Whenever another church scandal hits the news I am surprised. I’m not sure why because it seems to be the norm these days rather than the exception.
Church leaders are just people, so they’re not infallible. I know this. In fact I know it very well because my husband and I worked in a church for seven years and worked with other churches during that time as well. Whenever a potential scandalous issue comes up, some churches like to throw around the verse in the Bible where it describes Noah’s sons covering up his naked, drunk self so people wouldn’t see him. Why? Because this is what happens next – Noah’s butt is posted all over TMZ and Perez Hilton, the Washington Post is blaming the Elephants, FOX News has eyewitness accounts of the donkeys supplying the booze and Ron Paul still wants to know why no one has addressed the unicorn issue yet.
Case in point – American televangelist Pat Robertson was talking about AIDS on “The 700 Club” a couple of weeks ago and said, “You know what they do in San Francisco? Some in the gay community there, they want to get people. So if they got the stuff they’ll have a ring, you shake hands and the ring’s got a little thing where you cut your finger. Really. It’s that kind of vicious stuff, which would be the equivalent of murder.” It was edited out of Christian Broadcast Network’s post of the show online (because Robertson’s “butt was naked”), but you know, it’s 2013 so that hasn’t stopped the original from being posted everywhere else.
The thing is – I can sort of forgive ignorance. I imagine someone told him that was happening and he believed them and retold the story. That sort of nonsense happens all the time and it usually follows an email with a subject line prefaced with “FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: ZOMG CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?!?!” However, this latest scandal (which will not be splashed across The National Enquirer or TMZ because there are no naked pictures) is completely unforgivable.
Last Friday a film opened at The Toronto Film Festival called “Mission Congo” directed by Lara Zizic and David Turner. The documentary delves into Robertson’s Operation Blessing organization that was founded after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Robertson’s viewers weren’t heartless. The images from the Rwandan refugee crisis were horrible. One million people fled into Zaire to escape the genocide only to be killed as an epidemic of cholera swept through the population. Robertson’s viewers were told that Operation Blessing was front and center and saving people’s lives. So people sent in money. Lots and lots of money.
Yet, after interviewing former employees and piecing together the information, the filmmakers claim that that Robertson exploited the crisis (and the donations) to fund a diamond mining business he had in the area (and by in the area I mean his diamond mine was nowhere near the area). A pilot discusses making only two medical deliveries in his plane emblazoned with “Operation Blessing” on the tail. The other 38 flights were to Robertson’s diamond mine to supply equipment and supplies.
Are his claims of the largest and first medical team sent in by Operation Blessing true? FALSE – They did send tons of Tylenol and a few doctors who didn’t stay very long.
Is a school they built during the operation still open? FALSE – It’s been abandoned and stripped.
Is a farm they built for the people, that was a huge success still thriving? FALSE – It failed and failed miserably.
The scandal itself is by no means new. The Virginia Pilot ran a series of articles on Operation Blessing written by Bill Sizemore in the 1990s. The charity was accused at that time by the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs of “fraudulent and deceptive” statements with its claims of delivering doctors and medical aid when it was, in fact, delivering diamond-mining equipment. It also accused the organization of “misrepresenting” its airstrip in the Congo as part of its aid operation when it was really “for the benefit of ADC’s mining operation”. Despite these accusations, no one was ever prosecuted and that matter faded into the past – until now of course.
For his part, Robertson has always denied the accusation and claims that the lack of persecution clears him of any wrong doing. Operation Blessing is threatening a lawsuit against the filmmakers and their spokesperson Chris Roslan told the Huffington Post that the “allegations in the production company’s film promotion, the listing on the film festival website and the story in The Guardian newspaper are false and defamatory. We are considering legal action against all offending parties.”
Those accusing Robertson and Operation Blessing are backed by a seemingly insurmountable amount of facts. I will try my hardest to wait and pass judgment until I see Robertson’s cards, but it’s not looking too good for him.
In the meantime, he also may want to refrain from shaking anyone’s hand in San Francisco.