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Pat Robertson Is Dead

Mahatma Gandhi is a pretty good exemplar of the Rule; he's one of those people (like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, etc.) who didn't actually say all the things he allegedly said. So, it's an open question whether Gandhi actually answered a question about Christianity thusly: "Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ."

We are actually inclined to think that Gandhi did say that, and that it's just the more famous variant of the quote ("I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.") that's not quite correct. Either way, it would be hard to think of someone for whom that sentiment is more on the mark than "Christian" evangelist and sometime politician Pat Robertson, who died yesterday at the age of 93.

When a person dies, the obits often highlight the good and downplay the not-so-good. As we have made clear in the past (here, for example) we do not feel constrained by that convention. And so, we present readers with a (very) select list of the lowlights of Robertson's career:

If you can find anything on that list that is Christ-like, then you are a better theologian than we are. This is why we describe Robertson as a "Christian" than as a Christian. In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul observed that the most important qualities to embody, following Jesus' example, are "faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." We suppose that Robertson had faith, in an Old Testament sort of way, but he offered little in the way of hope, and he certainly didn't have much love for people who did not think exactly as he did. These sorts of nasty and bigoted statements were not exceptions to the rule for him, they were the rule.

In any case, when a person dies, that's an occasion to take stock of their lives and figure out what it all meant. From a political standpoint, Robertson is best known for his 1988 presidential campaign, where he leveraged the extensive donor list developed through his ministry to power himself to a surprise second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, claiming 25% of the vote, to 37% for first-place finisher Bob Dole and 19% for eventual nominee George H.W. Bush. Robertson then got trounced in New Hampshire, but nonetheless kept his campaign going long enough to win four states' Republican delegates before dropping out and endorsing Bush. If you can guess even two of the four states, you're a better political historian than we are; we'll put the list at the bottom of the page.

Ultimately, Robertson's presidential campaign is not all that significant, except to the extent that it's a byproduct of his true role in American political history. For various reasons, there were three pretty big developments in Republican politics in the 1970s and 1980s. The first of those was the emergence of a win-at-all-costs, the-Democrats-are-the-enemy political mentality. The second was the flowering of a right-wing propaganda machine on radio and on the then-developing medium of cable television. And the third was a marriage between Christian evangelicals of a fundamentalist bent and the GOP political establishment. If you wanted to create a statue that embodied these storylines, it would be on point to include Newt Gingrich as the embodiment of #1, Rush Limbaugh as the embodiment of #2 and Robertson as the embodiment of #3. Alternatively, if money is tight, you could just sculpt Robertson, because he covers all three bases quite nicely by himself.

And now, storytime. As most readers will know, the platform that Robertson created and used to communicate with the (evangelical Christian) world for more than half a century is The 700 Club. It was the flagship program of the also-Robertson-founded Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which is currently a production company and was for many years a cable TV channel. Starting in the 1990s, the TV channel was repeatedly sold and re-branded, such that it was The Family Channel, then Fox Family Channel, then ABC Family Channel. It's now called Freeform, and is owned by Disney.

As part of the terms by which CBN (the cable channel) was sold, whatever company acquires ownership of the property is contractually bound to give part of its broadcast day over to The 700 Club. As you might imagine, the folks at Disney are not especially pleased to have part of their schedule locked up like this, so the muckety-mucks responsible for programming Freeform have tried to make things as unfriendly to Robertson's program as is possible. The show is parked late at night, and its lead in is generally not the sort of fare Robertson would have approved of, usually reruns of Family Guy or South Park (both of which feature copious amounts of rather ribald humor, including frequent skewering of organized religion).

For this reason, (Z) is actually quite familiar with the current content of The 700 Club, which is is now anchored by Robertson's son Gordon. See, (Z) puts on an amenable channel/program when starting work on the next day's blog posting, but then gets focused to the point that he does not find the time to change the channel. So, there have been many, many nights that several hours of watching ribald comedy (in the background) was followed by watching The 700 Club (in the background). And that has meant many utterances of: "Wow. Can you really say something that offensive on 21st century television?" Of course, if the network is contractually bound to carry your program, the answer is "yes." And the ultimate point of the story, and the conclusion of this item on Robertson, is that he may be gone, but you can be well assured that his brand of theocratic fascism will live on. (Z)

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