SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA — Pat Robertson's image has been all over local TV news in Latin America. The Virginia-based TV evangelist was shown telling his "700 Club" audience that controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez ought to be assassinated because he's making Venezuela "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."
"I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Mr. Robertson said. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one ... strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with," Robertson continued, urging the US to kill President Chávez.
So much for the respectand pro-life positions that Robertson has long espoused. How inconsistent to fight to protect the life of the unborn and then call for the assassination of a foreign leader who holds opposing political views. Not that Robertson or anybody else shouldn't defend the right to live. But it's difficult not to see the contradiction between his two positions.
And Chávez is no model leader. His fiery revolutionary brand of government has caused concern throughout the Western Hemisphere as he has spread instability throughout the region, initiated an arms buildup with neighboring countries, allegedly aided Colombian guerrillas and antigovernment forces of other neighboring countries, and driven much foreign investment from his country.
But to call for assassination? What was Robertson thinking - or was he?
Chávez may be unstable and erratic, but he's no Hitler. The German church debated long and hard before some Christians began a movement to assassinate Hitler. But that movement was in desperate times and came from within Hitler's own country.
These may be difficult times in Venezuela, but they're not as desperate as those dark days of World War II in Europe. And Robertson isn't a Venezuelan. He's a US citizen with a powerful TV outreach calling for the assassination of a foreign leader from the comfort of his plush Virginia office.
There's another aspect to Robertson's misguided statement: the impact of his words on his own evangelical brothers and sisters throughout Latin America, and the difficulty he may cause missionaries in Venezuela.
There's already enough tension between Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders in Latin America. Violence still erupts against evangelical churches, pastors, and congregations, particularly in the Andean region of South America and isolated parts of Mexico.
There's also concern for local Protestant workers in the region. "We could see a backlash in Venezuela against US missionaries," one missionary colleague of mine with years of experience in Venezuela told me.
Uninformed nonevangelicals and skeptical nonbelievers often see prominent spokespersons such as Robertson as broadly representative of evangelicalism that has moved into their formerly all-Catholic neighborhood.
For most evangelical Latin Americans, Robertson isn't their spokesman, nor do his sometimes radical positions represent those of local churches, pastors, or leaders.
Latin American churches are raising up their own pastors and leaders who speak strongly about politics and social conditions in their countries, addressing concerns from their own experience and knowledge of their culture with biblical understanding and the support of their church members. They don't need a foreign TV evangelist calling for the assassination of their own leaders. How embarrassing!
• Kenneth D. MacHarg is a missionary with the Latin America Mission (LAM) serving in Costa Rica. The opinions in this article are his own and not necessarily those of LAM.