes of drawing attention to himself for fundraising, and this is hardly representative of men of God, old or new.
Robertson was delighted to refer to the “shield of protection” over Tidewater in claiming a miracle, but his earlier prayer had also included a “shield of protection over those innocent people in the path of this hurricane,” which would include the 34 dead (including children) in Florence’s wake in the Carolinas. The 350,000 people still without power as of this writing were also not a part of any shield. As North Carolina settles in for what looks like a long recovery for its people, more than one person is rightly asking, “Why did you send the damned hurricane to us?”
This is the type of Christianity that has supported Donald Trump completely, and it’s built on a foundation of self-interest, a sort of self-improvement form of religion. How can we expect the President to be truthful when the leadership of his religious following has little trouble with bearing false witness in the name of financial support?
I encourage you to read my book, where I go into how CBN ministries operate based on my years there as producer, senior producer, and executive producer of The 700 Club. The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP is currently only available via OR Books online. In late January, a 2nd edition is being released to a much wider distribution.