Did God Punish Haiti With An Earthquake?

Television evangelist Pat Robertson recently told his viewing audience that Haiti's current devastation is God's punishment. He claims that, back when the French ruled Haiti, the Haitian leaders made a pact with the Devil to serve him if he would drive out the French. Robertson said,

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘OK it’s a deal’. And they kicked the French out."

Robertson claims that God just poured out his wrath on Haiti for this grievous sin. Do you agree with Robertson? Or do you think Robertson is misguided? Let's see if we can figure out if his claim is valid or not. In doing so, we might also figure out if Robertson is a man of God, and truly understands scripture, or just "full of himself."


Before we try to answer the question posed above, here is a bit of Haiti's revolutionary history, as written in the U.S. State Department website:

"Prior to its independence, Haiti was a French colony known as St. Domingue. St. Domingue's slave-based sugar and coffee industries had been fast-growing and successful, and by the 1760s it had become the most profitable colony in the Americas. With the economic growth, however, came increasing exploitation of the African slaves who made up the overwhelming majority of the population. Prior to and after U.S. independence, American merchants enjoyed a healthy trade with St. Domingue.

The French Revolution had a great impact on the colony. St. Domingue's white minority split into Royalist and Revolutionary factions, while the mixed-race population campaigned for civil rights. Sensing an opportunity, the slaves of northern St. Domingue organized and planned a massive rebellion which began on August 22, 1791. When news of the slave revolt broke out, American leaders rushed to provide support for the whites of St. Domingue. However, the situation became more complex when civil commissioners sent to St. Domingue by the French revolutionary government convinced one of the slave revolt leaders [better known as the slave who defeated Napoleon], Toussaint L'Ouverture, that the new French Government was committed to ending slavery. What followed over the next decade was a complex and multi-sided civil war in which Spanish and British forces also intervened.

The situation in St. Domingue put the Democratic-Republican party and its leader, Thomas Jefferson, in somewhat of a political dilemma. Jefferson believed strongly in the French Revolution and the ideals it promoted, but as a Virginia slaveholder popular among other Virginia slaveholders, Jefferson also feared the specter of slave revolt. When faced with the question of what the United States should do about the French colony of St. Domingue, Jefferson favored offering limited aid to suppress the revolt, but also suggested that the slaveowners should aim for a compromise similar to that Jamaican slaveholders made with communities of escaped slaves in 1739. Despite their numerous differences on other issues, Secretary of the Treasury and leader of the rival Federalist Party Alexander Hamilton largely agreed with Jefferson regarding Haiti policy.

The Haitian revolution came to North American shores in the form of a refugee crisis. In 1793, competing factions battled for control of the then-capital of St. Domingue, Cap-Francais (now Cap-Haitien.) The fighting and ensuing fire destroyed much of the capital, and refugees piled into French naval ships anchored in the harbor. The French navy deposited the refugees in Norfolk, Virginia. Many refugees also settled in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. These refugees were predominantly white, though many had brought their slaves with them. The refugees became involved in ?migr? politics, hoping to influence U.S. foreign policy. Anxieties about their actions, along with those of European radicals also residing in the United States, led to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The growing xenophobia, along with temporarily improved political stability in France and St. Domingue, convinced many of the refugees to return home.

The beginning of the Federalist administration of President John Adams signaled a change in policy. Adams was resolutely anti-slavery and felt no need to aid white forces in St. Domingue. He was also concerned that L'Ouverture would choose to pursue a policy of state-supported piracy like that of the Barbary States. Lastly, St. Domingue's trade had partially rebounded, and Adams wished to preserve trade links with the colony. Consequently, Adams decided to provide aid to L'Ouverture against his British-supported rivals. This situation was complicated by the Quasi-War with France. L'Ouverture continued to insist that St. Domingue was a French colony even as he pursued an independent foreign policy.

Under President Thomas Jefferson's presidency, the United States cut off aid to L'Ouverture and instead pursued a policy to isolate Haiti, fearing that the Haitian revolution would spread to the United States. These concerns were in fact unfounded, as the fledgling Haitian state was more concerned with its own survival than with exporting revolution. Nevertheless, Jefferson grew even more hostile after L'Ouverture's successor, Jean- Jacques Dessalines, ordered the execution of whites remaining after the Napoleonic attempts to reconquer St. Domingue and reimpose slavery (French defeat led to the Louisiana Purchase.) Jefferson refused to recognize Haitian independence, a policy to which U.S. Federalists also acquiesced. Although France recognized Haitian independence in 1825, Haitians would have to wait until 1862 for the United States to recognize Haiti's status as a sovereign, independent nation."

So, to summarize, the revolution was fought to end slavery in St. Domingue. This is the same thing we experienced in the United States just 40 years later. President Jefferson, a southern slave holder himself, opposed the revolution in St. Domingue. President Adams supported the revolution because he was firmly convinced slavery was wrong. (If you have ever watched the movie, Amistad, you will better understand President Adam's feelings and commitment.)

The allegation that the leaders of St. Domingue made a pact with the Devil to overthrow the French is something that cannot be verified. Robertson declares it to be true, but he is strongly challenged by Rich Buhler, a veteran Christian radio broadcaster, and founder of TruthOrFiction.com . Buhler says there are several problems, however, with Robertson’s statement.

"...the 'pact to the devil' is not an event that is simple to pin down, although it has been a story that has been repeated, especially among Christian missionaries and writers, for many years," Buhler said.

According to Buhler, there are varying versions of this story, but they all conclude that during a historic meeting that led to the Haitian revolution, Satan was called upon for help in a Voodoo ceremony and there was a pig sacrificed on the occasion.

"Some popular versions also claim there is an iron pig monument to the ceremony in the capital city of Port Au Prince, but that is rumor and the monument does not exist," he said.

Buhler said that Robertson was referring to a meeting that is said to have taken place at Bois-Caïman (or Bwa Kayiman) near Cap-Haitien in Northern Haiti on August 14, 1791, and was led by a man named Duffy Boukman. Buhler continued: "Historians seem to agree that such a meeting did happen, but there is debate among some scholars about the details and especially the descriptions of the voodoo ceremony.

"The event is an important part of Haitian history because it is regarded as the inspirational and organizational launch of Haiti’s War of Independence, which 13 years later marked the only place in the world where African slaves succeeded in ending slavery and building an independent country."

Buhler explained there is a lack of contemporary sources about the voodoo ceremony, however, and the first mention of it seems to be in a book published in 1814 by a French Doctor named Antoine Dalmas.

Buhler said: "He (Dalmas) told of a feast or sacrifice held by black slaves that involved the sacrifice of a pig. He said it was held a week earlier than the Bois-Caïman gathering, however, and about six miles away at a location called Morne Rouge. There are other historic descriptions of the August 14 meeting that do not include the voodoo ritual, and there is the suggestion that perhaps the two events got merged in later telling of the story.

"Subsequent accounts describe Boukman as a voodoo priest, and a prayer is popularly circulated that was allegedly prayed by Boukman during the ceremony, although that was attached to him long after the event and there are scholars who doubt that he actually prayed it."

Buhler states that regardless, the Bois-Caïman event, including the voodoo ceremony and the Boukman prayer, has been embraced as an important part of Haitian history and has been retold by everyone from historians to the presidents of Haiti for many years.

Buhler concludes:"Even if the story is true, Haitians object to the accusation that any of that meant that they made a pact with the devil. Satan is not a part of voodoo. They have their own pantheon of various gods representing everything from a creator to deities of rain, thunder, fire, and trees.

"It was the missionaries, they say, who called their religion satanic and who, then, regarded their rituals as pacts with the devil, but to say that they appealed to Satan and dedicated themselves to him is the result of layering Christian thought on Haitian history."

To summarize, a few St. Domingue slaves performed voodoo ceremonies. In no way can this be construed to have been the actions of the leaders of the revolution. Nor was it a ceremony to the Devil of Christianity, who is not even recognized by those who practice voodoo. A Christian, I suppose, could argue that the Devil is behind the practice of voodoo, regardless of what the practitioners believe. Fair enough. But what is not reasonable is to imply that a few voodoo practitioners can be called the leaders of the revolution. Amongst the slaves of America there were many practitioners of voodoo, and they almost certainly performed similar ceremonies for similar purposes. Is America cursed because of this? One final point. If the belief that the leaders of the voodoo ceremony were indeed the revolutionary leaders, and their "pact" was truly accepted, then America, through President Adams, aided and abetted that pact; that is, it follow that America was in bed with the Devil on this one. I am not claiming this as fact, because I do not believe it at all. I am simply pointing out the logical conclusion of Robertson's allegation.


For the small percentage of atheists in America, something less than seven percent of the population, Robertson is categorically wrong. If you don't believe in any deity, then you obviously don't believe God punished the Haitians. It was simply a matter of geologic forces -- plate tectonics at work. But the atheists' categorical answer is not satisfying to the remaining 93 + percent of Americans. For true believers, one must look at what we know about how God works today. This involves doctrine.

The first doctrinal question I want to raise is why God would punish the distant descendants of the offenders, instead of the direct perpetrators of the grievous sin? The direct perpetrators won freedom from slavery and freedom from France. Where is God's punishment in these rewards? The French have been out of Haiti since 1825, or 185 years. Why did God wait until now to have his vengeance?

It is very revealing that Robertson spends so much time in the Old Testament. There he finds ample examples of God wrecking vengeance on not only the perpetrators of a grievous sin, but on their children, and on their children's children, "unto the third and fourth generation (Exo 20:5; Exo 34:7; Num 14:18; and Deu 5:9)." But this doctrine has several flaws. First, the New Testament clearly says this will no longer happen under the new covenant. Recall the prophesy of Jeremiah regarding the New Covenant:

Jer 31:29 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.

Jer 31:30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah....

This means, quite simply that the old curse "unto the third and fourth generation" is done away with under the New Covenant. The remarkable transition from Old Testament law where whole societies could be punished for the actions of one man to the New Testament covenant where every person is accountable for their own actions, and is not punished for the actions of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents is one that many Christians really have not understood or accepted. In the recalcitrant South, it is very popular to not accept this doctrine. If they do accept it, you see, then the so-called "curse of Ham" is done away with, and they have no excuse for treating Blacks as sub-White, under the curse of God. But their doctrine (and math) here is flawed as well. The Old Testament curses extended to the third and fourth generations, not for thousands of years from Noah to the present day.

In his next doctrinal error, Robertson assumes that Haiti's poverty and other problems stem solely from the curse of God. He offers their poverty problems as proof of the curse. He ignores the more obvious possibly that the new slave leaders were simply ill equipped to govern, lacking basic education and all that we take for granted in good leadership. He also ignores the fact that most of the colonies of France and England who chose to self govern were ill equipped to do so and many of them suffer from problems very similar to Haiti's. Does Robertson assume that all of these other former colonies are under God's curse too? Considering Robertson's past statements claiming that God still endorses slavery, perhaps their grevious sin was simply that of throwing off the yoke of their white masters? I am not claiming this as fact, just raising the possibility that it might explain what otherwise seems irrational.

In his third doctrinal error, Robertson's statement strongly implies that wealth is the blessing of God and poverty is the curse of God. This is a very popular (money making) doctrine today amongst the ministers who pander to the wealthy; but is it good doctrine? Job's comforters believe it.

In the most telling fourth doctrinal error, Robertson sets himself up as the mouthpiece of God, declaring the reason for catastrophic happenings with great certainty. Recall that Haiti is not his first pronouncement. He claimed the terrorist strike on 9/11 was God's judgment on America. It is one thing to pose a question. It is quite another to state something as fact. It is, however, much more serious to claim to be the voice of God if you are not.

My Father, bless him, now age 91 and still going strong, once preached a sermon on "taking the LORD's name in vain." (Exo 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.) Dad said that this scripture was not talking about swearing or cursing at all. It was, rather, talking about people who glibly say, "God told me such-and-such" when God had not spoken to them at all. They presume to put words in God's mouth, in his name. Other Bible translations affirm this thesis:

Exo 20:7 You are not to make use of the name of the Lord your God for an evil purpose; whoever takes the Lord's name on his lips for an evil purpose will be judged a sinner by the Lord.
-- Bible in Basic English

Exo 20:7 Do not misuse my name. I am the LORD your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name.
-- Contemporary English Version

Exo 20:7 Thou shalt not idly utter the name of Jehovah thy God; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that idly uttereth his name.
-- Darby Bible, 1885

Exo 20:7 Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the LORD your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.
-- Good News Bible

Exo 20:7 Never use the name of the LORD your God carelessly. The LORD will make sure that anyone who carelessly uses his name will be punished.


A few poor slaves, seeking to shed the bonds of slavery, performed voodoo rituals they'd brought over from Africa, in hopes that they would help them become free from slavery. For this Robertson claims that God has kept a curse on Haiti for over 185 years, and culminated it with the horrific devastation that occurred in the 2010 earthquake.

To believe this, one must believe that God still curses people for generations and generations, and that the New Testament promise of every man being held accountable for his own actions is not valid. One must also logically conclude that America took on that same curse for assisting these revolutionaries.

One must further assume that God would hold utter innocents, who never practiced voodoo, accountable for the actions of their ancestors. Many who died in the earthquake undoubtedly were descendants of ancestors who did not practice voodoo at all. Then one would have to assume the even more incredible position that God would hold utter innocents accountable for the actions of ancestors of others. (It follows logically that one should believe God utilizes the doctrine of "collateral damage." Most assuredly I do not ascribe to this absurdity.)

If I am correct about the doctrinal and historical issues, then Pat Robertson is declaring that God did something that God would not do. This would make Robertson the accuser/blamer of God instead of the mouthpiece of God.

To be sure, Pat Robertson believes what he declares. But his believing it does not make it truth. Many believe grevious errors, to their harm and to the harm of others. I see no reason to revile him, however. His mistakes are between him and God. I am not his judge. Instead of reviling him, just don't follow him. Paul the Apostle said, "Follow me as I follow Christ." He meant it. So long as Paul was walking in the footsteps of Christ, then it was okay to follow him. But he said that if/when he strayed from the path, then others should not follow him. If a leader's doctrines and life reflect the grace of God, follow them. If their doctrines and life don't reflect Christ, then don't follow them. Pretty simple. You don't need to damn them, revile them, or curse them. Just don't be led by them.

-- mof, 1-21-2010

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