What do raising thoroughbred horses, peddling age-defying shakes, mining gold in Liberia and mining diamonds in Zaire have in common?
Pat Robertson promotes his Age-Defying Shake on television and his Web site. (www.patrobertson.com)
The answer is Pat Robertson, the same one who headed the Christian Coalition and hosts the "700 Club."
In late April, the New York Times reported that Robertson had invested $520,000 in a race horse named Mr. Pat, who Robertson hoped to race in the Kentucky Derby. Mr. Pat was not his first race horse, however. Robertson had had other horses running on the gambling tracks.
Robertson told the Times that he did not gamble. He just loved to watch horses race.
"I like to look at them as performers and to study their bloodlines. That's what I find interesting," he said.
Besides, King Solomon raised and raced horses, he said.
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas raised a skeptical eyebrow about Robertson's argument.
"Using Robertson's rationalization, a visit to a bordello could be justified because he might testify to his appreciation of the piano's player's prowess or his desire to study the 'bloodlines' of the well proportioned staff," Thomas wrote.
"Rationalization is not new, in religious or secular life," he wrote. "We want approval for the things we do, even when they don't look good to others."
After criticism from supporters, Robertson posted a letter on his official Web site in which he discussed the historic nobility of horse racing and breeding. He acknowledged that he enjoyed the sport and had "a commercial breeding operation."
Robertson also expressed regret that "my fondness for the performance of equine athletes has caused you an offense." He promised to get out of the horse breeding business by November.
Unfortunately, the morality plot bubbles.
His current Web site promotes "Pat's Age-Defying Antioxidants" and "Pat Robertson's Age-Defying Shake." It claims Robertson's age-defying antioxidants are his "secret" to high energy. "From traveling the world in the name of Jesus—to being a national spokesman and spiritual leader, Pat has amazing capacity to live life to it's [sic] fullest," the promotion said.
If one orders his free booklet, one can "discover the secrets to vibrant living."
Such a promotion scams his Christian followers and reinforces to the outside world the image of minister's as snake-oil salesmen.
Now the morality plot thickens.
Several years ago, Robertson engaged in a failed diamond-mining project in Zaire, when the brutal and corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko ruled and plundered the country.
The Virginian-Pilot reported that Robertson used planes from his non-profit company, Operation Blessing, to further his for-profit venture. He raised money for his humanitarian work in Zaire on the "700 Club," while his planes were in the service of his diamond business.
And the morality plot sickens.
In 1998, Robertson registered Freedom Gold Limited in the Cayman Islands and housed the headquarters in his hometown of Virginia Beach. According to the Washington Post, Robertson was the president and sole director of Freedom Gold.
The company is a gold mining venture in Liberia with the support of the government of Charles Taylor, one of Africa's undeniable despots.
Post columnist Colbert King highlighted last fall the Taylor-Robertson relationship and the Taylor-Osama bin Laden connection.
In response, the vice president of Freedom Gold sent a fax to King which said, "Dr. Robertson remains a friend of Liberia and is working to alleviate the suffering of the Liberian people." He also wrote, "Dr. Robertson's first and foremost goal is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations."
Robertson wrote the Post challenging the accusation that Taylor had engaged in "alleged nefarious activities" and claimed no knowledge of Taylor's role in Liberia's civil war.
The horrendous war lasted seven years and left half of Liberia's people dead or displaced.
Robertson wrote that Liberia was "a Christian nation in Africa which was founded by President James Monroe as a haven for freed American slaves, and whose first president was a Baptist pastor from Norfolk."
In the letter, also posted on Robertson's official Web site, he said his company was in touch with "many Christian pastors," had hired 130 Liberians and found "freedom of religion" in the country.
When Christianity Today explored the gold mining story, Robertson's vice president sent a fax to the magazine which said Robertson had helped to organize a "Liberia for Jesus" rally in February 2002.
Robertson's promotion of goofy products, involvement with the shadowy gambling industry and deals with African dictators represent bad judgment and suggest shameful greed.
The biblical witness speaks clearly about qualifications for Christian leaders. Bishops should not be lovers of money. They should be sensible and above reproach. Similarly, deacons should not be greedy and double-tongued. Robertson appears to fail the spirit of qualification for leadership.
The biblical witness also shows that Jesus associated with sinners and expected his followers to do so. The difference between Robertson and Jesus is that Jesus knew who the sinners were and never sought private gain from them.
But what compounds each episode is a deeper moral problem. Robertson tries to sanitize his deals with religion.
He referred to King Solomon as a way to say that even a biblical hero raced horses, so it's okay. Traveling the world in the name of Jesus provides a moral coating for selling age-defying antioxidants. Raising money for humanitarian aid washes away the sin of collusion with a diamond dictator and blurs the line between non-profit and for-profit operations. Being in touch with Christian pastors in a Christian nation justifies a shady gold mining scheme with a torturous tyrant.
Robertson's religious defense simply does not make what he does right. Dipping business deals in a Christian batter never transforms faulty deals. Goofy is goofy. Hypocrisy is hypocrisy. Wrong is wrong.
Robertson's pattern suggests a shallow understanding of faith and a cynical view about the faithful, who, he seems to think, have little sense of discernment.
His practices should warn clergy and laity about the potential toxicity of ministers in business.
Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.