Most everyone, it seems, wants Charles Taylor out of war-torn Liberia. Not televangelist Pat Robertson, however. He seems to think that any political leader wearing a Christian label is preferable to the alternatives -- while anyone who believes the Koran is unfit for public office.
Robertson, head of the cable TV show "The 700 Club," has been defending Taylor as a lay preacher who "definitely has Christian sentiments." One wonders which of the Christian virtues he has in mind: The Liberian dictator has been indicted by an international court for crimes against humanity. He's accused of instigating bloody uprisings across West Africa, and authorizing rape, mass murder and other atrocities at home. Not to mention gun-running and diamond-smuggling. Perhaps the beatitude, "blessed are the violent thugs" should be added to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice calls Taylor "a menace to his own people" and "a source of insurrection and insurgency" in the region. Robertson, who has an investment in a Liberian gold mining company, considers Taylor a business partner. But even that doesn't fully explain his morally indefensible defense of the African strongman.
No, Robertson sees something else on the horizon -- a holy war. Christians make up about 40 percent of the population in Liberia, Muslims about 20 percent. (Various indigenous faiths comprise the remainder.) Last year at a "Liberia for Jesus" rally, Taylor reportedly told the crowd: "I am not your president. Jesus is!" Under the Robertson doctrine, that makes Liberia a "Christian nation" struggling to preserve its spiritual identity amid an Islamic onslaught. "Liberia has been a predominantly Christian country," he said in a recent "700 Club" broadcast. "And the United States State Department is paving the way for the Muslims to take over."
To sustain this argument, Robertson must cling to a theology of church and state discredited by history -- beginning with the Catholic Church's blessing of corrupt monarchs, to the religious wars that ravaged Europe, to the justification of slavery as a God-ordained institution. Under this theory, the Christian magistrate is, by definition, God's man in office. God only knows how much mayhem this pietistic appeal has wrought across the centuries.
History is not the only rebuke to Robertson's political doctrine, however; so is the religion he claims to represent. Christian teaching warns strongly and consistently against pretensions to faith to justify repression and murder. "These people honor me with their lips," Jesus said of a crowd of onlookers, "but their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8). Christians grieve especially over evil committed by those claiming Jesus as their Savior. For the orthodox, such a profession suggests the denial of belief -- not its affirmation. Yet Robertson talks like a secularist when he seems to imply that faith can remain divorced from public and private life.
Finally, there's the matter of common human decency. How can anyone with a healthy conscience -- to say nothing of a Christian conscience -- pretend that violations of basic human rights don't really matter? "I have never met Taylor in my life," Robertson told a reporter. "I don't know what he has done or hasn't done." Yet that's exactly what responsible leaders must know before they open their mouths to render judgment. Otherwise, terror under the guise of faith is condemned when the faith is Islam, but excused when it's Christianity.
None of this is an argument for American troops in Liberia, much less the installation of an Islamic government there. Robertson may be right when he warns that radicals are trying to take advantage of the chaos to seize power.
Nevertheless, it's high time for believers to repudiate "Christian nation" politics and the moral corruption it invites. They would find themselves in good company. Protestant reformer Martin Luther once said he'd rather see a righteous Muslim in government than a corrupt Christian pretender. "The wicked under cover of the name of Christians, would misuse the freedom of the Gospel, would work their wickedness and would claim that they are…subject to no law and no Sword," he wrote back in 1522. "Some of them are raving like this already."
Sadly, with the support of Christians like Robertson, the raving continues.
Joseph Loconte is the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation and a commentator for National Public Radio.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire