The affect of Pat Robertson and CBN, his Christian Broadcasting Community



Televangelist Pat Robertson, who died on June 8 on the age of 93, occupied the cultural panorama as an extremely influential, doomsaying extremist. The one-time Southern Baptist minister’s profession in tv spanned six a long time, enabling him to espouse non secular dogma layered in bigotry to tens of millions of viewers on his long-running day by day present, The 700 Membership.

The person who turned his media empire, the Christian Broadcasting Community (CBN), into an unlimited, highly effective political machine did so by going after each perceivable “enemy” of the church, from feminists and queer folks to Palestinians and Haitian earthquake victims.

By way of the CBN and The 700 Membership, Robertson created the blueprint for many years of more and more excessive right-wing media. Alongside different right-wing public figures and media personalities of the late twentieth century, comparable to Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, and Rush Limbaugh, he helped codify the language and rhetoric of that excessive, whilst he later appeared to often decry the tradition he helped create.

As Tara Burton detailed for Vox in 2017, Robertson’s CBN was and arguably nonetheless is a powerhouse of faith and politics. Created by Robertson in 1961, the community grew to become identified for non secular programming, which it will definitely merged with information programming. On the peak of its affect through the ’80s and ’90s, the CBN seamlessly offered political propaganda as non secular doctrine to its tens of millions of viewers. As we left behind the civil rights period and the feminist and countercultural actions, conservative nervousness expressed itself utilizing televangelism as its mouthpiece.

So usually, the darkish issues that lurked in white evangelical America’s collective unconscious first swam to the floor on The 700 Membership. It platformed the views of anti-feminists like Edwin Louis Cole, who argued that Christian males needs to be masculine authorities over their wives and kids; Cole’s 1982 e book Maximized Manhood included a foreword written by 700 Membership co-host Ben Kinchlow.

Most controversial of all had been the views of Robertson himself. As Burton observes, his adherence to premillennial dispensationalism — the evangelical view that God has a preordained, structured timeline for the tip of the world — led him to drop terrible dictums, together with blaming hurricanes on homosexual folks and tornadoes on an absence of prayer. He incessantly described himself as a prophet.

All of this made him one thing of a laughing inventory as a public determine, but he additionally voiced political positions which, although considered as excessive within the ’80s, appear nearly commonplace in the present day. Like many evangelical Christian leaders of the ’80s and ’90s, he believed in a “bias within the Authorities in opposition to households,” argued that welfare had created a “everlasting underclass,” and frightened that overseas powers had been encroaching on American autonomy. In contrast to most Christian leaders, Robertson had a platform to broadcast these views on to tens of millions of People.

It’s onerous for contemporary audiences to grasp simply how large televangelism was. An outgrowth of the Christian revivalist motion spearheaded by Billy Graham, it was one of the in style media codecs of the late ’70s and ’80s. Flamboyant pastors like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and his then-wife Tammy Faye Messner, Falwell, and Robertson had been family names amongst evangelical People who tuned in weekly or nightly for his or her reveals.

A 1985 Nielsen survey commissioned by the CBN discovered {that a} staggering 60 million People, or “greater than 50 p.c of all People with a tv set,” watched no less than one televangelical present per thirty days. Topping the lengthy checklist of televangelist programming, with 16 million month-to-month viewers, was Robertson’s 700 Membership. By 1987, televangelism was a large trade, raking in $2 billion yearly, primarily from viewer donations. Based on the e book Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, the CBN reportedly earned over $50 million a 12 months throughout this period, although precise numbers are murky.

That gave Robertson large clout. Throughout the Reagan period, the White Home invited Robertson to obtain briefings from Oliver North, then serving as deputy director of political-military affairs for the Nationwide Safety Council, and Reagan gave interviews on to The 700 Membership and different televangelist reveals. In 1988, on the again of all that goodwill, Robertson ran for president. Regardless of an early sturdy displaying in caucuses and primaries, Robertson withdrew and endorsed George H.W. Bush.

At the same time as his erratic habits was obvious — a 1988 New York Instances profile reported that early of their marriage his spouse suspected Robertson was schizophrenic — his empire expanded. By 1994, CBN claimed The 700 Membership had generated over $600 million in complete income. Per an Esquire profile, that empire additionally consisted of “the nonprofit CBN (1993 revenues, $140 million); Regent College (endowment, $154 million); Worldwide Household Leisure, the for-profit holding firm (1993 revenues, $208 million) that owns, amongst different issues, the Household Channel, Mary Tyler Moore Leisure, and the Ice Capades; and numerous different companies, together with the Founders Inn, a smoke-free, alcohol-free resort and convention heart that fees ninety {dollars} an evening.” The CBN’s cable offshoot, The Household Channel, nonetheless exists in the present day, owned by Disney below the identify Freeform.

Extra explicitly political was the Christian Coalition, which Robertson based in 1989 following his failed presidential run. Beneath Robertson, the Coalition grew to become a vastly influential voter mobilization and right-wing foyer group. In 1994, the Coalition, as a part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” was essential in serving to return management of the Home of Representatives to Republicans after a long time of a Democratic majority. Although Robertson resigned in 2001, the Coalition continues to advocate for political platforms in the present day.

Robertson was controversial for extra than simply his opinions. Within the ’90s, he was accused of scamming loyal viewers out of tens of millions of charity {dollars} that had been earmarked for a Congolese refugee program however which had been reportedly used as a substitute to fund Robertson’s failed diamond-mining scheme. Although a number of investigations and a documentary explored these allegations, the charity, Operation Blessing, denied the claims. Prosecutors declined to carry fees in opposition to Robertson, and later launched a report clearing him and the charity of intent to defraud.

If Robertson was slippery that manner, it’s controversial that the media allowed him to be. As he aged and his profile pale, Robertson’s cultural affect was decreased to a litany of nonsensical, bigoted sound bytes. Who’s saying the “darnedest” issues? Time requested in 2003, evaluating — randomly however not so randomly — Jessica Simpson and Pat Robertson.

Maybe as a result of mainstream pundits considered Robertson as an eccentric, the sheer breadth of his cultural footprint didn’t actually turn out to be obvious till the Trump years, when it grew to become clear that his affect had barely waned in any respect. Robertson was a staunch supporter of Donald Trump’s presidency, arguing that he was ordained by God and utilizing CBN’s platforms to ship Trump’s messaging on to viewers. In an echo of the Reagan presidency, Trump used CBN’s information present Religion Nation, which launched in 2017, as an unofficial propaganda arm.

Robertson himself continued to host The 700 Membership till his retirement in 2021 on the age of 91. His son, Gordon Robertson, took over his spot because the present’s anchor. Present estimates place the CBN’s annual income at between $390 million and $560 million yearly.

Despite the fact that, in a uncommon second of readability, Robertson stated in 2022 that Trump lives in an “alternate actuality” and will transfer on from his claims of election fraud, Robertson was maybe considerably chargeable for serving to to nurture that delusion. He understood, lengthy earlier than Trump did, the way in which media can form viewers’ actuality. “It takes a short while on TV, 4 or 5 minutes, to modify 40 p.c of the completely unfavorable folks into, ‘let’s take a re-examination,’” he stated in 1987.

In gentle of this lengthy historical past, it’s onerous to learn a few of his more moderen opinions — moments by which he seemed to be thawing, or no less than displaying a extra compassionate aspect — and know what to make of them.

In 2013, he declared that he believed trans identification is “very uncommon” however actual, and that “it’s not so that you can determine or to evaluate.” In 2019, he spoke out in opposition to the US withdrawal of troops from Syria and in opposition to Alabama’s “excessive” and “ill-considered” anti-abortion regulation. In 2020, he rebuked President Trump for his response to protests over the dying of George Floyd, admonishing him for cracking down as a substitute of standing in solidarity with the protesters. In 2021, he went on to sternly rebuke the police capturing of Daunte Wright.

The cynic may argue that these opinions, too, had been merely opportunistic attention-getters. “Robertson has spent a long time mendacity and obfuscating, throwing himself into the center of discussions by which he wasn’t invited, to supply opinions that no person needed,” Erin Gloria Ryan wrote for the Day by day Beast in 2017. “He’s weighed in on … [every] subject du jour, tragic or zeitgeist, that may assist enhance Pat Robertson Consciousness. He’s thrown his fortunes in with warlords, hucksters, and profiteers.”

Whether or not Robertson’s purpose all alongside was merely consideration or the shaping of a tradition, he definitely succeeded in each.