Posted on December 29, 1997 in Washington Watch

In late October 1997, Pat Robertson, a prominent leader of the fundamentalist Christian right wing movement, speaking on his national televised “700 Club” program, launched into an ugly diatribe against Islam. In part he said,

“To see Americans become followers of, quote, Islam, is nothing short of insanity… The Islamic people, the Arabs, were the ones who captured Africans, put them in slavery, and sent them to America as slaves. Why would people in America want to embrace the religion of the slavers…You say ‘what’s going on in America, when we welcome into our society and give rights to people who are persecuting Christians around the world.’ It’s time we stood up against this and said ‘no more!”

Many U.S. Christians, Muslims, and Jews wrote to Mr. Robertson denouncing his comments and demanding that he apologize to Muslims and to all Americans. Robertson’s response to those appeals was shocking. He was not only unresponsive, but emphatic in affirming his intolerance and bigotry towards Islam.

In one letter, dated December 1, 1997, he wrote,

“I said on my program, and I say now, for any thinking American to embrace Islam is nothing short of insanity. This is not bigotry, it is a fact based on the action of those who hold to Islam all over the world.”

This is not the first time that Robertson’s views have caused outrage and it will not be the last. He is, today, a major, political figure who wields tremendous influence. As founder of the Christian Coalition and host of the “700 Club”, Robertson directs a media and political empire that reaches tens of millions of Americans.

Robertson began as a religious preacher, he then developed a television program to expand his audience. The program grew into a television network and then into multiple networks watched by millions of households weekly.

Robertson’s emergence on the U.S. national political scene, on the other hand, began just 12 years ago. In the mid-1980’s he began the process that was to transform him from host of a television religious program to a power broker with the Republican Party.

In 1985 Robertson founded the Freedom Coalition, a grass roots organization targeted in a few states–those that were important in the presidential primary process.

Robertson, then, announced his candidacy for U.S. President in 1986 and ran a strong campaign until 1988. Although he lost that race, his Freedom Coalition proved so effective that Robertson emerged as the leader of the religious right wing current within the Republican Party.

In 1989 Robertson consolidated his 1988 efforts by launching the Christian Coalition designed to press his right wing agenda in U.S. politics. From 1989 to 1996 the growth of the coalition has been phenomenal.

Today, the Christian Coalition is recognized as one of the United States’ most powerful grass roots political organizations. It has a membership of 1.5 million and an annual budget of $25 million and a paid staff of over 100. At the same time the coalition has an outreach to over 100,000 churches across the U.S.

The most significant measure of the coalition’s strength is the extent to which its grass roots mobilization has gained power in the Republican Party. Beginning with his 1986 presidential campaign Robertson’s effort was focused on running candidates at all levels in local Republican Party elections–from the smallest precinct to State Committees. At present this strategy has gained the Christian Coalition effective control of the party apparatus in 31 of the United States’ 50 states. Today, Robertson’s group helps to define the agenda for Republican Presidential candidates and for the Republican controlled Congress, which was first elected with Christian Coalition support in 1994.

But Robertson’s ambitions are still unfulfilled. In a September 1997 speech by Robertson to the Christian Coalition leadership he spoke of the work they had to do before the next presidential election in 2000.

“We still haven’t gotten the influence we think we ought to have inside the Republican Party”, he told his group. “We’re still not totally like we should be…we just need to tell them that (Republican Congressmen) ‘look we put you in power in 1994 and we want you to deliver’. We’re tired of waiting. Don’t give us all this stuff about well, you’ve got a different agenda. This is what you’re going to do this year and we’re going to hold your feet to the fire while you do it.”

He then told the group that now that they control Congress, their next goal is to solidify that control and “by the year 2000…have the presidency.”

The agenda that Robertson seeks to impose on Congress and the White House is not merely his conservative “family values’ program–it includes an anti-Arab anti-Muslim foreign policy component, as well. These views spring from his strange theology, which is an exotic and unorthodox form of Christianity, called “Premillenarian Dispensationalsim ”. According to this theological school, it was necessary for the Jews to come back to Israel as the first step in a process that would lead to the “final days” and the “Day of Judgment.”

In outline form the process includes the following: after the Jews return they set up their state in Israel. After a time, many of these Jews (144,000 to be precise) convert to Christianity. At that point the State of Israel is attached by the evil nations of the East (described by Robertson to include the Arabs, the Muslims and Russians). This battle grows into a world war with the entire East confronting the West in a nuclear holocaust that destroys almost all of humanity. With only a handful of Christians surviving, Jesus will return and rule over the reconstruction of the earth for 1000 years of peace and prosperity.

These outrageous views are adhered to by only a handful of “Christian” thinkers. They are completely rejected by all of the major recognized mainstream Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches. Moreover, most of the viewers of the “700 Club” and the members of the Christian Coalition do not even know the details of the Robertson’s exotic theology. And certainly the Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations that welcome Robertson’s political support know nothing of the fact that his backing of Israel is predicated on his belief that Jews will convert to Christianity and bring about a holocaust that will destroy most of the earth.

What Robertson’s followers and his pro-Israel allies know is not his theology but the politics that flows from his theology–that is, the Arabs and Muslims are enemies of Israel and are, therefore, evil and not to be trusted. Peace is, therefore, not desirable and war is actually to be encouraged since it may lead to the hoped for “final battle”. The “700 Club” regularly includes anti-Arab propaganda. Robertson’s television network has started an affiliate in Israeli occupied southern Lebanon and a supportive group has opened what they call the “Christian Embassy” in Jerusalem.

In 1982, when Israel invaded and devastated large parts of Lebanon, an excited Robertson used maps on his daily television program to predict the coming of the final battle. He did the same thing in 1991 during the Gulf War. Despite disappointments on both of those occasions, he continues to work to build the enmity needed to realize his theological aspirations.

Robertson’s group was among the strongest advocates for the Congressionally passed “Jerusalem Embassy Bill” and other anti-Palestinian legislation. They are also leading the effort to impose sanctions against Arab and Muslim countries that they accuse of persecuting Christians and Jews.

While it is important to question and criticize discriminatory treatment against any religion, it is equally important to note that Robertson’s effort is motivated principally of bigotry against Islam and a theology which requires hostility between East and West.

The time has come for Robertson’s theology to become known and for those who follow his lead or who accept and benefit from his support to be held accountable. In response to his recent attacks against Islam, many Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders have written to Robertson demanding that he apologize for his intolerance and prejudice. More must be done. Politicians must denounce Robertson’s views as well.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa

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