Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson issued dishonest disclaimers related to their comments last week, which blamed certain Americans for the terrorist attacks.
Both claimed their remarks were taken out of context and distorted. Having twice reviewed the 7 1/2-minute tape in question, only one reasonable conclusion can be drawn. They are madly spinning the truth.
On Thursday, Falwell blamed feminists, gays and others for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad," Falwell said.
He said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way--all of them have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
Falwell told Robertson on "The 700 Club" that the attacks were God's judgment on America for having banished God from the public square and schools.
"I totally concur," Robertson replied when Falwell finished his diatribe.
On Friday morning, the New York Times, Washington Post and other media outlets carried articles about their comments.
Falwell initially defended his remarks as "a theological statement," according to the Post. Robertson was unavailable for comment.
Both leaders of the religious right released statements defending their comments.
Falwell said, "I sincerely regret that comments I made during a long theological discussion on a Christian television program yesterday were taken out of their context." He said his thoughts were "reduced to sound bites."
Robertson said, "[People for the] American Way, as has been their custom in the past, has taken out of context remarks made by a guest on my program, The 700 Club, and has given to the media a distorted view of the full context of the program."
He added, "in no way has any guest on my program suggested that anyone other than the Middle East terrorists were responsible for the tragic events."
On Monday, Sept. 17, Falwell issued another statement in which he backed away from identifying their discussion as "a long theological discussion." He simply referred to it as "a theological discussion" and continued to claim his remarks were taken out of context.
Robertson also posted a press release on Monday on the Christian Broadcasting Network's Web site. The statement said that Falwell's initial remarks were appropriate.
"Then, unexpectedly, he uttered a political statement of blame directed at certain segments of the population that was severe and harsh in tone, and frankly, not fully understood by the three hosts of The 700 Club who were watching Rev. Falwell on a monitor," the press release read.
The statement criticized the People for the American Way for taking statements out of context and spinning "them to the press for their own political ends."
In Falwell's second statement, he said, "My mistake on the 700 Club was doing this at the time I did, on television, where a secular media and audience were also listening."
The problem was neither the timing nor the media. The problem was the message. The media certainly did not distort their comments and take them out of context. Having watched the tape, the evidence is conclusive about the context and content.
Falwell said what he said. Robertson agreed with him. If Robertson found Falwell's statement so "severe and harsh," he could have offered a contrary opinion. Instead, Robertson said he agreed and later criticized the separation of church and state.
Watch the tape and draw your own conclusion. It is available at www.cbn.com (Sept. 13). Click on the link to "The 700 Club" and go to the link for the Sept. 13 broadcast.
Falwell and Robertson are engaged in misdirection, standard operating procedure for many politicians. Both preachers rightly criticized President Clinton's lack of candor and his misdirection. But now they engage in the same practice they so vigorously condemned in the former president.
At a theological level, their dishonesty about what was said discloses a sinful pride, after having borne false witness against others. They refuse to tell the truth. Their so-called apology in some news articles is no real apology.
The biblical witness speaks with great frequency about untruthfulness. For example, 1 John 1:8-9 records, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Another example is Psalm 31:17, which says, "Let the lying lips be put to silence."
In the midst of such national mourning and worry, the best thing Falwell and Robertson could do is to be silent--silent for a long while.
Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.