Pat Robertson Helped Make Intolerance a Permanent Plank in the Republican PlatformRoundup
tags: Republican Party, religious right, evangelicals, Christian right, Pat Robertson
Anthea Butler is a professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her most recent book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, was published in March 2022.
Whenever something bad happened, you could count on the doomsayer televangelist, political provocateur and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson blaming it on some group he considered hellbound. He blamed “pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians” and “the ACLU” for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He said women having abortions was the reason Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010, Robertson said then, because people there had made “a pact with the devil.”
For the many people hurt by Robertson’s pseudo-prophetic pronouncements, Thursday morning’s news of his death was no reason to mourn. Robertson’s decades of condemning people and claiming their so-called sinfulness caused tragedies, including natural disasters, epidemics and al-Qaeda attacks, is why “Rest in Hell” trended on Twitter. In that, one might even say he reaped what he sowed.
Evangelist Billy Graham courted presidents, but Robertson’s political and religious organizing was, in my view, far more powerful in consolidating the Republican Party and white evangelicals. More than any other religious figure of the 20th century, Robertson’s pursuit of political power in service of biblical prophecy and end time beliefs set the stage for the 21st-century Republican Party and its current morass of religious fervor, morality politics and allegiance to conspiracy beliefs.
Focusing on conservative issues such as family values and abortion, Robertson ran for president in 1988. The first outright charismatic Christian candidate, Robertson finished second in the Iowa and Minnesota caucuses and in the South Dakota primary, but he was unable to make a good showing in subsequent primaries and dropped out of the race.
With that run for president and his media empire, and “700 Club” television show, Robertson provided the template for how politics and conservative Christians, evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatics alike, would pursue office. With his deft organizing and his usage of end times imagery and conspiracy theories to appeal to his audiences, Robertson influenced the likes of John McCain and Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and, as we see now, Gov Ron DeSantis of Florida.
We can also see his influence in the congressional campaigns of politicians such as Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. and former Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn. The professed reliance on God, the offensive explanations of natural disasters and the vilification of people deemed immoral are now staples of Republican Party platforms.
Trump’s vision of carnage in his inauguration speech, as well as his many pronouncements of doom and gloom, mirror Robertson’s dire predictions for America. At the same time, the Republican Party capitalizes on morality, fear and divisiveness, to gain voters and contributions.