Was Pat Robertson waiting for divine intervention? The Wall Street Journal in its series of profiles of the 1988 presidential candidates sedately broke the news Tuesday that the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Republican presidential candidate had conceived his first-born son out of wedlock.

Then, The Journal revealed, he proceeded to wait until 10 weeks before the child's birth to marry the child's mother. Adelia (Dede) Robertson gave birth to the couple's first son, Timmy, on Nov. 6, 1954. The Journal reported that the Robertsons were married on Aug. 27, 1954.

In a taped interview with T.R. Reid of The Washington Post in July, Robertson indicated that he and his wife were married on March 22, 1954. In an interview with Reid after The Wall Street Journal's disclosure, Robertson said that March 22 is his birthday and that he and his wife considered that to be the day they married because "our son was conceived on that day." The little legal procedure that took place in Elkton, Md., on Aug. 27 of that year, he told Reid, "to us, wasn't any big deal."

Perhaps it was not a big deal to Pat Robertson, then a Yale law school student, but I'd be willing to bet the mortgage that it was to his bride, who was a nursing student. In the harsh moral climate of the day, it wasn't the least bit acceptable for a young woman to go around being nearly seven months pregnant without a husband or with the wrong husband.

Only four years earlier, a senator from Colorado, Edwin C. Johnson, had demanded on the Senate floor that Ingrid Bergman, pregnant by Roberto Rossellini but not married to him, be barred from reentering the United States on grounds of "moral terpitude."

Pat Robertson wasn't the first law school student to get a female student pregnant. What is extraordinary, and unexplained, is why he waited so long to marry her and take her and the baby out of what must have been an enormously awkward situation.

Furthermore, after he married her, according to The Journal, he returned to law school and lived in an apartment over a law school eating club with three roommates, never telling them that he was married and had a child.

We are not talking here about a man who seemed in a big rush to live up to his obligations. Robertson, the son of U.S. senator A. Willis Robertson of Virginia, was reared in Lexington and went to Washington & Lee University, in those days a finishing school for the sons of the South. His bride was a Roman Catholic, not a big selling point in Virginia back then.

What is intriguing about the Journal and Post revelations are not just the questions they raise about Robertson's character. He has made enough claims about healing powers and his direct line of communication with the Almighty to raise plenty of questions among skeptics about that already. What is going to be interesting to watch is whether the hand of Christian forgiveness, which is supposed to guide his followers, will absolve him in a way it has failed to absolve other political candidates who have played fast with morals and loose with facts.

Robertson, for perfectly good reasons, chose not to publicize the time lapse between his marriage and the birth of his first child. But when asked specifically about the date of his marriage, he gave an answer that was a great deal less than candid. He also has been busy straightening up other discrepancies in various versions of his activities, including claims that he has been on the board of directors of a bank.

Here is a candidate who has made the family and morality centerpieces of his message to the electorate, urging, among other things, sexual abstinence before marriage. Robertson explains the carousing, poker-playing ways of his youth by saying that these occurred before he underwent a profound religious conversion and became a "born-again" evangelical preacher.

After that, however, he didn't exactly become the ideal family man. He left his wife, then eight months pregnant with their second child, and their first-born toddler alone while he went off to a religious fellowship, saying God would look after them.

The dates on people's marriage certificates aren't what's important here. What is important is holding up all of the candidates to the same standards of truthfulness, morality and candor -- not to mention manhood -- and seeing whether they practice what they preach. The real question is what kind of people they are. And for some of Robertson's followers, it may start getting harder and harder to get a handle on the candidate without divine intervention.