50 Leaders of the Evangelical Generation: #9 Pat Robertson. Waves and Airwaves

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#9 Pat Robertson. Waves and Airwaves b. 1930

Pat Robertson has always been full of surprises. Sometimes his surprise declarations play fairly well on the public stage: such as when he shocked the political establishment by not only running for president in 1988, but also placing second in the Republican primary in Iowa, which a decade earlier had been established as a viable first step for unlikely candidates when Jimmy Carter prevailed on its snow lined plains. Often his comments bring not acclaim but outrage, or at least as laugh lines on the late night shows. Sometimes his comments are careless and callous—such as his comments about Haiti’s pact with the devil, when tens of thousands of Haitians lay dead under earthquake rubble. At other times widespread mockery of Robertson is the result of broad exposure to earnest and widely accepted charismatic expression.

Like many other Christian leaders who brought faith to the nation’s largest stages during this generation, Robertson is a man of remarkable intellect and accomplishment. He built one of the nation’s largest media enterprises, and found personal fame and fortune as a result of his prowess.

“Pat” was born Marion Gordon Robertson to U.S. Senator A. Willis Robertson, a conservative Democrat from Virginia, and Gladys Churchill Robertson, a Southern belle and midlife convert to Christ. It was his mother who prodded and prayed for her son’s spiritual journey and she was instrumental in his conversion. He was raised as a Southern Baptist and later shifted to the charismatic movement.

While Robertson’s first and most significant corporate founding was the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), he also founded the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Christian Coalition, Flying Hospital, International Family Entertainment Inc., Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation, and Regent University. He has remained the host of The 700 Club since its founding (except for the several months when he stepped away to run for president).

His media and financial resources make him a recognized and influential voice for conservative Christianity. At the same time, the carelessness of some public statements have undercut his credibility and damaged the attractiveness internationally of the very faith he has sought to propagate.

After Robertson called for Hugo Chavez’s assassination, syndicated conservative talk show host Neal Boortz said to his evangelical listeners: “Do you realize how much damage Pat Robertson has done to evangelical influence in this country?” As Boortz pointed out, untoward statements by Robertson have not only been damaging on their face, but they have also provided ammunition to the opponents and critics of evangelicalism, including many media representatives.

Other controversies surrounding Robertson include his claim that some denominations harbor the spirit of the Antichrist and his widely misunderstood claims of having the power to deflect hurricanes through prayer. Using his broadcast pulpit, Robertson has also denounced Hinduism as “demonic” and Islam as “Satanic,” and called Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s health crisis an act of God.

The week of September 11, 2001, Robertson discussed the terror attacks with Jerry Falwell, who said that “the ACLU has to take a lot of blame for this” in addition to “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians [who have] helped [the terror attacks of September 11] happen.” Robertson replied, “I totally concur.” While Robertson and Falwell later issued apologies for their statements, the damage was done—particularly to Falwell‘s reputation and influence.

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina killed 1,836 people, Pat Robertson again ventured to map out a divine hand, saying on The 700 Club that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment in response to America’s abortion policy. He also suggested that September 11 and the disaster in New Orleans “could… be connected in some way.”

Certainly, Robertson’s career cannot be characterized as a series of gaffes and misstatements. He is one of the most accomplished evangelicals of our time, and his multi-faceted empire has produced great good—often because of his drive and sometimes in-spite of it. CBN produces television programming in 80 languages to over 200 countries, and his Operation Blessing is the seventh largest private relief and development group in the world.

As one supporter, musician Charlie Daniels, said:

“Pat’s Operation Blessing plane is flown to back country third world locations loaded with doctors, dentists and other medical personnel who volunteer their time to bring free medical treatment to people who could never otherwise afford it. Imagine a child born with cleft palates and other disfiguring disabilities being shunned and teased for something they had absolutely no control over and no hope of ever having repaired. Then one day a big airplane lands with doctors who take them in and make them look normal. Or suppose you live in a village where you have to walk miles just to get a bucket of water and one day a crew shows up and with a drilling rig and drills a well right there in your village supplying the whole village with clean fresh water. Or suppose you’re hungry and someone feeds you or need clothes and somebody gives you some. Pat’s greatest accomplishment is all the lost souls he has helped find the salvation of Jesus Christ. He is a good man who serves his fellow man in a loving Christian way and some of his critics could learn some eternal lessons from him.”

Franklin Graham said at Robertson’s 80th birthday celebration: “I want to thank you for the integrity that you have brought to ministry, the standards that you have set of excellence.”

–Jim Jewell

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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