Televangelist still draws viewers, but pastors say his remarks make Christians look bad
Pat Robertson may be the founder of the once-powerful Christian Coalition. He may attract nearly a million viewers a day to his “700 Club” television show. But when he claims to make divine prophecies — as he did, again, last week — many evangelicals say he undermines the credibility of their beliefs.
In the past, Robertson has called for the assassination of a political leader and predicted tsunamis, but last week, he said God spoke to him and revealed that a massive terrorist strike would happen in the United States in late 2007.
– Proverbs 17:28
“It’s downright embarrassing,” said Todd Spitzer, pastor at Regeneration in Oakland and Dolores Park Church in San Francisco. “When he makes these statements and ties God’s name to it, he’s like the self-proclaimed spokesman for God and evangelical Christianity. It’s an obstacle to us when we want to present a reasonable faith.”
The more outrageous or quirky the comment, the quicker it zips into newspapers and television news programs and floods the Web. The result, evangelical ministers say, is that sincere believers get tarnished in the process.
The Bay Area, despite perceptions to the contrary, has dozens of evangelical churches, including many of the region’s largest. Evangelical ministers said they are constantly battling stereotypes of evangelicals as uncritical thinkers who are “marching lockstep to some leader.” They said Robertson’s comments only strengthen those misperceptions.
“The Christian faith is not a blind faith,” said Gary Lee, pastor of the Berkeley Mosaic church. “It’s an intellectual faith.
“Because he’s on ‘The 700 Club,’ because he hits the radio and television more than most, he grabs a different level of attention. It broad-brushes all of evangelicalism.”
Evangelicals cut across a variety of Protestant denominations, in the Bay Area and nationally. They believe in a literal reading of the Bible as the word of God, and all but a few give room for figurative speech and metaphor. They believe that Jesus is the son of God, and that believing in him and his teachings is the only path to eternal salvation. They actively share their faith with others.
Several Bay Area evangelical ministers said Robertson’s purported divine prophecies are heretical because the statements presume that he can add to the inerrant word of God, as written in the Bible.
“He’s going beyond the authority of Scripture,” said Lee. “He’s walking out on his own plank.”
Robertson was not giving any interviews, a spokesperson said Friday.
Robertson’s controversial rhetoric over the past few years contrasts with his historical significance to Christian conservatives. The son of a U.S. senator, Robertson ran for president in 1988. Though unsuccessful, he was able to draw in a wide network of supporters and donors, said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Robertson kept those networks alive after the election, taking the mass mailing list and creating what would become the roots of the Christian Coalition.
Robertson chose Ralph Reed to be the public face of the Christian Coalition.
“It was a real genius political move,” said Rozell, who has followed Robertson’s career for more than three decades. “Robertson is just too toxic. … Ralph Reed put a very benign face to the political movement.”
The organization published tens of millions of voter guides, which were distributed in churches around the nation. It held seminars to teach people how to become delegates to state and national conventions. Though the coalition’s influence has severely waned in recent years, it was once a force in educating and politically mobilizing Christian conservatives.
Robertson’s clout has faded as well, not least because of his comments.
“Everyone wants to get away from the characterization in the mainstream culture that evangelicals believe some pretty loony things,” Rozell said.
“There’s this real sense that the Christian Coalition mainstreamed the religious right,” he said. “But a lot of people feel that Pat Robertson has reinforced negative stereotypes that evangelical Christians have worked hard to eliminate.”
Galen Call, pastor of Los Gatos Christian Church, remembers the level of importance reached by the Christian Coalition.
At churches in the Midwest where Call ministered, the Christian Coalition’s voter guides and seminars were helpful to many believers. But those days are long past, Call said.
Now, he said, Robertson’s comments hinder outsiders’ understanding of evangelicals.
“All sides of the cultural war enjoy pointing to the margins of other movements to try to discredit them,” Call said. “That’s unfortunate, because it hinders genuine dialogue and understanding.”
Nevertheless, Call said there are still times when Robertson’s presence is felt in his church — usually on a Sunday morning when someone asks incredulously, “Did you hear what Pat Robertson said this week?”
Pat Robertson’s infamous remarks
Prophetic or otherwise controversial statements Pat Robertson has made during “700 Club” broadcasts:
Jan. 2, 2007: Robertson says God warns him of an impending terrorist strike sometime in 2007.
“The Lord didn’t say nuclear, but I do believe it’ll be something like that — that’ll be a mass killing, possibly millions of people, major cities injured.
“There will be some very serious terrorist attacks. The evil people will come after this country, and there’s a possibility — not a possibility, a definite certainty — that chaos is going to rule.
“God said he’s going to restrain the evil, but he isn’t necessarily going to restrain it in the beginning. A lot of these things can be reversed; we just need to do a lot of praying.”
Aug. 22, 2006: Robertson calls for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination. But if (Chavez) thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.
“We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job.”
Jan. 5, 2006: Robertson says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke is divine retribution for withdrawing from parts of Gaza.
“Sharon was personally a very likable person, and I am sad to see him in this condition, but I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’
“He was dividing God’s land, and I would say: Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations or the United States of America.”
May 8 and 17, 2006: Robertson predicts extreme weather for 2006.
On May 8: “If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms.”
On May 17: “There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest.”
Nov. 10, 2006: Robertson says Dover, Pa.’s election of a school board that supports the teaching of evolution will have grave consequences.
“You just voted God out of your city. … I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God; you just rejected him from your city.
“If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them.”