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Pat Robertson & Charles Taylor

Defending the Indefensible President of Liberia

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In 1989, Charles Taylor seized power in Liberia. In 1997, he was elected president, but many observers said that the elections were fraudulent. Taylor is wanted in Sierra Leone as a war criminal, and most everyone agrees that he is the main impediment to peace in his own nation. So why is his biggest defender American religious leader Pat Robertson?

There seems to be very little that is good that can be said about the government of Charles Taylor. During the time of Taylor's rule, Liberia has been plagued by civil war and domestic strife; a cease-fire agreement requires that he step down, allowing for the creation of a transitional government and new, free elections. President Bush has asked him to make sure that he leaves office so that Liberia might finally achieve peace, and Taylor has accepted an offer of asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The United States has passed laws banning the import of diamonds from war-torn African countries, including Liberia, because they are used to fund war and terrorism. A United Nations-established tribunal has indicted Taylor for backing diamond-financed militias that raped and maimed civilians during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

None of this, however, sits well with Pat Robertson. In broadcasts of his 700 Club program, Robertson has criticized President Bush's call for Taylor to step down, has praised Taylor as a "fellow Baptist," and has accused the State Department of being the real cause of Liberia's problems. To quote Robertson's own words:

So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country. And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down.'

So why is Pat Robertson such a big fan of Liberia's President Charles Taylor? What you won't hear much about on Robertson's shows is the fact that he has a huge financial interest in Liberia. Under Taylor's regime in 1999, Robertson negotiated an $8 million investment in a gold mining venture. A new government may or may not honor Robertson's claims - if they don't, he'll be out an awful lot of cash.

Robertson's motives probably aren't entirely financial: he also seems to have a strong religious motivation, or at least he claims to. Charles Taylor professes to be a Christian and claims to want to lead Liberia as a Christian Nation. This, naturally enough, sits very well with Pat Robertson. He may not be able to force Christianity onto American citizens, but helping an African leader do it to his own citizens may be easier.

In addition, Robertson has repeatedly framed the civil unrest in Liberia as that between Christians like Taylor on the one side and Muslim rebels on the other. Thus, any efforts to get Taylor to step down are portrayed as a means of "handing over" Liberia to Islam. This is what Robertson accuses the State Department of doing and why he believes that they are to blame for much of the violence. This is also the sort of thing that leads to the (justified) accusations made by Muslim leaders that many conservative and evangelical Christians are trying to influence American government policy against Islam.

Fortunately, Pat Robertson is very much alone in this position - not even other conservative Christian leaders in America who might otherwise be inclined to sympathize with an African Christian politician are joining the defense of Charles Taylor. Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, has stated that "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one."

Perhaps Robertson's financial stake in Liberia's current government is stronger than his religious interest after all? At any rate, Pat Robertson has staked a clear position where he favors a Christian business partner and politician accused of horrific crimes, even when that means rejecting the possibility of achieving a stable peace in a nation that has been ravaged by war an suffering. And yet Pat Robertson pretends to be the sort of person qualified to lecture others on morality and ethics.

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