Pat Robertson Ends His Long Run as Host of ‘The 700 Club’

The evangelical leader Pat Robertson said on Friday that he was stepping down as host of the “The 700 Club” after more than 50 years at the helm of a program that channeled Christian conservatism into millions of American homes and turned him into a household name.

“It’s been a great run,” Mr. Robertson said on the show, adding that his son Gordon Robertson would take over as host.

Mr. Robertson, 91, made the announcement at the end of the broadcast on Friday, the 60th anniversary of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which Mr. Robertson started in a small station in Portsmouth, Va., in 1961.

“The 700 Club” grew out of a series of telethons that Mr. Robertson began hosting in 1963 to rescue the network from financial troubles. At the time, Mr. Robertson said he was unable to pay for a suite of offices the network had added to the station.

“I was praying on my knees with the staff,” Mr. Robertson said on Friday. “I needed $200,000, and I was praying and praying for the money.”

It was then that Mr. Robertson said Jesus appeared to him with a “vision for the world.”

“Our job was to reach the world, not just pay the bills,” he said.

The network began holding telethons, asking for 700 viewers to pledge $10 a month to the station. The efforts inspired “The 700 Club” name.

The show transformed evangelical broadcasting, moving it away from scripted sermons and recordings of tent revivals and turning it into a cozy talk-show format where Mr. Robertson discussed topics such as nutrition, relationships, marriage and politics, said John C. Green, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Akron.

Mr. Robertson greeting supporters outside a union hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1988 during his campaign for president.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Evangelical Christians have long used stories of wayward people saved through the teachings of Jesus as a way to spread the Gospel and gain followers. Mr. Robertson’s show featured “very vivid presentations of these testimonials,” which engaged audiences, Dr. Green said.

“It was through the success of ‘The 700 Club’ that he was able to have a real impact on politics,” he said.

Mr. Robertson interviewed President Ronald Reagan, Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of Israel, and other world leaders. In 1988, he ran as a Republican candidate for president and made strong second-place finishes during the primary, performances that underscored the organizing potential of evangelical Christians.

Through the show, Mr. Robertson “helped cement that alliance between conservative Christians and the Republican Party,” Dr. Green said.

The show also gave Mr. Robertson a regular platform to vilify gay people and Muslims. He often quoted Bible verses in a soft, gentle voice to justify remarks that infuriated Arab Americans and gay rights organizations.

In 2002, he described Islam as a violent religion that wanted to “dominate and then, if need be, destroy.”

In 2013, a viewer sent a letter to the show asking how Facebook users should respond when they see a picture of two men kissing. Mr. Robertson said, “I would punch ‘vomit,’ not ‘like.’”

He dismissed feminism as “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

He once told the story of an “awful-looking” woman who complained to her minister that her husband had begun drinking heavily. Mr. Robertson said the minister told her that it was likely because she had gained weight and neglected her hair.

“We need to cultivate romance, darling,” Mr. Robertson said. He blamed natural disasters and terrorism on moral and spiritual failings. In 2012, after deadly tornadoes pounded the South and Midwest, Mr. Robertson said that God would have intervened if “enough people were praying.”

He also made comments that surprised both his followers and critics.

Gordon Robertson, chief executive of the Christian Broadcasting Network and son of the founder Pat Robertson, in 2018. He will take over as host of “The 700 Club.”Credit…Steve Helber/Associated Press

In 2011, Mr. Robertson said that a man whose wife had Alzheimer’s disease should be able to divorce her and find a new partner. The next year, he called for the legalization of marijuana, saying that the “war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

“I believe in working with the hearts of people, and not locking them up,” he said

During Friday’s broadcast, the show steered clear of Mr. Robertson’s divisive comments.

Instead, it showed clips of Mr. Robertson embracing diversity — the program named the Rev. Ben Kinchlow, a Black minister, as Mr. Robertson’s co-host in 1975, a time when there were few Black television hosts. Another clip showed Mr. Robertson asking President Donald J. Trump if the women in his cabinet would earn the same as men.

Mr. Robertson said he told his son to expect him to return to the show from time to time.

“In case I get a revelation from the Lord, I’m going to call you” and participate in the show, he said. “I’ll come in as a commentator, as a senior commentator, from time to time.”

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