- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the long-time host of the flagship program The 700 Club, died June 8 at age 93.
CBN and Pat Robertson played a huge role in my early adult life, giving his death a bit more meaning to me than the passing of most people on the national stage. Not that I was an ardent watcher of the 700 Club. I seldom saw it, but I had the opportunity to go to CBN University for graduate school. Robertson founded the school, which is now known as Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
I never met Robertson, never thought to meet him. He was far removed from me, a student at CBN, so there was never really any chance of meeting him, yet he had a rather profound indirect impact on my life.
In going to CBN, I actually met the woman I was to marry. She was not a student at the school. In fact, it is remarkable we ever met. The route to meeting her was so indirect and improbable that it would take far more than this column to tell that story. Yet, the fact that I was accepted into the school put me in the right place to meet my wife and to make some wonderful friends and have a great educational experience to boot.
The professor who made the most profound impact on my life, no, the two professors who made the most profound impact on my life were both at CBN University. One connected me to a photojournalistic lineage that is as good as it gets. The other was a professor of communication who quite literally wrote the textbook and helped me understand a principle of communication that has stood me well for nearly four decades.
In one of those really odd twists of fate, right after I got married, I printed the letter that Pat Robertson mailed out announcing his candidacy for president and soliciting support for his campaign. It was a rather complicated printing job, and I am still surprised that it ended up in our shop to print.
I was a press operator at a place called Pip Printing. Somehow, the owner of this franchise that was not far from CBN managed to get the printing contract. The two-color printing job, red and blue, not surprisingly, was easy to print. We had a printing press with a two-color printing head so it was no sweat. The envelopes, however, still give me nightmares.
I was a self-taught printer, certainly not a master of the craft. I was given envelopes to print that required close registration of three colors and if you have never run envelopes through a press that was not perfectly accurate then you cannot imagine the nightmare. I could print two colors in one pass, but the third color had to be done in a different run. It was nearly impossible to align the envelopes in that press to register that third color properly. It still gives me a cold sweat to think of the wastage.
But there I was, printing the letters for Pat Robertson’s presidency. Weird. It is one of those degrees of separation things that make your head go all weird.
To complete my personal odyssey as it relates to Robertson, my wife and I were married in the Chapel at the Christian Broadcasting Network. Pat Robertson was not present. My dad actually conducted the ceremony in the circular chapel. It had an enormous cross suspended from the ceiling. I think my wife cried from stress and fear during the entire ceremony. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. But we’ve made it nearly 36 years, so I guess it worked.
Robertson was one of the prime movers of the political activism that has had such a profound impact on the political right in the United States. He included a school of public policy at CBN University with the primary aim of equipping civic-minded Christians for public service in various elected or bureaucratic roles.
Then, a few years after I left the school, they added a law school and changed the name to Regent University. The school continues to have a strong impact on Christian political thinking.
I know from having seen Robertson in later years, often making what sounded like outlandish statements on the air, that he had slipped a bit in the esteem of many in the public arena. I was wholeheartedly “in” on the Robertson methodology when I was at CBN and for many years after.
It was years later that I began to see things a little differently. I have never lost the vision for the morally upright America that Robertson promoted, but my view of the methods of accomplishing it have changed. I view politics as a dead end as it regards positive moral change. I believe thoroughly in the vision, but it now seems to me that the only way to accomplish national moral change is through spiritual awakening rather than politics, but I remain a person who greatly respects Pat Robertson.
The vision that was implanted in me for a moral America all those years ago is also, I think, why I am much more critical of the Republican Party than I am of the Democrats. I simply feel the Republican Party, probably due to that training at CBN, should be held to a higher standard, a higher moral standard, certainly, but also just a higher standard in general.
In the view implanted in me at CBN, the Republican Party was supposed to be the standard bearer for a morally upright America. That, of course, was a naive view as I had not yet recognized the corruption rampant in national politics no matter the political party. I was still a political idealist. I know many of you still are political idealists. That is why so many desperately cling to anything the GOP does that displays even a hint of positive morality. We look to politics rather than spiritual awakening to elevate America. We attach hope to the Republican Party, fading though it has proven to be, that the GOP will occupy the moral high ground to which men like Robertson called it.
Failing that, or perhaps just realizing that the best one could hope for is that the GOP would be at least the lesser of two evils, people still cling to the party that has shown such immorality and hatred of late. Neither of those are values we hoped for back in the 1980s when we offered blind support to the GOP, attaching the name of Christ to the political fight in a manner I now find shameful and actively shun.
I suppose we ignored things in Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush that had the aroma of immorality, the scandals swept under the rug, or the things we saw that seemed shady, but we were willing to ignore them for the greater good. Nancy Reagan purportedly consulted astrologers and clairvoyants while the Reagans were in the White House, a most decidedly un-Christian thing to be doing.
Then Donald Trump came along having not even a whiff of Christian morality about him, so we invented a morality for him that fit him worse than an off-the-rack leisure suit. Unconsciously, perhaps, we had already lost such hope in the ultimate moral superiority of the GOP that we were willing to swallow lies that would have choked a horse.
I suppose that is the nature of what is known as the slippery slope. I mean, we even went into full-on warfare in Iraq based upon a lie presented as fact by George W. Not only did we believe the lie, (we wanted to believe it) but we actively defended it. I certainly did, even after it was apparent there were no weapons of mass destruction and never had been. But we held on because he was our guy, not because he was right but because we desperately wanted the destruction of the nation of Iraq to have at least a hint of moral justification behind it.
Commodore Stephen Decatur said of America back in 1816, “Our country, may she always be in the right, but our country right or wrong.” I believe we have adapted that most noble of ideas and applied it to political parties with such abandon that we are now completely blind to, or simply choose to ignore, the faults of the party we support.
We swallowed Iran-Contra under Reagan, willingly digesting the story that a random colonel was capable of pulling off a diplomatic coup all by himself and without the knowledge of the president. Yes, even in the heady days when we thought the Republican Party really was carrying a torch for morality, we were accepting things that clearly could not be true.
I don’t know if Pat Robertson ever came to any of these conclusions. I haven’t heard anything other than a few sound bites over the years since I left CBN University. Somehow, I doubt it. He would have been too heavily invested, and it would have been far too costly to pull back.
The danger of tying the hope for a national spiritual renewal to any political party is that no political organization possesses the actual moral authority to change a nation. That is the purview of religion, not government. What Pat Robertson did in calling the nation to a higher plane was noble and inspiring. While I now question the methodology, I certainly do not question Robertson’s heart in issuing the call.
Gary Cosby Jr. is the photo editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Pat Robertson helped shape conservative politics | GARY COSBY JR.