What do Pat Robertson, Israel and Heaven Have in Common?

Pat Robertson was Mr Televangelist par excellence. He developed the formula of how to appear Godly and greedy at the same time. He has passed from this world to…well…wherever he believes he was headed, and possibly been judged and found wanting. Wanting of a dash of genuine humanity for all – not just those who held the same fundamentalist Christian beliefs as he did. Although his long shadow has left us, his heavy footprint has not. Robertson developed a folksy persona so that when he went for the jugular of the American people, they felt he was just a wise old uncle who had their best interests at heart. One may argue that what he had in his heart was a desire for far too much money and power. He was estimated to be worth over US$100 million. Hardly Jesus in a hessian robe and scruffy sandals.

Robertson was a man who managed to whisper into the ear of presidents, congress men and women and big business throughout his life as he was feted by the elite. He passed on God’s word to those in power and aimed to have those words ooze into public policy whether the American public liked it or not. How he managed to convince so many into believing he knew God’s mind is anybody’s guess.

After establishing his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1960, he began his evangelical talk show, the 700 Club, in 1966 which attracted millions of viewers to his televised preaching. He was one of the first to beam his brand of Christianity into Latin America, Asia and Africa. According to Chris Hedges (American Fascists) “tens of millions of Americans rely exclusively on Christian broadcasters for their news, health, entertainment and devotional programs [making them] powerful voting blocs”. Robertson had a huge chunk of the Evangelical pie and utilised it to not only make himself owner of many private jets and flashy suits, but to sway politicians to listen to him and parrot his wishes for a more austere and Christian America. George H.W. Bush in particular had a huge Christian crush on him. But perhaps not pleased with the spiritual devotion of other presidential hopefuls Robertson fancied himself a shoo-in for the top job of President of the United States in 1988. He already had a huge fan base in the millions, so it was an easy segue into garnering votes based on his interpretation of Christianity. He attempted to play down some of his more fundamentalist and extreme views whilst campaigning, such as wishing to organise the assassination of Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi and calling for liberal supreme court judges to be “graduated to the great courtroom in the sky”. He railed against the evils of the separation of church and state and derided secular humanism. If he won the presidency he believed that American society would be best served if everyone served Christ. It wasn’t enough for Robertson to believe in the fundamentalist Christian way of life, everyone else had to return to the righteous path. Although the religious arm of CBN was losing money, he was able to prop it up with the non-religious arm (The Family Channel) and boost his followers to more than 40 million subscribers in the late 1980s which aided his presidential chances.

In 1990 he formed the Christian Coalition which was (and is) an extremely powerful religious right organisation which works towards the election of the Republican Party – regardless of who’s running. However, it claimed to be a nonpartisan organisation that simply focused on gaining ground for the concerns of the humble Evangelical Christian community. He later went on to claim that it would be, in fact, the most powerful political organisation in America. All this in a secular country. Even though he perhaps lamented the idea of joining forces with Protestants and Catholics, he believed that together they had enough votes to ‘run the country’. Frances Fitzgerald notes in her book, The Evangelicals, the Christian Coalition “…became a force that every Republican candidate for president had to reckon with in the primaries and at convention time”. According to Robertson, America was on the decline due to the sinful nature of its inhabitants, and he was the right man for the job of cleaning up America and reverting to austere Christian values. These ‘values’ seem to have incorporated a fair amount of hate, bigotry and racism as he had a laundry list of scurrilous comments to his name. As far back as 1980 he was part of a committee for ‘Washington for Jesus’ where many of the speakers at this rally predicated that God’s wrath upon America would be brought down if abortion, homosexuality and the banning of school prayer were condoned. At this same rally there was a call for a holy war.

Mr Robertson had many dubious activities but a signal to his insatiable greed was when he founded a non-profit organisation named ‘Operation Blessing’ in 1978. It received tax free donations to aid the poor throughout the world, particularly in Africa. However, the charity came under heavy scrutiny when it was discovered that his use of donations had funded his diamond mining endeavour in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Seems the charity was to line Robertson’s silk pockets rather than the threadbare pockets of the poor. Robertson cleared his throat and explained that it was actually George H. W. Bush who advised him to go into business in Zaire. Chris Hedges claims in his above-mentioned book that both Benny Hinn (another mega wealthy man of God) and Robertson, “rule their fiefdoms as despotic potentates. Travel on private jets, have huge personal fortunes, and descend on the faithful in limousines and surrounded by a small retinue of burly bodyguards.” I don’t recall many true men or women of God needing either a private jet or bodyguards. One may well tut-tut and think what a silly old duffer Robertson was with his quaint Mayflower way of thinking, but his intolerance for anyone who did not think like him was worthy of his scorn. He regularly lambasted the sinner, the homosexual and the deviant from the Christian path.

Not happy with what the youth of America were learning in public universities, he founded the private Christian Regent University in Virginia in 1977. Through his 700 Club broadcasts and his university curriculum he was able to disseminate messages of a return to conservative Christian values for America and the necessary support for Israel. In 1985 he told his 700 Club audience that ‘…only devout Christians and Jews were qualified to govern’. This kind of statement was heartily welcomed by Christian Zionists, pro-Israelis and the Zionist Jewish population in America. Whether he had any idea of the division and destruction to millions of Palestinian lives that he was promoting, we will never know. He continually supported Israel till his dying day and called the UN’s opposition to Israeli expansionism, “an exercise in futility” and a sounding board for propaganda. He proclaimed that the UN was the harbinger of a world government ruled by the Antichrist. He was ahead of his time as this sounds rather like QAnon madness.

But his passion for Israel was not necessarily a passion for Jews. The book of
Revelation in the New Testament describes a harrowing finale for all those who do not recognise Christ as their saviour when he returns; and that includes Jews. Israeli geography was what excited Robertson; Megiddo and Jerusalem in particular. Megiddo is where we get the name Armageddon, and we all know how that turns out. This is to be the site of Christ’s return, and to ensure that the ground is ready to receive the Saviour of the world, Israel needs to be entirely inhabited by only Jews as prophesised in the bible. No Palestinians allowed…apparently.

When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in 2006, Robertson in an interview with CNN, stated that this was “divine retribution for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005…[and] woe to any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course”. Robertson made many trips to Israel over the decades even pacing out the battlefield where Armageddon would be fought.

Throughout his life the promotion of Israel was one of his goals and he never tired of encouraging Christian Zionists and Evangelicals to assist in any way they could. He saw the return of any land to the Palestinians as “Satan’s plan”. He referenced Israel’s Arab neighbours as “a sea of dictatorial regimes” Rather prophetic, but I think he was describing the wrong side of the fence. He wanted the Jews to rule the entire Holy Land in order to save himself when Christ returns. Not the Jews. Himself. The settlement of Jews on Palestinian land is illegal under international law. Robertson didn’t care much for semantics. Christ was around the corner, even if the tax office wasn’t.

The largest voting bloc for Republican President Donald Trump was the Evangelicals and Christian Zionists. It is questionable whether under Trump the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was all part of the grand plan to increase the power and movement of Zionism and to hedge out even further the Palestinians. Of course, there never has been a genuine desire on the part of the Israeli government to give even one hectare of land back to those they took it from. Having two governments (Israel and US) making such a provocative move would seem like Christianity had a lot to do with it; and in turn the likes of Robertson and his brand of Christian Zionism rustling up support for Israel. Yet again this leaves the Palestinians out in the cold – often literally.

This briefing on troublesome zealots such as Robertson comes at a time when Jenin, Palestine, has been attacked with brutality and disproportionate force by the IDF. The refugee camp in Jenin has been bombed, smoked out, shot at and demolished with bulldozers, leaving thousands of people now homeless and terrified. The military invasion and attack on a refugee camp is illegal under international humanitarian law. But as if Israel gives a hoot about what the international community think of their barbarity. Their big brother, America, has their back. Fortunately for Israel successive US administrations don’t care about Palestinian lives. Money and power are far more important and the Military Industrial Complex needs to be fed. One of the biggest money earners is the orchestrated chaos in the Middle East.

Robertson’s promotion and encouragement of Israel and his disregard for the settler-colonial Occupation of Palestine has caused immeasurable grief, bloodshed and hardship for the Palestinians. He claimed to be a man of God but omitted to note the verses in the bible that spoke of compassion, love and kindness. He cherry-picked the verses that would justify him being obscenely wealthy in the here and now (John 10:10) and the verses that would save his soul in the afterlife. He may have thought God wasn’t noticing as he attempted to fly under his decency radar, but if God does exist I don’t imagine that little Pat Robertson fooled him for a minute.

Televangelists have an uncanny knack of preaching to the congregation that their riches are to be obtained in heaven, whilst the preachers themselves are more than happy to enjoy their riches here on earth. Which is real, not imagined. Far too often it was those who could ill afford to be donating to Pat’s latest acquisition who were the ones filling his greedy hands. There is no place in 2023 for bigots like Robertson who wished to divide society rather than embrace all people and aim for peace – not personal salvation and wealth. Robertson’s biblical interpretation did not alter or falter during his decades of ministry, power and privilege amongst elites. And why would he change horses mid-stream and become more humane? He was racking it in and had the added bonus of power within the White House. He didn’t need to get to heaven, he was already there.

Reb Halabi is a PhD candidate focusing on the intersection of religion and geopolitics.