Pat Robertson and Haiti: What Was He Talking About?

Click Image for 1:23 of Pat Robertson's Comments and at least some sense of context

Haiti Earthquake Slideshow

To be sure, the Haitian earthquake is a calamitous tragedy.   It is well documented that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and human misery by modern standards is routine.  But, the amount of human suffering brought about by this disaster will only get worse before it gets better.  Beyond the initial injuries and death, death will certainly come from those who cannot get medical attention, there will no doubt be disease and then there is the potential for violence as someone attempts to bring a sense of law to an area that has long had a degree of lawlessness.  Initially in natural disasters, often the goodness in all mankind comes out and everyone looks to come to the aid of anyone in distress, regardless of their social, religious or political standing.  Then, after about 48 hours, hearts in some tend to harden again and people begin to take advantage of others vulnerabilities.  It seems to me, that is a part of human nature. 

In times like these, nations and peoples from around the world do their best to bring support and relief.  Typically there are words of encouragement and hope.  But, people also want to look for reasons.  As far back as early Mesopotamia, the people of the Fertile Crescent would suppose that it was the desires of the gods that brought destructive flooding.  Some civilizations would make sacrifices to a volcano in the hopes of avoiding its wrath.  In recent times, some tried to reason that New Orleans suffered from Hurricane Katrina (even though New Orleans was not struck by Katrina-Mississippi was hit by Katrina) due to some malevolence on the part of the citizenry.  Some do not want to consider that perhaps the hurricane was merely carrying out its mission to transport heat and moisture from the tropical region to the polar region and that it just happened to move across a populated area.  Port-Au-Prince is  located on a seismically active zone that is prone, from time to time, to earthquakes.  Sooner or later it would happen.  But, there are some who speculate that there has to be some other reason.

Artist Portrayal of Event to Which Pat Robertson Made Reference

Now, when there is suffering, it seems to me that the main objective is to bring relief to those who need it and the time to discover the reasons why can wait.  But, for some reason, some people feel the need to opine as to the reason.  Pat Robertson in the aftermath of the quake made such a pronouncement.  Robertson said that Haiti has suffered and is suffering its fate due to a pact with the devil made as it struggled to free itself from slavery under the French in the late 18th century.  It was but a brief reference and Robertson’s theological and political opponents have jumped on him even though he said much more than that including a request for prayer for the Haitian people.  Nevertheless, I question the need to make such a historical pronouncement at that time.  But, now that its out there, I decided to try and find out if there is anything to support the notion.

Click Image to read about Voodoo in Haiti which is practiced today

Keep in mind, in order to reach a full conclusion, one must study the evidence presented in the full historiography of a particular subject.  It is impossible to do that using the internet as a source.  But, I thought I’d at least scratch the surface to at least quell some of my curiosity.  After all, just as it is wrong to make a claim with no substantiation, it is equally wrong to dismiss assertions out of hand simply because it does not fit your worldview and not due to  any reasoned examination.  Without great context, I am left to surmise that Mr. Robertson was referring to the Bois Caiman which was supposedly a voodoo ceremony on August 14, 1791 presided over by Boukman Dutty.  It’s not even clear that it was a voodoo (vodou) ceremony at all but it certainly seems to have been a collective cry to a higher power to deliver the Haitians from their fate of bondage.

I found one translation of what the prayer by Boukman ( Bookman) that is as follows:

The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man’s god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It’s He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men’s god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our hearts.

However, there a different translation given by N. and R. Heinl, in their book Written in Blood:

Good Lord who hath made the sun that shines upon us, that riseth from the sea, who maketh the storm to roar; and governeth the thunders, The Lord is hidden in the heavens, and there He watcheth over us. The Lord seeth what the blancs have done. Their god commandeth crimes, ours giveth blessings upon us. The Good Lord hath ordained vengeance. He will give strength to our arms and courage to our hearts. He shall sustain us. Cast down the image of the god of the blancs, because he maketh the tears to flow from our eyes. Hearken unto Liberty that speaketh now in all your hearts. (Heinl p. 43)

Click on Image of Book to see Bob Corbett's Haiti Page

Now,  while these translations of the text have been made public, there are some scholars who have argued that the ceremony never took place and the story is simply a myth used for motivation at the outset of the Haitian revolution.  A man named Bob Corbett published a back and forth with other contributors  on the subject arguing whether or not the ceremony was indeed a true event.   Now, if you assume the above translations are correct and the speech was indeed given at the ceremony, a careful examination reveals not a word concerning Satan or the Devil.  The first translation does refer to “our God” and that can leave a lot open to interpretation.  But, a key difference in the second translation is that it refers to “our good Lord” and the “good Lord.”  On the surface, one might think that they are referring to the Christian God but, a look at the text also brings to light the reference to “their god.”  One would assume that is the god of the French and the French were largely Roman Catholic so, perhaps that is what gives rise to the idea that they are praying to a different god and not to the one God.  However, Dr. Jean Gelin has made some research into the subject and Dr. Gelin concludes that the Haitian people involved were not talking to Satan, but instead praying to the one God of the universe in the monotheist Christian tradition.   That excerpt was taken from the second part of a three part series Gelin titled, “God, Satan and the Birth of Haiti.”  Here is part I and part III.

Jean Gelin's PhD is not in theology but disagrees with Robertson's historical view

Now, it may be worth noting that Dr. Gelin is referenced in this manner at the bottom of his 3 part series published in 2005: Jean R. Gelin is a licensed minister of the Church of God and serves as an assistant pastor for a young Haitian-American church in the United States. He holds a Ph.D. in plant sciences and works as a scientist in agricultural research. Dr. Gelin can be contacted at regarding this article.  His Ph.D and vocation is in agriculture not theology.  Pat Robertson on the other hand is a very educated man and theologian.  I have no idea if Dr. Gelin has a motivation to redeem the people of Haiti or if he is truly motivated by truth.  I think that Pat Robertson is motivated by bringing what he thinks is biblical truth to the masses.  But…I don’t get it.

Martin Luther advocated a personal relationship with God through Jesus

It seems to me that Mr. Robertson has unnecessarily opened a can of worms that may actually turn people away from the Christian Faith rather than bring them to a relationship with Jesus.  To be fair, his comment was very brief and in the context of the need to pray for the people and his optimism that something good would come of it. While I have done no scholarly work on the subject, it seems to me that the historical context is still up for debate and has not really been established by fact.  Until Mr. Robertson provides some body of work, then that is the only conclusion one can draw.  In all honestly, one must say at  this point “we don’t know” if there was indeed some sort of satanic deal in 1791.  But, in the tradition of Martin Luther, the protestant church came about with the idea that individuals can develop a personal relationship with God through Jesus the Christ.  Luther thought that one did not have to go through a priest or any man or pay tribute to gain salvation but instead study the Word of God and develop that personal relationship.  So, if a person today has established a personal relationship with God through Jesus, how can he possibly be held responsible for the actions of someone 200 years before, even if they were a relative? 

Mother Theresa Served All Without Exploring the Reason Behind the Plight of the Destitute

In my view(for what its worth), our role in life is to serve God.  If we are all God’s creations and the body of Christ, then the only way to serve God is to serve others and raise our children.  I don’t know the political persuasion of individuals in Haiti, whether or not they live a righteous lifestyle of one of lawlessness and moral depravity.  I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was known for ministering to the tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes and others who were looked down upon by the elite.  He preached a chance of reconciliation with God and forgiveness.  Whether Mr. Robertson is correct or Dr. Gelin is correct is not relevant beyond academic discussions.  It seems to me that our charge is to minister to those in distress with basic human needs, medical attention, companionship and hope and I think Mr. Robertson would agree.  At this time, we should bring love and not condemnation.  While Mr. Robertson may in the end be able to make his case, I’m not sure that now was the time to do so.  I’m also not sure of the value of a knee jerk condemnation of Mr. Robertson without knowing the facts, except to say there is much work to do and people to serve. Mr. Robertson said that something good can come from this and I agree.  Haiti can have a brighter future than it has had in its past, but only through honesty, love, compassion, effort and service to the Lord through the service to others. I had a friend in jail once.  I did not ask the reason.  I kept up with him and tried to provide encouragement without regard to why he was where he was.  Ours is not to ask why,  but to serve.

Sunday Evening Polar Jet Well North, Southern Branch well South

Weather Bottom Line:  So, I washed my car…and the birds decided a nice clean car was an invitation to let me know they were still in the neighborhood, eathing the berries.  We got to 51 officially on Thursday. Look for the same on Friday.  Sunday’s rain is still possible but it may stay southeast.  Temperatures will remain in the 40’s after a couple of more days near 50.  We may chill down a bit in the wake of a big low going up the SE US and up the east coast.  The extreme long range models are hinting at a possible long wave pattern change back to a cold time with the jet diving back to the Gulf  Coast.  But, so far, it’s inconsistent as one might expect from 15 days out.  I’m talking about the last week of January so there is plenty of time.  Regardless, don’t think that the cold air is done with though..just taking a break less than month into winter.


7 Responses

  1. excellent treatise

  2. What a great piece. “Ours is not to ask why, but to serve.” So true!
    It’s sad to me that Pat Robertson would use his position as a speaker and leader for the Christian world to spout off with comments as he has in the past and this time as well. These people are dying, suffering and dealing with emotional and physical pain that no person, Christian or otherwise, should ever have to endure. And for him to take the public stage as a Christian speaker and damn them in this moment that they need support the most is just deplorable!

  3. The truth is that they did make a pact with the devil.

    Now the significance you put on that pact I guess has to do with whether you believe the devil is real or not.

    But it is one of Haiti’s founding myths.

    According to Haitian national history, the revolutionary war was launched on the eve of a religious ceremony at a place in the north called Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman, in French). At that ceremony on August 14, 1791, an African slave named Boukman sacrificed a pig, and both Kongo and Creole spirits descended to possess the bodies of the participants, encouraging them and fortifying them for the upcoming revolutionary war. Despite deep ambivalence on the part of intellectuals, Catholics, and the moneyed classes, Vodou has always been linked with militarism and the war of independence and, through it, the pride of national sovereignty.

    So, yeah if there is a devil, Haiti made a pact with it. Might explain why even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, the Dominican Republic has been far more successful.

  4. I am not certain that Mr. Robertson’s intention was to “damn them.” On many levels, however, it is unfortunate that for many that is how it was received. The subject deserved greater explanation and review. Because it was just a brief statement and was not widely presented in the context, it leaves much to speculation and perception. Many public figures have learned the hard way that brief statements made off the cuff on complicated matters can be taken in a much different way than it was intended. That then leads to perhaps a miscontrued perception but, as the saying goes, perception is reality. At this point, because the statement has been deciminated without context or substantial review and no deciminated explanation by Robertson, then people will tend to close their ears to any further explanation from Mr. Robertson, even though he has tried to clarify his statements. The media tends to trumpet controversy but ignore clarification. And lets face it, if you have to clarify something, it’s usually too late and the horse has left the barn. Mark McGwire tried to explain himself recently but it doesn’t matter: people remember his testimony (or lack thereof) before Congress. It will take someone else to review his comments to make any detailed impression on the public.

  5. in the Bible, when satan tempted Christ, he offered Him the world’s riches if He would bow down and serve him. if Haiti made a pact with the devil, as Pat Robertson says, why are they impoverished? and why do we, as black people say “Amen” to everything “they” say about “us”?
    the God of the Bible says that man was created in His image. however, they have misrepresented the Bible and God, by making slaves of men, made in the image of God. so, i ask Pat Robertson, who really made a pact with the devil? the slave traders were very prosperous, abusing Africans in the name of their god, (not the one of the Bible, but one of their own making). so were the slaves to sit back, and continue to allow themselves to be further oppressed? they called on the deity that they knew, which certainly was not the one who made them slaves. man was never meant to be be caged, chained and treated as an animal. even animals want to be free. Haiti is the only nation who fought back against slavery and took their lives back, and have been punished for it ever since. i wonder what he has to say about that?

  6. Where any of us there when this pact was made? It is so narrow to feel that they knowingly went to the devil to make a pact. If the god of France held these people in miserable bondage then he is evil. Anyone would come to this. Do not make it mysterious because it was France. Everyone feels they have a copyright to God. Look at the act of France.

    Some people feel only the devil could have defeated France. But what you are saying is that the devil is stronger than God. So let us not say that.

  7. While I appreciate your point of view, I wish to point out that I in no way made any statements or innuendo that you seem to ascribe to me. I was simply commenting on what was out there and made some brief historical analysis, which I also said was far from complete. I even ended the post with “ours is not to ask why, but to serve.” I suggest that you re-read the post and you will find I took no firm position, though did on several occaisions question the wisdom of Mr. Robertson’s statements, especially at that particular time. I made absolutely nothing even remotely close to what you want to pin on me. Zero. Nada. Nothing. Again, I urge you to re-read the post and you will find that I made no such statement or anything that could be construed to what you claim.

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