Pat Robertson turned Christian television into political power – and blew it up with wacky prophecy
(RNS) – For many Americans, Pat Robertson, the Christian television pioneer and former presidential candidate, will be remembered for his outlandish statements made at inflection points in American history.
“I don’t think I would wave these flags in front of God if I were you,” he warned city leaders in Orlando, Fla. In 1998 when they waved rainbow flags. -sky downtown in honor of Gay Days at Disney World. âThis is not a message of hate, it is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will destroy your nation. It will cause terrorist bombs; it will bring earthquakes, tornadoes and may -be a meteor.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers, Robertson said he agreed with Jerry Falwell, his guest on his signature talk show, “The 700 Club,” that responsibility for the attacks on the United States United was incumbent on pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians.
Times like these embarrassed his fellow Christians and marginalized the once esteemed political power Robertson wielded, entrusting Robertson to the role of what one mega-church pastor called “the mad uncle in the evangelical attic.”
But the right-wing conservative could also surprise his viewers. He once invited Reverend Al Sharpton to the “Club 700” couch to discuss climate change, agreeing the issue is one that could bring right and left together. In 2012, Robertson said marijuana should be legalized.
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But any memory of Robertson, who on Friday announced his intention to retire as the daily host of âThe 700 Club,â must include his transformation from televangelism from hot, heart-pounding sermons to a cool format. With his avuncular and optimistic personality, Robertson, 91, changed the image of what televangelism could be. His “Tonight” show “The 700 Club” featured conversational conversations and couch interviews, interspersed with entertainment.
The model was then adopted by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on their PTL (âPraise the Lordâ) network and Paul and Jan Crouch on their Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Over the years, five presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, have appeared on the show, along with many world leaders and musical artists.
“After, I think, 54 years of hosting the program, I thank God for everyone who was involved and I want to thank you all,” he told viewers on Friday, adding: “It was a great race. . “
His son, Gordon Robertson, who will replace him in the flagship program, issued a statement saying, â’Good and Faithful’ doesn’t even begin to describe my father’s service to CBN for 60 years. His legacy and the example of his prayer life will continue to lead the âClub 700â in the years to come.
But its CBN platform was more than a good television. Founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1961, the first Christian network in the United States, he led his flock of white evangelicals to a position of unprecedented political influence within the Republican Party.
In 1987, Robertson, a Yale-trained attorney, a veteran naval officer and the son of a U.S. senator from Virginia, capitalized on his fame in direct political action, which Christian fundamentalists had previously avoided. That year he formed the Christian Coalition, later joined by Ralph Reed, the telegenic political strategist. Soon, other evangelical leaders, like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, jumped on the election bandwagon.
Robertson’s personal political climax came in 1988, when he ran for the Republican nomination for president, finishing third in the Iowa primaries, behind Bob Dole and George HW Bush. In the campaign, he claimed, without evidence, that the Soviets were hiding missiles in Cuba.
Two years later, in 1990, the Christian coalition introduced ostensibly non-partisan Christian voter guides, also known as âChristian scorecards,â distributed in conservative churches or placed on windshields in church parking lots.
âHe was very smart,â Frances Fitzgerald, author of âThe Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,â said in a phone interview. âHe transformed his presidential campaign into this notion of organizing from the community base. That’s what people have been doing ever since. You can’t always do this from a religious platform.
He has also written 20 books and founded Regent University, located across the street from CBN studios and headquarters in Virginia Beach, as well as the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian activist organization led by former Trump attorney, Jay Sekulow.
Robertson’s staunch support for former President Trump may well be the last memorable moment in his on-air career. After insisting for weeks that Trump won, before being cheated out of office, Robertson approved the Jan.6 pro-Trump rally on Capitol Hill in the run-up to the rally. After it turned out to be a tumultuous insurgency attempt, Robertson stayed away from the “700 Club” for a week. Upon his return, he acknowledged Biden’s victory.
But Robertson’s stamina – which necessarily involved overcoming embarrassing times – is a vital part of his legacy.
“When other well-known ministries failed for various reasons, he maintained a ministry that was respected because of its moral and spiritual consistency,” said Reverend Jim Henry of Orlando, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention , in an interview with RNS. âHe finished well. He finished strong, and I join with a host of others in saluting this man of faith.
But other prominent evangelical voices have said his legacy is marred by his more bizarre comments. âPat Roberson’s ministry should not be judged on a single offending quote,â said Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. âThe problem is the sum of the parts. After putting the televangelist on the map, Robertson became a enfant terrible of progressive social movements, from the environment to women’s rights and race relations. In doing so, he became more of a butt for humor than any preacher would like. “
Some of his detractors go beyond his ability to make his way into the headlines. One group has dubbed him the âApostle of Hateâ for his longstanding opposition to LGBTQ rights.
âPat Robertson has contributed greatly to some of the worst trends in American Christianity over the past forty years,â said Reverend David P. Gushee, distinguished college professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University. “These included the merging of conservative White Protestantism with the Republican Party, the use and abuse of supernaturalist Christianity to offer spurious and unnecessary interpretations of historical events, and the development of a conservative Christian media empire that made money and gained power in the manufacturing process. everyday Christians less thoughtful contributors to American life.
Lisa Sharon Harper, President and Founder of Freedom Road and author of the upcoming “Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World – And How to Repair It All,” said Robertson had to answer for his racial message. âHe was a dreamer and a builder,â Harper said. âSadly, for people of color and for the post-colonizing majority church around the world, Robertson’s dreams were awash with protecting and sustaining white male dominance; in church life, in public space and in pink politics.
Ultimately, history will likely take its hat off at Robertson’s skill in bringing the nation’s attention to the views of white evangelicals. What he did with this attention will be judged more severely.
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“Pat Robertson had enough religious knowledge to step onto the national stage and enough outrageous proclamations to continue to explode his chances of success outside his religious realm,” said Rev. Joel C. Hunter, a former mega pastor. -church which now runs the Parable Foundation. .
“From his failed attempt to become president to pretending to deflect Hurricane Gloria by praying from his TV studio couch – protecting his headquarters but causing millions of damage and eight deaths along the coast – Robertson had a talent for gaining power, resulting in social good through his ministry, but also in political division and cynicism outside his spiritual audience.
Fitzgerald said: “He was almost always a mad uncle, except when he ran for president.”