On the August 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Rev. Jerry Sutton denied that Pat Robertson advocated assassinating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and questioned whether Robertson even used the word "assassinate." Robertson, however, did say "assassinate," for which he apologized in an August 24 press release (after denying during a 700 Club appearance earlier that day that he had used the word). But even after host Chris Matthews corrected him, Sutton continued to spin Robertson's comments on Chavez, claiming he advocated "tak[ing] him out" but not assassinating him.
Sutton is the pastor of the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Two Rivers Baptist Church was the venue for Justice Sunday II, an August 14 event sponsored by the conservative Family Research Council and Focus on the Family that purported to "educate values voters across the nation about how the courts affect Americans' every day lives."
Sutton appeared on the August 25 Hardball to discuss Robertson's assassination comments. He dismissed Robertson's comments as "off-the-cuff." When challenged by Matthews on Robertson's use of the word "assassinate," Sutton denied Robertson ever used that term -- even after Matthews corrected him.
From the August 25 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: I want to start with the Reverend Jerry Sutton, who is an evangelical minister. And he's a wonderful host to us when we went down to visit his great church down there in Nashville. What do you -- what should we make of Pat Robertson when he says one day, go kill that guy, and, the next day, says, never mind, like he is Gilda Radner saying, you know, never mind? Should we take him seriously?
SUTTON: Chris, I think that, in the situation here, that Pat was speaking off-the-cuff. Actually, he was speaking as political commentary. I don't -- from what I read in the transcript -- I didn`t see the show. I read the transcript. He sure seemed to me to be someone who was basically speaking as a frustrated American, more than an evangelical leader.
MATTHEWS: But didn't he say 23 times, something like that, that this action ought to be taken? It wasn't -- it wasn't really off-the-cuff, was it? This was a show that he could have corrected at any point during the show. He could have said, "I didn't mean to say, kill him.' " And he never did. He said "assassinate."
SUTTON: Well, I didn't hear the word "assassinate."
MATTHEWS: Yes, he used it.
SUTTON: I saw the word "take him out." Now, what I see here, though, is -- the question is this. Is the guy a danger and is he a terrorist -- a proponent of terrorism? And if he is, I mean, that needs to be looked at carefully, but Pat Robertson's not the person to look at it carefully, and he's not the one who makes those kind of decisions.
MATTHEWS: Well, speaking for evangelicalism on the program tonight -- and I'm putting you in a big-time catbird seat here, Reverend Sutton, but Christianity, does it believe in assassination?
SUTTON: No, it doesn't. As a matter of fact, to talk about killing somebody because it's the best thing to do -- what I read was that he said it's better to take him out -- quote, unquote -- than to go to war against him, his country, for $200 billion. And it looked like he was framing it in an economic position. But, from my perspective, I mean, what he said was wrong. I think it was unwise. And if he had to do it over again, I would hope that he would be more careful in what he said.