Perhaps best known for offering prayer and political commentary at the helm of The 700 Club, the flagship program of his media ministry, Robertson’s rise to prominence is rooted in what he called a vision from God to create The Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded in 1960. A prolific innovator, he also started a Christian university, a legal advocacy group, and an international NGO specializing in disaster relief.
Even while promoting a worldview that believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, both his approach to business and his on-air persona were considered unorthodox by some – if not ahead of his time. Today, his influence and legacy crisscross interests and industries that have broken barriers for countless Christian leaders and laypeople.
Born Marion Gordon Robertson in Lexington, Virginia on March 22, 1930, the nickname “Pat” was given to him by his older brother. Sticking with that moniker rather than his birth name was just the first of many conventions he would defy during his lifetime.
The Yale-educated lawyer and son of a U.S. senator, Robertson had hoped to become a successful businessman. In his 1972 autobiography, Shout It From the Housetops, he wrote about his dream of living the life of a New York socialite. But his path took a decidedly different turn in the 1950s when he became a born-again Christian.
“Deep in my heart, I heard (God) speaking to me about the television ministry: ‘Go and possess the station. It is yours.'” – an excerpt from Robertson’s autobiography, Shout It From the Housetops
Robertson abandoned his own dream and accepted what he saw as God’s plan: to start a ministry in Christian broadcasting. But his launch as a religious broadcaster came with challenges, starting with little capital and a dilapidated TV station for sale in Portsmouth, Virginia.
“He had no money to speak of, and he decided the Lord wanted him to have that station,” recalled Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. “When it was all said and done, Pat got it for free. So that means not only did he have faith, but he was a good negotiator, too.”
In 1960, after moving his wife and kids to Virginia, he created what would become The Christian Broadcasting Network with no more than $70 to his name and a company bank account with a meager $3 initial deposit.
Those humble beginnings, predicated on vision and seeds of faith, eventually grew into a global media ministry that would reach hundreds of millions of people across six of the seven continents.
In 1966, Robertson began hosting a daily talk show, The 700 Club. Still on the air today, it is one of the longest-running programs in television history.
From the set of The 700 Club, he transformed Christian television. But his reach went far beyond spirituality.
By the 1970s, Robertson – who once described himself as a “newsman” at heart – had secured interviews with military and political leaders such as the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister, and Jimmy Carter, who was then Georgia’s governor and would win the White House with the support of evangelical Christians.
Four years later, Robertson was part of the conservative leadership that helped propel Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980.
By 1988, Robertson ran for the presidency himself – stunning the political world with his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
“He shattered the stain glass window,” reflected Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of the Potter’s House in Dallas. “People of faith were taken seriously beyond the church house and into the White House.”
Although he lost the 1988 Republican nomination to George H. W. Bush, Robertson’s candidacy changed the face of American politics.
“When you think of Pat Robertson, I think one of the major lessons you learn is that if you have a dream, go after it. Even if you fall short of it,” Bishop Jakes continued.