The Republican Party is meeting in Tampa this week to formally nominate Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate. The convention was supposed to get under way today, but there’s a big problem: Tropical Storm Isaac. Florida officials have declared a state of emergency as the storm, which is expected to be a Category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall, bears down on the Gulf Coast.
This had led several people to ask: Why is Pat Robertson sitting on his hands?
As I noted in my 1996 book The Most Dangerous Man in America?: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition, the Virginia TV preacher has in the past claimed the ability to divert hurricanes away from the American coast. In 1985, Hurricane Gloria was menacing the East Coast, and it looked like Virginia Beach – where Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network is located – might take a direct hit. Robertson claims he prayed, and the hurricane veered off course. (Unfortunately, he didn’t pray hard enough. Gloria tracked northward, came back ashore and hit Long Island, N.Y., doing about $300 million worth of damage.)
In August of 1995, Robertson took the credit for diverting Hurricane Felix, which had been threatening the coast but changed course and went out to sea.
“Lord, take the sting out of this Hurricane Felix!” Robertson prayed on his show. “Take the sting out of it! And I ask you that it will peter out and that people will not come to grief, in the name of Jesus.”
So why is Robertson, a man whose politics track far to the right, refusing to help his pals in the GOP with their big event?
Well, Pat does work in mysterious ways. And to be honest, his hurricane diversion skills have been a bit rusty lately. In 1998, Hurricane Bonnie slammed into North Carolina and damaged parts of Virginia as well. Virginia also felt the wrath of Hurricane Isabel, a 2003 storm that was particularly deadly and devastating.
And of course there was Hurricane Katrina. That 2005 mega-storm devastated New Orleans. Not only did Robertson fail to stop it, he implied that severe weather is God’s punishment on America for allowing legal abortion.
Perhaps Robertson has given up on trying to deflect hurricanes. These days, he seems to believe that God uses hurricanes and other natural disasters to punish wayward communities and nations. In 1998, he warned the people of Orlando that God would smite their city with “earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor” if they went ahead with a plan to fly gay-friendly rainbow flags from city light poles.
In January of 2010, when a severe earthquake struck Haiti, Robertson seemed to have little sympathy. The people there got what they deserved, he implied.
“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about,” Robertson said.
He added, “They 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 prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”
The idea that God uses bad weather as a form of punishment is by no means limited to Robertson. I am reminded of Stuart Shepard, a staffer at Focus on the Family, who in 2008 made a rather childish video imploring people to pray for “abundant rain, torrential rain...flood-advisory rain” during Barack Obama’s acceptance speech during the Democratic National Convention, which took place outdoors.
Of course we at Americans United are hoping for the best for everyone in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and other regions threatened by this storm. We urge everyone to take sensible precautions and not rely on Brother Pat’s storm deflecting abilities. They seem to be mostly the product of his massive ego and an overactive imagination, not a pipeline to the Almighty.