Television evangelist Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, barnstorming this state in a three-day campaign-style swing, said here today that the nation's born-again Christians feel "more strongly" about love of country, love of God and support for the traditional family than do non-Christians.
His comment came as he was questioned at a news conference in the state capitol about a letter last month to 50,000 of his supporters in which he proclaimed that "THE CHRISTIANS HAVE WON!" The statement referred to the success of the Freedom Council, a group Robertson founded, in recruiting about 4,500 candidates to run for precinct delegates Aug. 5 in the first step of the Michigan Republican Party's complex, two-year process for picking its delegates to the 1988 Republican National Convention.
Robertson has said he is "crystallizing" a decision about whether to seek the presidency and that he plans to make a further announcement in September.
The Freedom Council's state coordinator, Marlene Elwell, said she found the wording of the Robertson letter "awkward" because "it implied we were trying to take over the party. We aren't."
Robertson said today he did not mean to suggest that non-Christians had "lost" or that they should be driven out of the political process. He said he merely wanted to make an "expression of jubilation" that, after years of apathy, evangelical or born-again Christians are getting involved in politics.
"What a thrust for freedom!" Robertson's letter continued. "What a breakthrough for the Kingdom! . . . as believers become involved in this process, they will be able to turn this nation back to its traditional moral values."
But Robertson may have created another awkward situation for himself by stating today that Christians "maybe feel more strongly than others do" about "love of God, love of country and support for the traditional family."
Polls here and nationwide have shown that voters are highly skeptical of Robertson's running for president. Fifty-seven percent of Michiganders polled earlier this month by the Detroit News said they disapproved of the idea, and a nationwide NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken at the same time showed that 32 percent of Americans would not like to see him run, 9 percent would and the remainder hadn't heard of him or had no opinion.
Robertson today likened the reticence toward his running for office to the "antipathy" that John F. Kennedy faced early on as a Roman Catholic candidate for president. He said it disappeared when Kennedy gave assurances of "personal respect for religious freedom" -- and Robertson gave similar assurances today.
The founder of $230 million-a-year Christian Broadcasting Network empire will speak to a total of nine Michigan rallies in the three-day tour that began yesterday, in an effort to build enthusiasm for next Tuesday's precinct delegate elections.
The crowds have been modest -- a few hundred a stop, primarily candidates for precinct delegate. And Roberton's brief speeches have been restrained. He touched on no issues beyond what he considers the general need to restore Christian values.
Instead, he congratulated the delegate candidates for getting involved. "All America has its eyes on you," he told them, "There was a story about you on the front page of the paper in Paris, France!"
He compared the delegates to the British pilots who fought off German Luftwaffe bombing raids in World War II. "Never have so many owed so much to so few," he said, quoting Winston Churchill's famous appreciation of the RAF pilots.
At each rally, several delegate candidates were called to the front to give testimony about why they became involved -- and to share their views about the role of religion in politics. "If God is for us, who can be against us," candidate Theresa DeGrand, 31, a part-time model, said at a rally in Sterling Heights.
John Packer, master of ceremonies at a rally in Dearborn, told the audience: "You know, you hear people say we shouldn't mix religion and politics. I agree. Let's get politics out and get religion in. If we get God in office, we don't have to worry about the politicians."