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Evangelical Pat Robertson honored as a trailblazer in faith, politics
Before he was an icon of the religious right — and a lightning rod for critics — Marion Gordon Robertson, better known as “Pat,” was steeped in politics. In fact, he could hardly have avoided that fate, having been a son of the late U.S. Sen. A. Willis Robertson, who represented Virginia in the upper chamber for 20 years.
But Mr. Robertson, 83, who was honored Friday evening by the Faith and Freedom Coalition at its Washington gathering, carved out a unique political legacy of his own as a pioneer of Christian broadcasting, as an educator and as a standard-bearer for newly energized Christian conservative voters. The group, founded by onetime Robertson associate Ralph Reed, presented the Virginia Beach-based Mr. Robertson its first Winston Churchill Lifetime Achievement Award at the gala dinner Friday evening at a downtown hotel.
It has been a long journey for Mr. Robertson, chronologically and ideologically.
“Pat was very active in the national Young Democrats, and he organized for Adlai Stevenson in 1952,” said University of Virginia analyst Larry J. Sabato, director of the school’s Center for Politics, both in Charlottesville. Mr. Robertson “had a long political involvement as a young person. He was drenched in politics because of the home in which he grew up,” Mr. Sabato said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Robertson said he is “honored to be associated with Winston Churchill, one of the great leaders of World War II,” adding that Churchill’s “contribution to freedom is monumental and an inspiration to us all. I trust that we can live up to the noble ideals for which he is famous.”
Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Gary Marx, a 2001 graduate of the political management program at the Robertson School of Government at Regent University, founded by the broadcaster and 1988 presidential candidate, said Mr. Robertson blazed the trail in making religious conservatives an effective, election-influencing force in the American political mainstream.
Mr. Robertson’s founding of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Regent University, the Christian Coalition and the American Center for Law and Justice created, Mr. Marx said, “four beacon organizations that had such an impact on the conservative movement and the evangelical movement broadly. It’s rare to find one leader that’s been the linchpin in four major organizations like that.”
Moving the needle
Even some of Mr. Robertson’s harshest critics acknowledge his role in moving the political needle.
“In the mid-1990s, the Christian Coalition was growing like topsy. It had a huge budget and was the undisputed leader of the religious right in America,” said Rob Boston, senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who authored a 1996 book on Mr. Robertson titled “The Most Dangerous Man in America?”
“Serious political scholars of the 1990s will look back at the political machine he created and acknowledge it played an important role in fueling the rise of the religious right in the period,” Mr. Boston said.
Mr. Sabato said the Christian Coalition’s innovation of spreadsheet-type pamphlets with grades of candidates’ positions on various issues was a vote-getting game-changer: “No question voting scorecards had a major, major impact in 1994 when Republicans took over the House and Senate. Everybody on both sides agrees with that.”
Such political influence may have seemed a distant dream for the young Pat Robertson, who, on his patrobertson.com website conceded different interests in his undergraduate days at Washington and Lee University.
“Although I worked hard at my studies, my real major centered around lovely young ladies who attended the nearby girls schools …,” he wrote. “I joined the [Sigma Alpha Epsilon] fraternity my freshman year and quickly received what seemed a postgraduate course in wild partying.”
But a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War and failure to pass the bar exam after graduating from Yale Law School changed Mr. Robertson’s life and career path. He experienced a religious conversion, earned a master’s of divinity degree from what is now New York Theological Seminary and began his ministry.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Mark A. Kellner is a religion columnist for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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