Pat Robertson, the televangelist who helped turn Christian conservatives into a potent force in U.S. politics, died at age 93 at his Virginia home, the Christian Broadcasting Network said in a statement on Thursday.
Robertson founded the network in 1960 and hosted the flagship program “The 700 Club” for decades, offering prayers and political commentary. In 1980, the show helped galvanize support among Christian conservatives for Republican Ronald Reagan’s successful campaign for president.
Robertson unsuccessfully ran for president himself in 1988. He finished second in the Iowa caucuses largely by appealing to the state’s sizable evangelical population, a strategy that has since been standard practice for Republican presidential contenders in the Midwestern state.
Soon after his White House bid, Robertson founded the Christian Coalition, a grassroots organization that proved a powerful mobilizer for the conservative religious voters who became a core constituency for the Republican Party.
His “The 700 Club” show – stemming from a fundraising telethon in which he asked 700 viewers to send monthly contributions – drew a committed audience. But he was also criticized for controversial statements over the years.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Robertson claimed an angry God had permitted them to occur because the U.S. had embraced abortion, homosexuality and secularism. In 2005, he called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
He suggested the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake was God’s punishment, asserting that the country had made a deal with Satan to gain independence from France two centuries earlier.
Nicknamed “Pat” by his older brother, he was born Marion Gordon Robertson in Lexington, Virginia, on March 22, 1930. His father was Absalom Robertson, a Virginia Democrat who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for more than three decades.
Robertson graduated from Yale Law School, where he met his future wife, Dede, and later earned a master’s degree from New York Theological Seminary. Dede died in 2022 after nearly 70 years of marriage.
In addition to the Christian Broadcasting Network, which eventually reached countries around the world, Robertson also founded Regent University, a religious school in Virginia; the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal advocacy group; and Operation Blessing, an international charity.
Robertson had four children, including his son, Gordon, who is president of the network and has hosted “The 700 Club” since the elder Robertson stepped down from the show in 2021.
—Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Joseph Ax; Editing by Susan Heavey and Rosalba O’Brien