Pat Robertson retiring at 91 from ‘The 700 Club’

Free Press wire reports | 10/7/2021, 6 p.m.
Pat Robertson, who turned Christian TV into political power — and blew it up with wacky prophecy — announced last ...
Mr. Robertson

Pat Robertson, who turned Christian TV into political power — and blew it up with wacky prophecy — announced last week his intention to retire as daily host of “The 700 Club.”

The 91-year-old Mr. Robertson, who transformed televangelism from hot, pulpit-pounding sermons to a cool format and used his platform to launch a run for president, said his son, Gordon Robertson, 63, a Yale-educated former real estate lawyer who is chief executive officer of CBN and has served as executive producer of “The 700 Club” for 20 years and even longer as a co-host, will take over the show.

For many Mr. Robertson will always be remembered for his wacky pronouncements made at inflection points of American history.

“I don’t think I’d be waving those flags in God’s face if I were you,” he warned Orlando, Fla., city leaders in 1998 when they flew rainbow flags downtown in honor of Gay Days at Disney World.

“This is not a message of hate — this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor,” he said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the twin towers in New York, Mr. Robertson said he agreed with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, his guest on his signature talk show, “The 700 Club,” that responsibility for the attacks on the United States fell to pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and the lesbians.

Moments like these embarrassed his fellow Christians and marginalized the once-estimable political power Mr. Robertson wielded, consigning Mr. Robertson to the role of what one megachurch pastor called “the crazy uncle in the evangelical attic.”

But the right wing conservative could also surprise his viewers. Once, he invited the Rev. Al Sharpton to the couch on “The 700 Club” to discuss climate change, agreeing that the issue is one that might bring the right and left together. In 2012, Mr. Robertson said that marijuana should be legalized.

But any recollection of Mr. Robertson, who announced Oct. 1 his intention to retire as daily host of “The 700 Club,” must include his transformation of televangelism into a format like the “Tonight Show,” featuring conversational talk and couch interviews, interspersed with entertainment.

The model was later adopted by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on their PTL (“Praise the Lord”) network and Paul and Jan Crouch on their Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Over the years, five presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, appeared on the show, along with numerous world leaders and musical artists.

“After, I think, 54 years of hosting the program, I thank God for everyone that’s been involved and I want to thank all of you,” Mr. Robertson told viewers, adding, “It’s been a great run.”

But his CBN platform was much more than good television. Founding the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1961, the first Christian network in the United States, he shepherded his flock of white evangelicals to a position of unprecedented political influence within the Republican Party.

In 1987, Mr. Robertson, a Yale-educated lawyer, a Marine officer veteran and the son of a U.S. senator from Virginia, leveraged his fame into direct political action, something earlier Christian fundamentalists had shunned. That year he formed the Christian Coalition, later joined by Ralph Reed, the telegenic political strategist. Soon, other evangelical leaders, like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, jumped on their own electoral bandwagons.

Mr. Robertson’s personal political high point came in 1988 when he ran for the Republican nomination for president, finishing third in the Iowa primary, behind Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush. In the campaign he claimed, without proof, that the Soviets were hiding missiles in Cuba.

He also wrote 20 books and founded Regent University, located across the street from CBN studios and headquarters in Virginia Beach, and the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian activist organization led by sometime Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow.

Mr. Robertson’s firm support of former President Trump may well be the last memorable moment of his on-air career. After insisting for weeks that former President Trump had won the 2020 election, only to be cheated out of office by fraud, Mr. Robertson endorsed the Jan. 6 pro-Trump gathering at the U.S. Capitol in the run-up to the rally. After it proved to be a riotous insurrection, Mr. Robertson stayed off “The 700 Club” for a week. When he returned, he acknowledged President Biden’s victory.