Evangelist Pat Robertson dies aged 93 - RTHK
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Evangelist Pat Robertson dies aged 93

2023-06-09 HKT 02:14
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  • The longtime TV host, broadcaster and one-time presidential candidate died at his home in Virginia Beach. Photo: AFP
    The longtime TV host, broadcaster and one-time presidential candidate died at his home in Virginia Beach. Photo: AFP
Pat Robertson, the soft-spoken fundamentalist preacher whose huge television network helped turn America's Christians into a powerful political force, died on Thursday at the age of 93, his organisation announced.

The longtime TV host, broadcaster and one-time presidential candidate died at his home in Virginia Beach, according to a statement from the Christian Broadcasting Network.

"His greatest treasure in life was knowing Jesus Christ and having the privilege of proclaiming Him and His power to others," CBN said in a statement.

An avuncular presence on "The 700 Club," the daily talk show he started in 1966, Robertson promoted a literal belief in "end of times" prophecies of the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel that forecast the destruction of the world to become a Christian paradise.

In practice, the soft-spoken Robertson advocated for an extremely conservative Christianity focused on "traditional" families and a country founded on the Bible.

He defined the world as riven by an epochal fight between Islam and Christianity, and meanwhile spearheaded US Christian support for Israel as the land of the "chosen" Jewish people.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called Robertson "a tremendous friend of Israel and a tremendous friend of mine."

But he also drew loathing from progressives with his condemnations of feminism and LQBTQ culture as destroying America.

His powerful support in 2016 from Donald Trump -- arguably helping seal Trump's presidential victory -- further widened the cultural chasm dividing the country.

Robertson was born on March 22, 1930 in Lexington, Virginia, son of a conservative Democratic member of the US House of Representatives and then the Senate for 34 years.

After graduating from Virginia's Washington and Lee University, in 1948 he joined the US Marines, serving in Korea.

He then graduated from Yale Law School, was ordained a Baptist minister, and in short order launched in 1961 what became the massive CBN empire from a small television station in Tidewater Virginia.

After CBN's early financial struggles, he named "The 700 Club" for an early core of 70 supporters that pledged $10 each month.

The programme mixed news, spiritual and lifestyle stories along with interviews of public figures, and became a hit especially in rural communities across the country.

That made it a mainstream stop for political candidates courting Christian voters: guests included Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Robertson expanded into other media business, launching what became the popular, conservative "Family Channel" on cable television, and the influential Christian-based Regent University in Virginia Beach.

In 1987 he launched the Christian Coalition, seeking to bring together different Christian denominations as a force for the conservative values he espoused.

Ever since, the organisation has been at the forefront of the US culture wars, pressuring Congress and the White House on moral and religious issues such as abortion and the separation of church and state.

In 1990 he launched the American Centre for Law and Justice, a legal lobby to advance Christian religious rights against secularism in the courts.

Robertson himself sought political office, running unsuccessfully in the Republican presidential primary in 1988.

But what he built had a lasting impact: a conservative Christian voter bloc instrumental in bringing Trump to power and still exercising enormous influence over the Republican party.

"He shattered the stain glass window," TD Jakes, a Dallas pastor said in CBN's statement. "People of faith were taken seriously beyond the church house and into the White House."

But there were controversies along the way. He courted Democratic Republic of the Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, hoping to covert their countries to Christian states where gays were banned -- while investing in diamond mining in a deal with Mobutu.

In 2001, as America reeled from the September 11 attacks, Robertson endorsed the view that tolerance for lesbians, gays and abortionists had drawn God's wrath on the country.

In 2005, he called for the United States to assassinate Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war," he quipped on "The 700 Club."

And last year he said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "compelled by God" to attack Ukraine, because it was predicted in the Book of Ezekiel as a step toward the end of times.

"You can listen to your news, but know of a fact: that God is bringing to pass what he prophesied years ago," Robertson said.

And even as the LGBTQ movement came into the mainstream and gained broad political acceptance, Robertson stood fast, insisting their lives were "sinful" and "unnatural."

"If ...you're a Christian you cannot say, I accept this lifestyle," he told followers. (AFP)

Evangelist Pat Robertson dies aged 93