". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


I Owe My Faith to Pat Robertson

June 9, 2023

It’s not every day that an Eastern Orthodox priest pays homage to Pat Robertson, but today’s tribute is long past due. It is no exaggeration to say I owe my conversion to Pat Robertson. Like untold millions, his daily ministry played the key role in my decision to decisively turn away from atheism and toward a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ. From “The 700 Club,” I know my personal testimony mirrors that of millions of others, who would share their inexpressible gratitude if they had a platform to do so. On their behalf, and mine, I’ll try my best.

I wasn’t always an atheist. As a child, my parents and a few others inspired faith that produced an undeniable sense of God’s presence. But faith without root withers, fervor cools, and peaks turn into valleys. Meanwhile, the constant drone of secularism buzzing from every public institution set the template of my childhood. My real religion became the consensus of Hollywood, the media, and public education. Hollywood in the 1980s defamed Christians as hypocritical busybodies, pitied homosexuals as spotless victims, and celebrated sexual libertines as liberators. Contemplating the unblinking glow of the TV set, I imbibed social views at odds with Christianity, views that would erode my remaining faith from within.

My rage at any restriction on my absolute “freedom” sparked deep questions: Why did we have to obey these rules? Who gave these church leaders authority? And just how do we know anything in the Bible ever happened? I assumed the fact that no one in my life had scholarly answers to my questions meant there were none.

It would not be fair to say I didn’t believe in God: I hated the idea of God. When my mother dragged me to church, I cussed and blasphemed under my breath every single time I heard the name of Jesus. I’d always been the class clown and everyone’s friend, but my heart developed deep pockets of darkness. As far as I was concerned, the priestly class used promises of an unverifiable Heaven and an eternal Hell to tell people how to live — and keep the checks rolling in. As an intellectually precocious kid, I had unknowingly reconstructed Karl Marx’s theory of religion as an instrument of social control and would briefly be captivated by socialism’s promise of “equality.” Ironically, that would bring me to Pat Robertson and faith.

Learning of Marxism’s economic futility and human rights abuses during the still-raging Cold War made defeating communism my defining cause. But political victories begin with information — and nostalgia notwithstanding, the mass media have always harbored liberal bias. Slanted coverage of communism claimed even Soviet gulags brought “serenity,” and networks regularly invited Soviet propagandist Vladimir Posner to give the Communist Party line without rebuttal. Domestic media coverage continually attacked President Ronald Reagan, who topped his 44-state landslide in 1980 with a 49-state reelection, as an ”uncaring” and “dangerous failure.” One night while channel-surfing, I found a news segment that honestly covered the strength and malignancy of the Red Army, I assumed from “Nightline.” When the reporter threw the segment back to Pat Robertson, I felt betrayed. The airwaves were full of lurid stories about Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker; no news coverage was worth being associated with “those people.” But lockstep media bias made my decision for me.

The media environment of the 1980s seems unfathomable for modern people. The liberal legacy media was all-too contemporary. There was no internet and few conservative magazines. Fox News did not exist as a conservative alternative (a situation the next generation of Murdochs seems determined to revive). Aside from Paul Harvey, even talk radio primarily consisted of pranksters, the sports/entertainment industry, and self-help psychologists. For conservatives, there was William F. Buckley Jr.’s “Firing Line,” which our local PBS affiliate did not carry. There was Pat Buchanan’s half of “Crossfire.” And, I would learn, there was Pat Robertson.

During this time, God prepared me to receive Him through two other ministries: Dr. Charles Stanley and Dr. D. James Kennedy. In my young teens, I began to seriously consider committing sins that could have changed my life forever. Each time I would privately decide to follow through, my mom would force us to watch “In Touch,” and Charles Stanley would mention the specific sin I’d determined to commit. A few months later by happenstance — today, I’d call it providence — we were in the car every week when the Christian radio station played the “Truths that Transform” series “Why I Believe.” Dr. Kennedy’s resonant voice and erudite speech answered many of my intellectual questions and cured my unspoken fear that no intelligent person could believe in God. I researched more on my own, and evangelical friends provided support and apologetic literature. Intellectually, I swallowed my pride and owned up to the fact that I had been wrong about God’s existence. But I acknowledged God the way you would believe two plus two makes four. Something was missing: an emotional component.

Enter “The 700 Club.”

While still an agnostic, I read in a conservative book that the “The 700 Club” regularly reported news from an anti-communist perspective. I tuned in after everyone went to bed, ashamed that my thirst for accurate information unfiltered by liberal media bias had forced me to watch a Christian preacher. CBN’s journalists delivered, so I reluctantly began watching every night for the news (at that time, the first 15 minutes of the show), then immediately turned the channel off in revulsion. In time, I would become intrigued by a celebrity interview and watch until it aired, turning down the volume between segments. Then I began listening to the full show.

That changed my life.

“The 700 Club” regularly presented stories of bona fide miracles. People testified that God delivered them from drug addiction after one prayer, with no withdrawal symptoms. Secular doctors admitted Christians experienced healings that medical science could not explain, sometimes showing the before-and-after x-rays. Cancers disappeared, impossible rescues occurred, and murder attempts inexplicably saved their victims’ lives in an increasingly compelling series of “prayer-related coincidences.” I researched these stories as much as I could and was surprised to find secular news outlets, including The New York Times, confirmed the details, sometimes quoting additional experts that made the story more miraculous.

Those stories moved the knowledge of God’s existence, presence, and power from my head into my heart. Soon, years of my mother praying as intensely as St. Monica prayed for St. Augustine ended in my own prayer.

Sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on a hot July morning, a 14-year-old prodigal came home. I fell to my knees just to the side of my TV set and joined Pat Robertson in praying the sinner’s prayer. At one point, as I self-consciously wondered whether to stop, Pat said, “That’s right, pray with me!” When I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer, I had a mystical experience that I’ve never publicly shared, one tiny part involved shedding tears of joy for the first time in my life.

While the Lord may have found another vessel to accomplish His purposes, Pat Robertson was the instrument God used to bring His wayward servant home. Initially, I set out to share accurate information as a journalist; soon, I felt a call to spread the ultimate truth of His Word. Over the next three decades, I would wander ideologically at times, sometimes far astray, trying to understand and fulfill God’s will. But I would never again have a moment that Jesus Christ was not the most important Person in my life.

Years later, I once again have tears in my eyes. The death of Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson at 4:49 a.m. on Thursday, June 8, 2023, at the age of 93 brings tears of regret. A few months ago, I set out to write thank you letters to those who played a significant role in my spiritual life, including Pat Robertson. Overwhelming responsibilities kept me from finishing the letters to my satisfaction. I never shared with them personally how their ministries shaped my life. If it suits God’s will, I’m confident they now know. In the mystery of God’s presence, they may also feel the depth of emotion and spiritual reserves their ministries created within me, which no words can adequately express. 

Pat Robertson’s last words to his children were: “I tried to listen to the Lord. I loved you all. I walked with the Lord. I hope I’ve passed that on to you.”

Mission accomplished, Pat. RIP. May his memory be eternal.

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.