In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, a woman sent in a question about a man who wouldn't marry her because she has children who were adopted internationally. If they were her "own" biological children, he would have no problem, she said. But because they were adopted, he saw too much risk. Host Pat Robertson's female co-host bristled and said he was acting like a "dog." Robertson disagreed.
He said the man "didn't want to take on a United Nations," and that, after all, you never know about adopted children; they might have brain damage and "grow up weird."
I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer's-riddled wife because she's "not there" anymore.
Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.
The last go round, Robertson "clarified" his statements on a man leaving his sick wife. Didn't mean to say it was right, he said, just that the man's got to have some companionship and a divorce is better than adultery. Please. Robertson's defenders said to me in letters and calls and emails that Robertson is just not what he used to be mentally and that you ought to hold him to a lower standard. That would be true if people were tapping his phone, or going to his house and recording conversations. However, the man is on television, representing to millions of people what Christianity is about.
The issue here isn't just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he's giving in recent years. Give China a pass on their murderous policies; we've got business interests there. Divorce your weak wife; she can't do anything for you anymore. Those adopted kids might have brain damage; they're "weird." What matters is health and wealth and power. But that's not the gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long, we've let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.
Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned. He knew this child wasn't his, and all he had to go on was her word and a dream. He could have dismissed either. But he strapped on his cross, provided for his wife, and protected her child. Indeed, he became a father to her child. God called this righteous. The child Jesus seemed to be a colossal risk. His own family and neighbors and villagers thought he'd turned out "weird" (Mark 3:20-21). Maybe he was demon-possessed, they speculated, or maybe even "brain damaged."
The Bible tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the "least of these," his brothers and sisters. When one looks with disgust at the prisoner, the orphan, the abandoned woman, the mentally ill, the problem isn't just with a mass of tissue connected by neural endings. The issue there is the image of God, bearing all the dignity that comes with that. And, beyond that, the issue there is the presence of Jesus himself.
Christians are the ones who have stood against the prophets of Baal and the empire of Rome and every other satanic system to say that a person's worth doesn't consist in his usefulness. Christians are the ones who picked up abandoned babies, who wiped drool from the dying elderly, who joyfully received developmentally disabled children, and who recognized that our own sin has made us nothing noble or powerful. We're all just dead and damaged and, well, "weird." But Jesus loved us anyway.
I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don't speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.
And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them "weird" or "defective," but where they joyfully sing, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world."
That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that's the sound of bloody cross gospel.
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.