Pat Robertson, a religious broadcaster who turned a Virginia station into the global Christian Broadcasting Network, tried a run for president, and helped make religion a central force in American politics, died on June 8, 2023, at the age of 93.
Robertson was one of the most influential and controversial figures in the conservative Christian movement, known for his fiery rhetoric and political activism. He founded the Christian Coalition, a group that mobilized millions of evangelical voters behind Republican candidates and causes. He also hosted The 700 Club, a daily talk show that mixed news, commentary, and prayer.
Robertson was born to a prominent political family in Lexington, Virginia, on March 22, 1930. His father, Absalom Willis Robertson, was a U.S. senator and his mother, Gladys Churchill Robertson, was a homemaker. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and Yale Law School before serving as a Marine officer in the Korean War.
In 1954, he married Adelia “Dede” Elmer, with whom he had four children. He later said he had a spiritual awakening while recovering from an illness in 1959. He enrolled in New York Theological Seminary and became an ordained Southern Baptist minister in 1961.
He started his broadcasting career with a small television station in Portsmouth, Virginia, that he bought for $37,000 in 1960. He renamed it the Christian Broadcasting Network and began airing religious programs that appealed to conservative Christians. He also launched The 700 Club in 1966 as a telethon to raise funds for his network.
Robertson expanded his media empire to include radio stations, cable channels, universities, and humanitarian organizations. He claimed to have millions of viewers and supporters around the world. He also ventured into politics, endorsing candidates and causes that aligned with his conservative views on abortion, gay rights, Israel, and other issues.
He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, hoping to capitalize on his popularity among evangelical voters. He won several primaries and caucuses but ultimately lost to George H.W. Bush. He then formed the Christian Coalition to continue his political influence.
Robertson remained a vocal and divisive figure in American public life for decades. He often made controversial statements that drew criticism from liberals and moderates. He blamed the 9/11 attacks on America’s moral decay. He called for the assassination of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He suggested that natural disasters were God’s punishment for sin.
He also faced accusations of exaggerating his military service record, misusing his charity funds, and endorsing false or dubious products on his show. He apologized or clarified some of his remarks but never backed down from his convictions.
Robertson stepped down as the president of CBN in 2007 but continued to host The 700 Club until his death. He also remained active in his other ventures, such as Regent University and Operation Blessing International.
He is survived by his wife Dede, his four children Tim Robertson, Gordon P. Robertson (who succeeded him as CBN’s CEO), Elizabeth Robertson Moseley, and Anne Carter Robertson Zahn; 14 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Robertson’s death prompted reactions from faith leaders, politicians and celebrities who praised or criticized his legacy. Some called him a “kind and gracious servant” who preached the gospel and helped those in need. Others called him a “bigot” who spread hate and division.
Robertson’s funeral will be held at CBN headquarters in Virginia Beach on June 15, 2023. It will be broadcast live on CBN’s website and social media platforms.