Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of the 700 Club, held a Glock and a taser on his show last week to prove just how easy it is to tell the difference. He was trying to refute the excuse given by Kim Potter, the White, female, 26-year veteran who claims to have shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright accidentally instead of using her taser. He then went on to say that Derek Chauvin should be “put under the jail” for killing George Floyd. In a word, this was beyond unexpected. A good friend said to me that if Floyd’s public execution was not a “come to Jesus” moment for White Evangelical Pastors, then there was no coming to the altar. Perhaps the 9 minutes Derek Chauvin used his knee instead of a rope to lynch George Floyd nearly a year ago was the call to faith that the aged evangelist needed.
I am unsure of Robertson’s salvation status, but I am sure that he preached messages and platformed leaders that laid a theological foundation for the failed siege of the Capitol on January 6. I am certain he has enriched himself off of producing and distributing a distinctly American Jesus. And along with Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee and others, he is a prophet not of a God aligned with Jesus of Nazareth but instead with White American Folk Religion – a race, class, gender-based ideology that position America as the Promised Land and White American men as its apostles. So a moment where someone is able to condemn murder and distinguish a Glock from a Taser might be retweeted or shared thousands of times, but it is not confession, repentance, and rebuke of the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and nationalist ideas that he has preached and platformed for the last 60 years.
Robertson grew up the son of a pro-segregationist Senator who did not oppose Harry Byrd’s “Massive Resistance”–which closed public schools instead to protect segregation. In fact, his father filibustered all civil rights legislation. After Pat Robertson returned from home from the military and a conversion experience, he leveraged his resources to update, package and propagate his father’s conservative politics masquerading as Christianity that would be indistinguishable from the Republican platform.
The echo chambers and cultural bubbles that White evangelicals exist and operate within are not accidental or happenstance. Robertson and his ilk intentionally created them to uphold colonial structures and enforce a system of white supremacy. He built his empire atop this structure and he became a chief operator in an Evangelical world where he and others like him are morally upright, divinely appointed, and forever the sole throwers of holy stones. Pat Robertson is no more woke than a dead bear in winter. But he is absolutely the reason why Christians and non-Christians alike need to be conscious to the state of things that surround us. Fighting injustice is more than props and rants in front of a camera. Filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome knows this well, noting about Robertson’s words that “I don’t see someone condemning racism, I see someone condemning cops for acting so outrageously that they’ve caused destabilization for the racist system.”
She and others like author, pastor, and activist, Sandra Maria Van Opstal of Chasing Justice know that seeking justice is a long, hard and difficult work against institutions like those created by Pat Robertson. Van Opstal’s work will go far beyond her grief-ridden Facebook thread chronicling the death of Adam Toledo in the alley behind her Chicago home that looks eerily similar to the one where he was killed. They know the Jesus that flipped tables and poured out his life for many more than the 12 men who followed Him. There will be podcasts and post, but also protests, lament, and advocacy from a place of abiding with Jesus in close proximity to the poor and marginalized. It will come from the space of incarnation just like the Risen Jesus. I’m not sure Pat Robertson has ever met that brown-skinned Jesus. But I do know he is “pro-police” and thinks our problems can be solved if officers are paid more and have better education. Woke – he is not. But he is the reason we need to be.