VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- These should be diamond days for Pat Robertson. He'll be 76 next month. The 45th anniversary of the first Christian Broadcasting Network telecast is coming on Oct. 1. Next week, he was supposed to be the main speaker at the closing banquet of the National Religious Broadcasters convention.
But instead of basking in the renown that could be his as the founder of five major Christian institutions, he has received enormous criticism for statements such as his recent contention that Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's punishment. When I interviewed Robertson earlier this month in his CBN office, which sports oil paintings on the walls, an oriental rug on the floor and an American eagle on his desk, he displayed his crinkling eyes and low chuckle, but he also flashed his claws at times.
For example, when I read him what Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land said of his statement about Prime Minister Sharon -- "I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as ... Sharon's stroke, were the judgments of God. Pat Robertson should know better." -- Robertson replied that Sharon was "doing something that violates God's will. ... All I'm doing as a faithful Bible teacher is teaching the Bible. And if Dr. Land doesn't believe the Bible, I'm sorry. That's his problem."
Robertson did say that he was taking precautions to avoid more eruptions: Before broadcasts, "I didn't use to review the news. Now prior to the air we go over the news stories. ... I now have a former news producer from 'Good Morning America.' I'm going to have an earpiece in my ear. ... He's going to be whispering in my ear. ... He's going to be in the control room. As the news comes up, (he'll say), 'Why don't you say this, why don't you suggest this, let's discuss this.'"
Concerning many other controversial statements, Robertson noted the impact he has had: "They say when a big ship goes through the water it makes waves, and I'm sure I've made waves. I've said stupid things." The do-over he'd most like to have, though, is financial: "My biggest regret is that I didn't buy Channel 13 in Seattle when I could have gotten it for $165,000. I had it cleared through the FCC, and I turned down the offer. I kick myself for that."
At the heart of some of Robertson's disputes with other Christians is a theological difference. All evangelicals believe that God answers prayer (although often not as we might choose) and speaks to us through the Bible. Robertson, like some other charismatics, believes that God speaks to him directly "all the time."
He explains it this way: "It's not conceited. We ask for leading. ... God did speak to me directly concerning (Regent) University, and it was real simple. He said, 'I want you to buy the land and build a school for My glory.' ... You read Jeremiah. He said, 'The word of the Lord came to me.' ... You read the Torah, 'The word of the Lord came to Moses,' 'The Lord said to Moses, tell the people.' The Lord spoke to Joshua. The Lord spoke to David."
Many Christians see Robertson's position as arrogant, but Robertson also sees himself as emulating the 16th president: "If Abraham Lincoln wouldn't give impromptu (speeches), maybe Pat Robertson shouldn't be impromptu." At the least, he said, "I will study more and be more reserved."
Reserved? Unlikely. A fine movie from 1968, "The Lion in Winter," starred Peter O'Toole as the aged Henry II holding onto his authority and holding off enemies. Pat Robertson, described by one Regent student as "a cute old man," is the panda in winter.