Bill Sizemore has a lengthy piece on Pat Robertson in the Virginia Quarterly Review.
It’s a really fascinating look at the televangelist’s disturbing, scandal-ridden, influential life. Prepare to be upset.
Here’s a little something from the beginning of the piece and a little something from the end:
Over forty-six years of electronic ministry, this icon of evangelicalism has done a lot of praying, and he says it has paid a multitude of dividends. He declares with utmost confidence that God speaks to and through him, has diverted hurricanes at his urging, and has healed thousands of the sick and lame in answer to his pleas. He claims to have had personal encounters with Satan and the demons at his command, and in January 2007 he told his national audience that God had personally warned him of a major terrorist attack, “perhaps nuclear,” that would occur before year’s end. Given this track record, it would be easy to dismiss Robertson as a caricature. But that would be a mistake.
He will continue to push for a ban on abortion (“the height of pagan barbarity”), limits on other rights for women, restrictions on gay rights (“a sign that a society is in the last throes of decay”), narrower guidelines for artificial insemination and stem cell research, implementation of corporal punishment in schools, an end to teaching evolution (“There is no reproductive evidence to support evolution”), raising legal standards for granting divorce, expansion of capital punishment, and an end to the nation’s progressive tax structure (“the creation of Marxist communism”). Most of all, Robertson will continue to insist on a Christian litmus test for the nation’s highest office.
The rest of the piece sheds light on the origins of Robertson’s world and the political/legal messes he has been involved in.
I’ll admit I didn’t know the origin of The 700 Club, but here you go:
Robertson wrote that the Almighty had told him, “Pat, I want you to have an RCA transmitter”—the most expensive FM transmitter then on the market at $19,000. In the beginning, pricey and divine demands like these strained Robertson’s budget to the breaking point. Expenses continued to skyrocket, and the future of the station seemed constantly imperiled. In 1962, Robertson came up with a solution for his financial woes by holding a telethon. The goal was to find 700 viewers who were willing to each pledge $10 a month, enough to cover the station’s expenses. Robertson dubbed this group The 700 Club.
Does Robertson ever feel guilty about taking peoples’ money? Nope. He thinks God wants him to have it:
Robertson likes to call it the Law of Reciprocity, telling viewers that if they are true-believing Christians, financial rewards are theirs for the asking. (“We are to command the money to come to us,” he once wrote.) As a result, Robertson never had to feign guilt over indulging in the just financial rewards of his spiritual successes. Today, he lives in a $3 million, 6,600-square-foot house with six and a half bathrooms, and he is partial to Corvettes.
The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) was even ready to broadcast the (obviously) imminent Second Coming of Christ:
[Gerard Thomas] Straub was given marching orders to be ready to televise Christ’s return. CBN executives drew up a detailed plan to broadcast the event to every nation and in all languages. Straub wrote: “We even discussed how Jesus’ radiance might be too bright for the cameras and how we would have to make adjustments for that problem. Can you imagine telling Jesus, ‘Hey, Lord, please tone down your luminosity; we’re having a problem with contrast. You’re causing the picture to flare.’”
As he bowed his head to give thanks for his lunch of cantaloupe and cottage cheese, Robertson later recalled, “I sensed the Lord speak to me. ‘Buy all 143 acres and build an international communications center and school for my glory to take the message of Jesus Christ to the world.’ Little did I know then what God was about to do.”
And only because the piece is so long, what follows are a few snippets you can’t miss. They don’t tell the whole story (which you should read) but they are the soundbytes (wordbytes?) that will be repeated:
He received his JD in 1955 but failed the New York bar exam and never practiced law.
Although his wife was seven months pregnant, Robertson trekked off to a Christian summer camp in the Canadian woods to commune with God.
Robertson, too, began speaking in tongues, which sounded like “some kind of African dialect,” he wrote.
Robertson’s risky decision to “renounce wealth and privilege” to pursue a life of Christian televangelism was suddenly paying off in a whole lot of wealth and privilege.
It’s amazing what one can accomplish when an imaginary voice in your head tells you that anything you conjure up must come true. As this article shows us, Robertson had the tragic tenacity to make those wishes into reality.
Thanks to him and others like him, though, younger generations want less and less to do with the Religious Right.
It would be a sweet irony (for those who dislike Robertson) that after all his accomplishments, his enduring legacy would be to lessen the impact that religion has on public life.
In other words, when we see televangelists nowadays, we pay less attention to them. When a candidate invokes the name of God on the campaign trail, we assume it’s to earn political points rather than to implement and impose Christian theology onto everyone.
We’re not there yet. Sadly, there are still people who take seriously what he says. People who still send money to him. People who want to place their hopes in something and don’t realize how large of a mistake they’re making by letting this warped man guide them.
It’s hard to figure out where to place the blame — the sheep or the shepherd.