Manning the helm of his own faith-based propaganda network that has spanned five decades, Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson, evangelist, pundit, and former Presidential candidate, remains one of the top leaders of the Christian Right and at the age of 75, shows no signs of stopping now. (His birthday was marked by a big celebration in March, featuring a Texas ranch vacation package with special guests Randy Travis and John Ashcroft.)
The son of former U.S. Senator Absalom Robertson – one of the 19 signers of “The Southern Manifesto” which condemned the Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education– young Marion attended Washington & Lee University, where he majored in liberal arts. It was the last thing related to “liberal” he would ever do in his life. Though graduating magna cum laude, in his official bio, Robertson claims to have “quickly received what seemed a postgraduate course in wild partying.” After military service in Korea, Robertson received his law degree from Yale in 1955 and then a master of divinity degree from New York Theological Seminary in 1959.
Robertson is best known as the head of his own Christian Broadcast Network, which hosts his flagship show The 700 Club. In 1977, Robertson launched the cable channel CBN Cable, which later became the Family Channel. As part of a deal when selling the network in 1997 to Fox (which later sold it to ABC), it remained a contractual obligation for the network to air The 700 Club no matter what. In 2004, The 700 Club raised over $130 million for CBN.
Robertson’s guaranteed airtime – which he frequently spends begging viewers for cash – reveals the other dominant element in every aspect of Robertson’s life other than religion – money. In fact, the very name of The 700 Club comes from Robertson’s original plea for 700 people to donate $10 to his cause – at the time, the necessary operating budget for the show.
Ordained a minister in 1961, Robertson gave up his credentials in 1987 upon his entry into the 1998 Republican Presidential primary against Vice President George H. W. Bush. In an interesting use of his "God-given talents," Robertson declared publicly in 1986 that he would only run for President if three million people volunteered for him within a year. Conveniently, this allowed Robertson to remain the head of CBN and host of The 700 Club without having to resign, since he never actually declared his candidacy – yet for a year, the signatures and donations came in. Robertson’s decision to shrug off his televangelist credentials during the campaign were also advantageous during the start of the campaign season, given the sudden scandals surrounding Robertson associates Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in early 1988.
Robertson notes his service record (a rarity for right-wing pundits) in his official biography and mentions he is a combat veteran of the Korean War. While his service in Korea is not in dispute, what he did there is – one of Robertson’s fellow unit members in Korea was former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who Robertson sued for libel in 1986 after publishing a book accusing Robertson’s father of pulling strings to get him out of combat duty and claiming that Robertson’s real role in Korea was “liquor officer” – a soldier assigned with maintaining the stock of alcohol at the Officer’s Club. Robertson dropped the suit when the trial date was set for March 8, 1988 – the same day as the “Super Tuesday” presidential primaries, of which Robertson was a candidate at the time.
Although losing his bid for the nomination, Robertson remained a very active (and very right-wing) Republican advocate. In addition to his control over CBN, Robertson is the founder and chancellor of Regent University in Virginia, as well as the founder of the American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing legal advocacy group deliberately meant to play off the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
And then, of course, there’s the diamond mine.
One of Robertson’s, shall we say, less-than-charitable operations includes his personal investment in the African Development Corporation, a mining operation Robertson founded with the assistance of Mobutu Sese Seko, then dictator of Zaire. At the height of the 1994 genocides in Rwanda, Robertson again used The 700 Club to call for donations to his Virginia-based non-profit organization Operation Blessing. Robertson called for the donations to fund airlifting of refugees from Rwanda to Zaire ; instead it was discovered that the planes paid for with tax-exempt donations were being used not to transport refugees to safety but mining equipment to Zaire.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, to whose campaign Robertson had donated $35,000 two years earlier, overruled the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs’ request to prosecute Robertson in 1999. That same year, Robertson would again ally himself with an African dictator for personal gain in mining operations – this time with Liberia’s Charles Taylor (currently under indictment for war crimes and suggested to have ties to al Qaeda).
If all those “accomplishments” in establishing Robertson’s record appear generous, it may amaze you that we haven’t even touched on the moments when Robertson actually opened his mouth. With the advantage of facing almost no repercussions for whatever he says on his un-cancelable show, Robertson has built a decades-long history of outrageous statements and opinions, most of which allude to a lifetime of partisan invective and utter hypocrisy.
For example, Robertson’s recent (decidedly un-Christian) calls for the assassination of Venezuelan President Huge Chavez, which Robertson defended as “a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.” Oddly enough, Robertson had different opinions when the War on Terrorism led to the ousting of Charles Taylor from power in 2003. Said Robertson of Bush: “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.’" Apparently the difference between political killings and democratic process is an $8 million investment. Robertson’s calls for death to his enemies are frequent: on one 700 Club broadcast, Robertson dropped to his knees and prayed for the “removal” of three Supreme Court justices, saying, “One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?” Meanwhile, Robertson had no problem accusing Michael Schiavo of “murdering” his comatose wife by having her feeding tube removed.
Robertson also has a knack for associating anything he dislikes with things everyone dislikes – such as connecting Ruth Bader Ginsburg to communists, and asserting that liberals are a greater threat to America than Hitler, Stalin, or al Qaeda.
Furthermore, Robertson is a regular practitioner of hypocrisy: During his 1988 Presidential run, Robertson was accused by the Wall St. Journal of misstating the date of his marriage to conceal the fact that Robertson’s wife was pregnant with their child well before they tied the knot. At the time, Robertson attacked the inquiry, stating, “I think it is outrageous to pry into a man’s past and try to do damage to a man’s wife and children under the guise of journalism.” He would have no problem later on making Bill Clinton’s personal life his main interest, or relentlessly trying to mandate what others should do in their bedroom.
Despite the numerous, numerous discrepancies in word and deed, Robertson remains a premier icon for the religious conservative movement in America. Is it the power of faith? Or perhaps all the diet drinks (yet another business venture in which Robertson remains entangled in litigation)? All we know is Robertson certainly keeps himself active: between stealing, lying, advocating murder, disrespecting spouses, bearing false witness against neighbors, and coveting the goods of others, Robertson might very well be the most commandment-breaking religious leader in American history.
In early November 2005, shortly after the controversial nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Robertson took center stage to offer his support for the nominee. Appearing on multiple cable news programs, Robertson’s most bizarre commentary came during an interview he conducted on the 700 Club with Weekly Standard executive editor, Fred Barnes. Robertson and Barnes were discussing Alito’s partial dissent in the 1991 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, in which Alito argued that a provision of Pennsylvania law requiring a wife to demonstrate that she notified her spouse prior to having an abortion is constitutional. The majority of the Appeals Court struck down the requirement, as did the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. Robertson applauded Alito’s dissent, based on the possibility that abortion would deny hard-working American men their right to a male heir. Harkening back to a simpler time, Robertson explained to Barnes, “Fred, I don’t know about you, but I grew up in an age where a man wanted a male heir, and if he had a son that he helped make with his wife, he was looking forward to the birth of that son so the son could grow up, take over the farm, the family business in his name. And to think that he doesn’t have any voice in it is ridiculous. And it’s certainly the prerogative of the Pennsylvania legislature to say these guys at least should get notified before their wife kills their heir.”
When on November 11, 2005, the residents of Dover, PA voted their school board out of office for its support of the teaching of Intelligent Design theory in science classrooms, Robertson warned the residents that they had likely ignited a fury in the Lord that could not be reversed. Making no attempt to conceal his own disappointment in the people of Dover, he informed them of their fate, “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover : if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city.” God’s had enough, Robertson figured, and cautioned the offenders, “we can’t keep sticking our finger in his eye forever.” Robertson isn’t heartless enough to leave the people of Dover without some advice. He finished by saying, “If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them.”
This isn’t the first time Robertson has lent his predictions of condemnation to a city. In 1998, he rebuked the City of Orlando ’s decision to fly flags celebrating diversity and respect for gay people, explaining that “a condition like [homosexuality] will bring about the destruction of your nation. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor, it isn’t necessarily something we ought to open our arms to.” He continued, “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you.” Not to worry, Pat’s just trying to look out for these lost souls as they increasingly piss off what he paints to be an awfully vengeful God (not to mention extreme – meteors?!), “This is not a message of hate,” he clarified, “this is a message of redemption.”
In January, with similar ire and conviction, Robertson attributed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recent stroke to his policy of “dividing God’s land.” (Some would have called Sharon ’s actions moderation, or making peace, but apparently “blessed are the peacemakers” is one of the biblical verses Robertson ignores.) Robertson explained that although “ Sharon was personally a very likeable person,” he felt that one could see why God was angry with Sharon by looking to the Bible, specifically the Book of Joel: “The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, ‘divide my land.’ God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible. He says, ‘This is my land.’ And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he’s going to carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No, this is mine.’” He continued with a warning, “He was dividing God’s land. And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, ‘This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.’”
Most recently, Robertson weighed in on the Muslim protests that erupted after Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, printed, and then a number of other European newspapers reprinted, cartoons depicting Mohammed in an unflattering light. The depiction of Mohammed in any context is considered blasphemous in many strains of Islamic faith. In his classic condemnatory fashion, Robertson said of the protests on the March 13th edition of The 700 Club that the rage sparked by the cartoons "just shows the kind of people we’re dealing with. These people are crazed fanatics, and I want to say it now: I believe it’s motivated by demonic power, it is satanic and it’s time we recognize what we’re dealing with." He added, "the goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, is world domination." Robertson backtracked slightly later that day, explaining he was referring specifically to terrorists, who were willing to bomb innocent people because they were motivated by Satan, not to all Muslims. Of course his excuses must be taken with a grain of salt, given that this is the same man who in 2002, declared that Islam "is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist. They want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy." Luckily, Robertson’s comments did not go unnoticed, despite the fact that Robertson’s network did not include the remarks in the transcript its website. On the March 14 th edition of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Robertson won the prestigious Runner-Up title in “Keith’s Worst Persons in the World” competition, outdone only by Northwest Airlines, for its recent announcement that passengers would be charged extra for aisle seats.
Here are some of our favorite quotes from the good minister:
“There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore.”
-Address to his American Center for Law and Justice, November 1993.
“Individual Christians are the only ones really—and Jewish people, those who trust God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—are the only ones that are qualified to have the reign, because hopefully, they will be governed by God and submit to Him.”
-The 700 Club television program, January 11, 1985, defending his stance that only Christians and Jews are fit to hold public office
“I never said that in my life … I never said only Christians and Jews. I never said that.”
-Time magazine, after having been confronted regarding his statement on The 700 Clubof January 11, 1985
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”
-Fundraising letter, 1992
“I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household and the husband is the head of the wife, and that’s the way it is, period.”
-The 700 Club television program, January 8, 1992
“If the widespread practice of homosexuality will bring about the destruction of your nation, if it will bring about terrorist bombs, if it’ll bring about earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor, it isn’t necessarily something we ought to open our arms to.”
-The 700 Club television program, August 6, 1998, on the occasion of the Orlando, Florida, Gay Pride Festival
Illustration: August J. Pollak