Television evangelist Marion G. (Pat) Robertson said yesterday he is resigning as a Southern Baptist minister and cutting ties to his broadcast empire as he prepares to formally enter the race for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination.
In a statement from his headquarters in Chesapeake, Va., Robertson called his decision to quit as a minister and sever connections to his television ministry "one of the most painful I have ever been required to make."
In recent months, as public opinion polls indicated voters were reluctant to put a member of the clergy into high elected office, Robertson has stressed his business background rather than his long career as a religious broadcaster.
He said he would resign as chairman and chief executive officer of the Christian Broadcasting Network and CBN Continental Broadcasting Inc. Robertson began CBN in 1960 and built it into the nation's fifth-largest cable network, reaching 37 million homes.
"I love broadcasting and I will hate to leave it," he said in a statement. "For now, I feel an obligation to serve the greatest nation on the face of the Earth."
He added, "If it requires personal sacrifice on my part to help preserve freedom in the United States of America, that is a small price to pay."
Robertson, ordained in 1961, resigned as a minister. He served several "interim pastorates" in the Southern Baptist church early in his career, but said he had not been a parish minister for 25 years.
"I recognize that although the overwhelming majority of the American people desire leaders with strong religious faith, to many of our citizens the election of an ordained clergyman of any faith -- Protestant, Catholic or Jewish -- to as high a public office as the presidency of the United States would, in their opinion, be tantamount to a preference of one religious denomination over all others," he said.
"My ancestors fought for religious freedom in America and, like them, I am committed with all my heart to maintain absolute religious freedom for all people in this great land."
Both resignations are effective Thursday, the day Robertson will formally announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y.