Christian media mogul and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson announced Friday that he will step down after 55 years as host of “The 700 Club,” a key show on the trailblazing Christian network, CBN, that he founded.
A spokesperson for CBN said Friday’s anniversary was an “appropriate” time to change the leadership of the show. Robertson suffered an embolic stroke in 2018.
Robertson “looks forward to devoting his energy and experience full-time to helping train and equip members of the 11,000-strong student body of Regent University as they are preparing to become ‘Christian Leaders to Change the World,’” said a news release from CBN.
Robertson founded the university in 1977; Regent and CBN are both based in Virginia Beach.
An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Robertson has for decades been an influential leader among evangelical Christians, in particular those who are charismatic or Pentecostal, which means their worship is more experiential and might include healing services and speaking in tongues.
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He has done so through media, legal and political movements. Those include CBN, which was the first 24/7, U.S. Christian television station and now broadcasts news, children’s programming and other features. The network says it reaches about 800,000 viewers in 174 countries. Robertson began his show as a telethon, aiming for 700 people to each contribute $10 per month to the station. An early transcript quotes Robertson saying that people who called in were being healed.
Along with Regent University, a conservative Christian school that aims to bring his worldview into top levels of politics and policy, Robertson founded the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization that is seen as often being in opposition to the American Civil Liberties Union. And he came in third in the 1988 GOP presidential primary race, after Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush.
Going forward, he will appear on a monthly episode of “The 700 Club” and will remain available for occasional broadcast appearances as a senior consultant on international affairs, CBN said Friday.
Robertson for decades was a go-to for world leaders looking to reach conservative Protestants, and he interviewed Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump, as well as leaders of countries including Israel, China, South Africa and Vietnam and nations in much of Latin America.
Michael Longinow, chair of the department of digital journalism at Biola University, said Robertson understood early that Christian organizations “couldn’t exist” in this era without a media presence. He used a magnetic personality and an ability to raise a lot of money at CBN “for Pentecostal Christians, and Christians of all kinds, to go to and find a sense of identity.”
“Because Pat had the ability to bring in money — ginormous amounts of money — he invested in the highest-tech gear out there, and it allowed CBN to have a technical quality to show viewers they had the chops,” Longinow said.
However, Longinow said, Robertson was a prominent figure in a trend dating back a century to the Scopes trial, which debated whether modern science — evolution in particular — was compatible with religion and could be taught in public schools.
“He contributed to what I see as a really sad trend, in which Christians just said, ‘We’re afraid of the marketplace of ideas and are going to withdraw into our own Christian media, Christian conversations, and shoot over the wall at the bad guys,’ and that is something Pat’s media contributed to. ‘Don’t watch MSNBC, watch Christian media.’”
In recent years Robertson has shown the conflicts involved in being a conservative evangelical leader in the era of Trump.
During Trump’s 2015 campaign and after his election, Robertson praised him, interviewed him and stood by him. For instance, he called Trump’s lewd “Access Hollywood” video “macho” talk. In 2017, Robertson connected the Las Vegas mass shooting to disrespect for Trump.
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But in December, Robertson made news when he described Trump as “very erratic,” called on him to accept that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential race and said the Republican should not consider running again in 2024.
“You know, with all his talent and the ability to be able to raise money and grow large crowds, the president still lives in an alternate reality,” Robertson said on “The 700 Club.” “He really does. People say, ‘Well, he lies about this, that and the other.’ But no, he isn’t lying; to him, that’s the truth.”
“You go down the line of things that really aren’t true,” Robertson continued. “And, you know, people kept pointing to them, but because they loved him so much and he was so strong for the evangelicals — the evangelicals were with him all the way — but there was something about him that was good, that God placed him in that office for the time.”
On Jan. 4, two days before the Jan. 6 insurrection, Robertson told his viewers that “something dramatic is going to happen before Congress votes on those electors. Something very dramatic that will change the outcome of that vote. … The Holy Spirit will enter into this situation, and it’s going to be something very dramatic.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said the Christian Broadcasting Network was founded 60 years ago Friday. It was founded in 1960 and went on the air on Oct. 1, 1961. This article has been corrected.