TV preacher Pat Robertson has repeatedly criticized the Bush administration over its handling of the crisis in Liberia without once mentioning his own personal business interests in the country.
In recent days, Robertson has used his nationally broadcast television show to charge that the U.S. government has sought to destabilize Liberia and oust President Charles Taylor. Although Taylor is a brutal dictator under indictment for war crimes by the United Nations, he is a business partner of Robertson.
"Taylor is one of the most brutal dictators in Africa, and it is appalling to me that Robertson would enter into a partnership with him merely to make money," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Now Robertson is using his tax-exempt Christian broadcast ministry to lobby the U.S. government to keep his crony in power. This is astounding."
On his June 26 "700 Club" program, Robertson said, "This country [Liberia] has had a close relationship with the United States over the years, but of late, the last, oh, four, five, six years, the United States State Department has tried as hard as it can to destabilize Liberia and to bring about the very outcome we're seeing now. They had no endgame, they have no plan of what to do, they only wanted to destroy the sitting president and his government, and as a result, the place is being plunged into chaos."
On July 1, Robertson returned to the issue, telling his audience that a year ago he wrote to the undersecretary of state for African affairs warning him that "if we continued to undermine the regime of the sitting president of Liberia that there was going to be chaos, and I said to him then, 'you have no endgame.' Well, they haven't had an endgame, all they've wanted to do is destroy the government of Liberia, which they have succeeded in doing."
Robertson, who founded the Christian Coalition, also asserted that the U.S. has turned a blind eye to efforts by Islamic extremists funded by Saudi Arabia to overthrow "Christian" governments in Africa. During a July 7 rant, Robertson asserted that the United States has no business forcing the "duly elected" Taylor, whom he described as "a Christian, Baptist president," from power. (In fact, Taylor seized power by force in 1989 and was elected president in 1997 in what some observers charged was a fraudulent election.)
During his repeated TV tirades, Robertson never mentioned his primary reason for wanting Taylor to remain in power: The two men are partners in a gold-mining venture. In 1999, a Robertson-owned company, Freedom Gold, entered into an arrangement with Taylor's regime to look for gold in southern Liberia. If gold is found, Taylor's government will receive royalties from Robertson. That arrangement will collapse if Taylor is forced out.
Last year, Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network aired portions of a Robertson-backed "Liberia for Jesus" rally, during which Taylor officially proclaimed the country a Christian nation. Taylor took the action even though most Liberians are not Christians. (An estimated 45 percent of Liberians follow indigenous religions. Christians account for 38 percent, and the rest are Muslims.)
AU's Lynn noted that Taylor's claims to be a Christian haven't improved his behavior. The UN indictment accuses Taylor of backing a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. News media sources say the conflict has left more than 200,000 civilians dead and countless others injured or mutilated.
Taylor has also been accused of forcing children to fight in the Liberian army and of enriching himself at the expense of his impoverished nation. His record on human rights is so bad that he is barred from visiting the United States, a ban Robertson has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the State Department to lift.
Lynn said he finds it telling that Robertson has not mentioned his business interests in Liberia.
"Robertson would have his viewers believe that his interest in Liberia is purely humanitarian," said Lynn. "In fact, he's became partners with a dictator in the hopes of making money, and now he needs to prop that man up no matter what. Robertson ought to be ashamed of himself."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.