The featured photo is a screen grab from a news story about Pat Robertson.
Yesterday afternoon, I was dozing after lunch and noticed breaking news. Pat Robertson, an evangelist and wannabe conservative politician, has finally croaked. He was 93 years old. It strikes me as kind of awesome that Robertson died in June– the month during which we celebrate gay pride! I don’t know if there really is a being known as God, but if there is, I’d say this was pretty good timing.
Pat Robertson (nicknamed by his older brother, who used to pat his cheeks and say “Pat, pat, pat”…) was born Marion Gordon Robertson on March 30, 1930 in Lexington, Virginia. Lexington, as some of you know, is a place near and dear to my own heart. Both of my parents grew up within about ten miles of Lexington. My dad was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, which is located in Lexington. Several of my family members either went there, or to neighboring Washington & Lee University, which is where Mr. Robertson earned his first college diploma. Bill and I got married at VMI, too… So yeah, Pat Robertson’s birth place is special to me.
And Pat Robertson died yesterday in another place near and dear to my heart– Virginia Beach. I grew up in Gloucester County, which is maybe about an hour’s drive from Virginia Beach (when there’s no traffic). We moved to Gloucester in 1980, when I was eight years old. In those days, we all watched television instead of hanging out on the Internet. Although I’m not a very religious person, Pat Robertson still managed to have kind of a profound effect on my life when I was growing up. It was all because of his television empire.
Gloucester was within the viewing area of Pat Robertson’s television channel, WYAH, which he purchased for $37,000 in 1960. WYAH was not a cable channel, but it was the place where Robertson’s Christian television empire, much of which was disseminated on cable TV, was born. WYAH– named for Yahweh– was located in Portsmouth, Virginia. I remember being kind of fascinated by the city of Portsmouth as a little kid, because before we moved to Gloucester, we lived in Fairfax, Virginia on Portsmouth Road. 😉
Although I grew up attending the local Presbyterian church, my parents weren’t super religious. I think church mainly served as a social outlet and place to perform music. My mom was a church organist, although she usually played at churches other than the one I attended with my dad. My dad sang in the church choir, but also in local ensembles. I sat in the pews with a lady whose husband was also in the choir and was a fellow VMI graduate. That was about it for church stuff for me, personally… but I was still heavily influenced by religion, because I happened to live in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where Pat Robertson’s independent TV channel was offered.
In earlier blog posts, I wrote about how, back in the 1980s, I was kind of obsessed with television. Back then, things weren’t so syndicated, so local channels had more of a local flavor. In Fairfax, we had the big three networks, PBS (public television), and two independent channels– WTTG and WDCA– both of which were secular. When we moved to Gloucester, we had WYAH and WTVZ. WTVZ was secular, while WYAH was religious. But they showed similar programming– sitcoms that were in syndication, old movies, westerns, cartoons, and other lightweight viewing fare that was pretty kid friendly.
WYAH had a very annoying announcer with a distinctively high voice who introduced the afternoon cartoons– Tom and Jerry or Scooby Doo. Sometimes I’d watch them, if I didn’t have something else to do. As an 8 year old, I could go play with the other kids in my neighborhood, most of whom didn’t like me much, or I could watch Pat Robertson’s TV channel, WYAH, or WTVZ… or maybe play with my Barbies. A lot of times, WYAH won out, and I’d watch old sitcoms like The Jeffersons, Benson, Wonder Woman, Diff’rent Strokes, or The Brady Bunch.
Most of the stuff WYAH aired was already pretty tame, but any curse words were edited out. I don’t remember if they edited out the racist epithets that were occasionally on sitcoms in the 70s. For instance, on The Jeffersons, one might occasionally hear the n-bomb dropped, usually by George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) himself. I don’t think they edited that, but if he said “damn” or “hell”, that would be silenced.
What I remember most about WYAH, though, were the religious PSAs and ads for a huge variety of Christian religious organizations of varying legitimacy. The channel also offered many religious shows by evangelists, like Jack Van Impe, Ernest Angley, and Star R. Scott, who is a Northern Virginia based pastor.
On Saturday nights, WYAH showed The Rock Church Proclaims, a program featuring services at The Rock Church, which is a huge church based in Virginia Beach. In the 80s, it was led by John and Anne Gimenez. Sometimes, I’d watch the show, not because I was religious, but because I’d never seen a church that had a full band, complete with electric guitars and drums, and pastors who danced. The Rock Church is Pentecostal, and they do things very differently than the stodgy Presbyterians. Below is a clip from a Rock Church “praise break”.
Of course, Robertson’s famous show, The 700 Club, was also aired. WYAH is the birthplace of The 700 Club. It’s still going strong.
As I was growing up, I didn’t really think too hard about how weird WYAH was, and how I was being influenced by all of the religious stuff on that channel. In 1987, there was a huge scandal involving Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, a couple who had gotten their start on WYAH before they founded the PTL cable network. I never watched PTL, though, because it wasn’t offered on our cable subscription. I remember during that time– I was about 15 years old– Jim and Tammy Faye were constantly in the news.
That scandal probably had something to do with Pat Robertson’s decision to sell WYAH in 1989. By the time I graduated high school in 1990, that channel I had watched all through my childhood, had become secular and was owned by a national company. Gone were all the weird religious programming, ads for religious organizations, books, and music, PSAs for religious groups, and censored sitcoms. Robertson also unsuccessfully tried to run for president in 1988, but he dropped out of contention when it became clear that George H.W. Bush was going to get the Republican nomination.
Years later, I learned more about Pat Robertson, as he continued to try to influence politics and continued to build his empire very close to where I grew up. He founded Regent University, and maintained his Christian Broadcasting Network, which was basically a cable version of WYAH, minus the Tidewater flavor. He sold CBN in the 90s.
As a young woman, I started paying more attention to the things Pat Robertson said… some of which I found surprisingly hateful. Like I said, even though I watched his channel, I didn’t pay much attention to the religious stuff. I just wanted my daily George Jefferson or Tom and Jerry fix. But as he got older, Robertson said things that were more hateful, polarizing, and just plain weird. He was famously homophobic, and said many crazy things that infuriated liberals and condemned people in the gay community.
Robertson got right wing Christians involved in politics, marrying far right politics with evangelicals. He was a fan of Donald Trump’s– although Trump is about as unChristian as a person can get. Robertson joined in the chorus of idiot Republicans who claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen because Trump didn’t win. Later, Robertson turned on Trump. A lot of people saw Robertson as either laughable or damnable.
I’m sure Pat Robertson will be missed by many people. He did manage to do some pretty amazing things during his lifetime. And even though I despise his politics and am not into his brand of religion, I can’t deny that he did manage to touch my life and influence it, somewhat. I know people who attended his university, and most of my childhood friends who grew up with me in Gloucester watched WYAH, too. So… there is that.
I never hated Pat Robertson. He was an interesting character. I wish he hadn’t played a part in destroying the separation between church and state. I wish he hadn’t championed Donald Trump, whose disastrous time in the White House has seriously fucked up American politics. And I wish he hadn’t said so many hateful, awful things about the LGBTQ community, which includes people I love. But, I’m sure that some people are mourning him today, and as an admittedly less than devout Christian, I do have some regard for them as fellow human beings. So… I suppose I can wish for Pat Robertson to rest in peace, wherever he is– be it looking down from Heaven, or looking up from Hell… or just rotting in a casket.
As I close today’s post, I realize that my sisters in law– Bill’s sister and her wife– were celebrating their LEGAL marriage yesterday, the day of Pat Robertson’s death. They got married in Florida in 2015. Seems very fitting to me that Pat Robertson exited the mortal coil on their anniversary! It’s almost like an anniversary gift from God! Isn’t that awesome? I think so.