Robertson Apologizes; Evangelicals React

Christian evangelical Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday for saying Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez should be assassinated during Monday's broadcast of his "700 Club" program.

"Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement," he said in a written statement.

Earlier today, Robertson said the media had taken his remarks about Chavez out of context and that he never called for the killing of the Latin American leader.

"I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him. I was misinterpreted by the AP [Associated Press], but that happens all the time," Robertson said on his television program.

The recent controversy began Monday when Robertson said “we have the ability to take [Chavez] out,” and “the time has come that we exercise that authority.”

"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Robertson’s comments drew stinging criticism from political groups and liberal faith leaders, with some calling for an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission.

However, reaction from conservatives and Evangelicals varied. Some groups – such as the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and Robertson’s own Christian Coalition – remained silent while others cautiously but firmly rebuked the well-known televangelist.

The Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) said he and “most evangelical leaders” would disassociate themselves from such “unfortunate and particularly irresponsible comments.”

The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the NAE, said Robertson went too far from a Christian perspective, but emphasized that the comments were made as a political commentary.

“He’s just saying from a political point of view and from a social point of view,” explained Haggard, during an interview with CNN. “He’s not speaking for evangelicalism. He’s not speaking for Christians.”

Haggard, one of Time Magazine’s top 25 evangelicals, added that the fire over the comment must be extinguished “so we don’t end up in a full-scale war.”

Geoff Tunnicliffe, the International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), also took pains to emphasize that Robertson “does not speak for evangelical Christians.”

“This kind of statement, by this well known American Christian leader, is in complete contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ who evangelical Christians believe and seek to demonstrate,” said Tunnicliffe. “We believe in justice and the protection of human rights of all people, including the life of President Chavez.”

Meanwhile, the Rev. Sam Olson, president of the Venezuelan Evangelical Alliance, stressed “restraint” in dealing with the comment for the sake of evangelical Christians in Latin America.

“Robertson has placed our lives in jeopardy as he has completely misrepresented us and has given our government every reason to believe we would support such an action,” said Olson, a veteran pastor of Las Acacias church in Caracas.

In a press statement, the WEA called on all people – especially those in Venezuela – to “show restraint in how they react to such a statement, knowing that it represents the opinion of one individual and not that of the hundreds of millions of evangelical Christians around the world.”