As you can expect, the news channels are swarmed with chatter over the latest stupid thing Pat Robertson has said: The U.S. should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (watch the 700 Club video). Stupid comments like this and thousands of others do real damage to the cause of Christianity.
Why does anybody even listen to this guy?
The headlines today are amazing—it’s actually hard to tell the satire stories from the real ones:
Real or Fake?
- Pat Robertson: “Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out”
- Evangelist Pat Robertson calls for assassination of Venezuelan president
- Roberston: “Thou shall not kill, except this time.”
- US evangelist calls for assassination of Chavez
- TV host urges US to kill Chavez
[For the record, it's fake, real, fake, real, real.]
Stupid Things Christians Say
OK, we’ve been here before: prominent Christians saying stupid things. It’s not exactly a great public relations move, and it certainly doesn’t help the image of the church.
Now let’s be clear about what we’re saying. We’re not saying that Christians should be silent in the face of injustice. We’re not saying Christians should keep quiet about sin to help our marketing. That’s a crock. We’re saying Christians need to be careful what they say. There’s a big difference between “assassinate that guy” and “that guy’s doing something wrong.”
Think before you speak.
In the Aftermath of Stupid Statements
Now that Robertson has opened his mouth and inserted both feet, what if potential visitors associate your church with Robertson’s comments? Sadly, it happens all too often that Christians are characterized by the unguarded comments of people like Robertson.
But there are a few things you can do:
- Keep your distance. It’s the classic political move: distance yourself from the one in trouble. In this case it might be as simple as reiterating that your church doesn’t have the same stance as Robertson. It could be a simple side comment in a sermon or a newsletter article. It’s also worth noting that you want to distance your church from his comments, but not necessarily him as a person. Christians should still support one another, even when we say stupid things.
- Humor helps. Laugher can often defuse a situation, and in this case poking fun at Robertson’s comments seems like a good way to go. Spoof ads or skits making light of the situation would show the difference between your views and Robertson’s and also reassure potential visitors that you’re not a bunch of wackos. Again, it’s important to have some balance: laughing at his comments is OK, laughing at him seems a little harsh.
- Stick to your strengths. Make sure people don’t associate your church with something stupid a Christian said by making it clear what your church stands for. Grace, mercy, love, justice, etc. should be so blatant in your church’s sermons, newsletters, banners, posters, web sites, etc. that it’s obvious that comments about assassinating a world leader wouldn’t jive in your sanctuary.
- Offer your perspective. When people discuss the issue, offer your perspective. Take the opportunity to explain that not all Christians would agree with something like what Robertson said. It would be ideal if a member of your church staff could offer that perspective to a local newspaper covering the story.
- Apologize. This is something we’re often not good at, especially when it doesn’t seem like we’re the ones who should apologize. But offering an apology can be a gentle and graceful way to show where you stand.
- Pray. I hate to bring up prayer in a public relations post because it just seems too easy to co-opt prayer. But it’s still important, even if nobody knows about it. Pray for Pat Robertson and Hugo Chavez. Who knows—mysterious ways, right? Maybe one day Pat and Hugo will laugh about this mess over drinks.
Dealing with something like this doesn’t need to be a huge ordeal for local churches. It could be as simple as a joking reference and a more serious comment at the beginning of Sunday’s sermon. But these kind of statements do have a long-term effect on our ability to communicate, especially with non-Christians. That may mean a college ministry or an outreach group will be dealing with stupid things Christians say six months down the road. Being aware of these issues and defusing them is the key.
And so is keeping them from happening. Think before you speak, even if you don’t have a nationally televised cable show.