Robertson, Marion Gordon "Pat" (1930– ), Televangelist, Media Entrepreneur, Politician

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Robertson, Marion Gordon "Pat"
(1930– ), televangelist, media entrepreneur, politician.

One of the chief architects of modern religious television programming and of the conservative religious/political coalition that formed in the 1980s and 1990s, Pat Robertson was the son of A. Willis Robertson, a Virginia politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for fourteen years and in the U.S. Senate for twenty years. Pat Robertson graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1950 and, after serving as a Marine officer during the Korean War, received a law degree from Yale University in 1955. In 1956, after a series of personal and business disappointments, Robertson embarked, at the urging of his deeply religious mother, Gladys Churchill Robertson, on a religious journey that began with an evangelical "born again" experience and a subsequent pentecostal "baptism in the Holy Spirit."

While studying theology at an evangelical seminary in New York City, Robertson was attracted to pentecostalism, and in 1957 he had a tongues-speaking experience, thus becoming one of the first of millions of mainstream American Christians identified with the charismatic movement. He worked briefly with a slum mission in New York City and as minister of education at a Southern Baptist Church in Norfolk, but in 1960 Robertson plunged into religious broadcasting, buying a defunct UHF television station in Norfolk. Incorporated as the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Robertson's broadcasting empire grew slowly in the 1960s. Its survival was assured by a number of innovative decisions made by Robertson, including recruiting a nucleus of backers known as the "700 Club," instituting fund-raising telethons, and adding a popular talk show program to the station's schedule at the instigation of Jim Bakker, whom Robertson employed in the mid-1960s.

Beginning in the 1970s, CBN expanded very rapidly, aided by technological advances in cable and satellite broadcasting. The network adopted the name "The Family Channel" in 1985, and by the end of the decade it was one of the largest cable networks in the country. In 1987 the annual budget of CBN was more than $200 million, and the channel's programs were aired on nearly two hundred stations. By the 1990s CBN had become a privately held business with a symbiotic relationship to the other parts of Robertson's ministry. In the 1970s Robertson moved his organization to Virginia Beach, Virginia; in addition to CBN, the ministry supported a variety of activities, including a graduate university and professional school called Regents University.

Considering his background and education, Robertson's interest in politics was predictable. When the Religious Right began to coalesce in the late 1970s, Robertson wholeheartedly threw his support behind the movement. He was one of the organizers of the "Washington for Jesus" rally in 1980, which attracted an estimated two hundred thousand conservative Christians in a march on Washington. In 1988 Robertson ran for the Republican nomination for the presidency, having received petitions signed by more than three million voters supporting his candidacy. Though his campaign fizzled, Robertson remained a behind-the-scenes force in Republican politics. In 1990 he backed the founding of the Christian Coalition and supported a variety of other conservative legal and political causes.

Pat Robertson's contributions to the rise of the Religious Right were unique in a number of ways. Robertson was unashamedly charismatic in theology. He prayed for divine healing and used the language of the pentecostal/charismatic subculture on his program The 700 Club, and he won the confidence of millions of listeners belonging to a variety of American churches. As a leader in the loosely knit charismatic movement, he tapped into the fastest-growing religious movement in the twentieth century. Never a tent evangelist or even a conventional preacher, Robertson brought to the pentecostal/charismatic movement a sophistication and knowledge of politics and economics that were critically important. Robertson's television message mingled recognizable charismatic theology with doses of conservative political and economic advice.

The pentecostal/charismatic movement that Robertson symbolically led in the 1980s and 1990s was ideally suited for political marshaling. Compared to the fundamentalist coalition headed by Jerry Falwell, pentecostals and charismatics were more ecumenical and flexible. In addition, the movement demonstrated a genius for the creation of cell-type organizations within churches, a tactic that transferred easily to the establishment of grassroots political organizations. Pat Robertson combined the religious fervor, business acumen, cultural sophistication, and political savvy necessary to both the CBN empire and the Christian Coalition.

See alsoBaptism in the Holy Spirit; Evangelical Christianity; Falwell, Jerry; Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity; Religious Right; Televangelism.

Bibliography

Harrell, David Edwin, Jr. Pat Robertson:A Personal,Religious, and Political Portrait. 1987.

Morken, Hubbert. Pat Robertson:Religion and Politics inSimple Terms. 1987.

Hadden, Jeffrey K., and Anson Shupe. Televangelism:Power & Politics on God's Frontier. 1988.

David Edwin Harrell, Jr.