Pat Robertson, the soft-spoken televangelist who helped make America’s Christians a powerful political force while demonizing liberals, feminists and gays as sinners, died Thursday at the age of 93, his organization announced.
The longtime host of “The 700 Club” on his huge Christian Broadcasting Network and one-time presidential candidate died at his home in Virginia Beach, according to a network statement.
Robertson promoted “a worldview that believes in the inerrancy of the Bible,” CBN said.
“Today, his influence and legacy crisscross interests and industries that have broken barriers for countless Christian leaders and laypeople.”
Broadcasting “The 700 Club” daily since 1966, the avuncular Robertson promoted a literal belief in “end of times” prophecies of the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel that forecast the destruction of the world to become a Christian paradise.
In practice, he advocated for an extremely conservative Christianity focused on “traditional” families and a country founded on the Bible, rejecting the longstanding US principle of separation of church and state.
He defined the world as riven by an epochal fight between Islam and Christianity, and meanwhile spearheaded US Christian support for Israel as the land of the “chosen” Jewish people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called Robertson “a tremendous friend of Israel and a tremendous friend of mine.”
But he also drew loathing from progressives with his condemnations of feminism and LQBTQ culture as destroying America.
His powerful support in 2016 for Donald Trump — arguably helping seal Trump’s presidential victory — further widened the cultural chasm dividing the country.
– Marine, lawyer, minister –
Robertson was born on March 22, 1930 in Lexington, Virginia, son of a conservative Democratic member of the US House of Representatives and then the Senate for 34 years.
After graduating from Virginia’s Washington and Lee University, in 1948 he joined the US Marines, serving in Korea.
He then graduated from Yale Law School, was ordained a Baptist minister, and in short order launched in 1961 what became the massive CBN empire from a small television station in Tidewater Virginia.
After CBN’s early financial struggles, he named “The 700 Club” for an early core of 70 supporters who pledged $10 each month.
The program mixed news, spiritual and lifestyle stories along with interviews of public figures, and became a hit especially in rural communities across the country.
That made it a mainstream stop for political candidates courting Christian voters: guests included Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Robertson expanded into other media business, launching what became the popular, conservative “Family Channel” on cable television, and the influential Christian-based Regent University in Virginia Beach.
– Push into politics –
In 1987, he launched the Christian Coalition, seeking to bring together different Christian denominations as a force for the conservative values he espoused.
Ever since, the organization has been at the forefront of the US culture wars, pressuring Congress and the White House on moral and religious issues such as abortion and the separation of church and state.
In 1990, he launched the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal lobby to advance Christian religious rights against secularism in the courts.
Robertson himself sought political office, running unsuccessfully in the Republican presidential primary in 1988.
But what he built had a lasting impact: a conservative Christian voter bloc instrumental in bringing Trump to power and still exercising enormous influence over the Republican Party.
“He shattered the stained glass window,” TD Jakes, a Dallas pastor said in CBN’s statement. “People of faith were taken seriously beyond the church house and into the White House.”
– Controversies –
But there were controversies along the way.
He courted Democratic Republic of the Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, hoping to convert their countries to Christian states where gay people were banned — while investing in diamond mining in a deal with Mobutu.
In 2001, as America reeled from the September 11 attacks, Robertson endorsed the view that tolerance for lesbians, gays and doctors carrying out abortions had drawn God’s wrath on the country.
In 2005, he called for the United States to assassinate then Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war,” he quipped on “The 700 Club.”
And last year, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “compelled by God” to attack Ukraine, because it was predicted in the Book of Ezekiel as a step toward the end of times.
Washington’s political establishment was remarkably quiet Thursday in response to Robertson’s death.
Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, said Robertson “touched so many lives and changed so many hearts.”
“He stood for America — and more importantly, for truth and faith,” she said.
But on the left, there was little sympathy.
“Robertson’s death doesn’t mean we must overlook his long record of extremist rhetoric,” wrote Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“Robertson spent most of his time spreading hate, conspiracy theories and lies,” he said.
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