Pat Robertson: The Legacy of a Religious Broadcaster and Conservative Activist

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The Life and Legacy of Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson, the influential religious broadcaster, died on June 8, 2023 at the age of 93. Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and turned it into a global media empire. Through CBN and related organizations like the Christian Coalition, Robertson helped bring the religious right into the mainstream of American conservative politics.

Robertson was born in 1930 in Lexington, Virginia. His father served in Congress for many years. Robertson graduated from Washington and Lee University and Yale Law School, though he failed the bar exam. After serving in the Marines, Robertson felt called to the ministry. He and his wife Dede established CBN in 1961 with a small television station in Virginia.

Building a Religious Media Empire

Under Robertson's leadership, CBN grew rapidly through appeals to viewers to donate money and become "members" of the 700 Club. This pioneering telethon model enabled CBN to raise hundreds of millions in viewer donations over the decades. CBN used this revenue to expand into radio, cable television, and online media. The network's flagship program, the 700 Club, mimicked secular talk shows and helped make Robertson a familiar face in American households.

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CBN also founded Regent University in Virginia Beach in 1978. Regent became a hub for conservative Christian higher education, graduating over 30,000 students. In 1989, Robertson established the Christian Coalition, which mobilized conservative Christians as an influential voting bloc allied with the Republican Party. The Coalition helped cement the Religious Right as a force in GOP politics.

Controversial Statements and Influence on the GOP

While beloved by many conservative Christians, Robertson also stirred controversy with inflammatory statements. He blamed natural disasters on God's judgment against groups like LGBTQ people and abortion rights supporters. In 2005, he called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Robertson later expressed regret for such remarks.

Yet Robertson helped pave the way for Religious Right leaders who followed him. He showed how television could bring evangelical Christianity into mainstream culture and politics. Though sometimes provocative, Robertson spoke to millions of Americans in plain, relatable language on CBN.

Robertson also illustrated the growing union between the Religious Right and the GOP that now helps form the party's base. For example, Robertson briefly challenged George H.W. Bush in the 1988 Republican primaries. But he later endorsed Bush, who won the presidency. Robertson welcomed figures like Kellyanne Conway on his show, fostering ties with Donald Trump's administration.

Leaving a Lasting Legacy

When Robertson stepped down as host of the 700 Club in 2021, he had led the show for over 50 years. His media empire and organizations like the Christian Coalition leave a profound imprint on American religion and politics today. Critical as some may be of Robertson's rhetoric, he motivated legions of conservative Christians to become involved in the political process. This helped ignite the tradition of GOP candidates vying for evangelical support, often by touting socially conservative platforms.

For supporters and critics alike, Robertson leaves behind a multifaceted legacy as a religious broadcaster, conservative activist, and Republican kingmaker. Through his media reach and political savvy, Robertson helped carve out a prominent space for the Religious Right that endures today. His impact on American culture and politics will be felt long after his passing in 2023.

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