Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics

Pat Robertson on the Khashoggi Affair

President Trump and the Rev. Pat Robertson pose for a photo after their interview for “The 700 Club” on CBN. Photo courtesy of CBN

A few days ago Debra Mason, the former publisher of this news service, responded to stories about Pat Robertson’s comments on the Khashoggi Affair by posting the following on Facebook.


“Preach it!” seconded Terry Mattingly, boss of the GetReligion online journalism review.

With due respect to these gurus of religion coverage, I beg to differ. By virtue of his chairmanship of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Robertson remains a consequential figure on the religious right. The 700 Club, the CBN marquee show on which Robertson made his remarks, has an audience of one million. And while what he said in this case may have been morally appalling, it was not wacky.

So what exactly did he say?

“For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are key allies,” he declared on the show October 15, and told viewers to bear in mind that  “we’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of…it’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”

Then, the following day, he took a stand against sanctions against Saudi Arabia and posed a series of questions:“You’ve got one journalist — who knows? Was it an interrogation? Was he assassinated? Were there rogue elements? Who did it?”

That Robertson should have parroted what was, in fact, President Trump’s lines du jour on Khashoggi’s death is hardly surprising, given CBN’s close relationship with the White House. Two weeks before the 2016 election, Robertson scored an exclusive interview with candidate Trump and David Brody, CBN’s White House correspondent, has been a regular one-on-one interlocutor with the president for years.

In his assiduous cultivation of evangelicals, Donald Trump has long treated CBN as a major line of communication. The guy who runs it shouldn’t be ignored.

As for whether media coverage of Robertson construes him as an avatar of evangelicalism in America, while that may have been true when he was chairing the Christian Coalition 20 years ago, today not so much. New York Magazine, for example, began its account of his Khashoggi remarks with the statement: “There’s nothing new about Christian right warhorse Pat Robertson saying offensively stupid things about politics that make you worry about his idea of Christianity.”

No doubt, a number of reports on his Khashoggi remarks identified Robertson as an “evangelical leader.” Is he out of step with or noticeably less influential than such other evangelical leaders as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Tony Perkins, and Robert Jeffress? I’d say not.

When it comes to shaping evangelical attitudes these days, there is no one more influential than Donald Trump. Whether that makes him an evangelical leader is an existential question I leave for others to answer.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • In a $20 trillion economy, Saudi arms purchases are measured in the hundredths of one percent. The US churns, in one month, far more jobs than are involved.

    Judas got a much better payoff in selling out his principles than Robertson and Trump. I’m not in the least surprised.

  • I think Pat Robertson & Co. represented the wave of evangelicalism that rode the coattails of the radio evangelists into the cable TV age, but hasn’t made the transition to the social media age, where Trump tweets the gospel in short-and-simple bytes. About the only thing the two groups have in common is Dispensationalism and knee-jerk opposition to abortion. I think this generation of evangelicals treat Robertson as a daft uncle more than anything else.

  • Concerning the demand that everyone ignore Marion “Pat” Robertson: This reminds me of when the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz famously declared, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” It didn’t work in the movie, and it doesn’t work in real life. 

    And the reason? Outside observers of Christianity are under no obligation to purposely ignore selected Christians, just because their words and actions make other Christians look bad. If that’s what Ol’ Patty is doing to you, then get off your backsides and do something about him. Correct him; discipline him; force him to change what he says and does; or barring that, get him off the airwaves and shut him up, fercryinoutloud. 

    In short … Ol’ Patty belongs to you. Fix him already, or — if you can’t (or won’t) summon the courage required — then don’t. But please, stop running around telling everyone else to ignore him, just because he’s inconvenient for you. And whether it’s Patty or any other vocal, influential Christianist you’re talking about, just remember: Christianity is your religion. It belongs to you. Police it, or not … the choice is entirely yours. But, if you don’t respect your own religion enough to police it, don’t expect outsiders to respect Christianity, or you for adhering to it. The rest of us aren’t required to selectively pay attention to certain Christians but ignore others, solely because you haven’t the cojones to discipline your own co-religionists. 

  • It is likely that Robertson’s market wants to hear phrases like “job creation”. It gives them an opportunity to say “Amen!!” and justifies their vote for Trump.

  • Hmm. Leave it to Mark Silk, it seems, to provide the basic fairness and even-handedness towards Pat Robertson that these big-name religion-media celebs should be providing.

    Now I don’t agree with Robertson on everything. For example, he’s a big Sell-Out when it comes to the vital battle against Darwinism.

    But on OTHER issues, he and CBN set high marks. They’re an asset to American Christianity.

    As for the Khashoggi Affair, much more details — and more evidence — are needed. Period. (And who said Turkey’s hands are entirely clean on this matter, anyway?)

    But I leave this cloak-and-dagger mess for others. Point is, kudos Dr. Silk for some fairness.

  • Says Debra Mason on Pat Robertson being frequently quoted as an important voice of Evangelical Christians: “FIND REAL EVANGELICALS, PLEASE. ”

    I think that would be great. But where are they? Where are the ones who speak differently? Who lead differently?

    I am beginning to think that the words “Evangelical Christian” put together form an oxymoron. Those with a public voice are closer to EVANGELICAL CAPITALISTS than to anything that has to do with Jesus, His message, His love and compassion. Just ask Bobblehead Pence and look at what all those Evangelical Christians support in government.

    If there is a difference between REAL EVANGELICALS and the voices that get into the news the REAL EVANGELICALS need to speak up, to voice a different message, and to clearly differentiate themselves and speak against those who claim the name they are besmirching.

  • You have long since lost the “battle against Darwinism.” Stop denying science.

    “And while what he said in this case may have been morally appalling, it was not wacky.”
    Yes, it was.

    “There’s nothing new about Christian right warhorse Pat Robertson saying offensively stupid things about politics that make you worry about his idea of Christianity.”
    Yes, there is.

    “Is he out of step with or noticeably less influential than such other evangelical leaders as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Tony Perkins, and Robert Jeffress? I’d say not.”
    All of those people sold this country out to Russia for blood-money. No mercy for traitors.

  • That knee-jerk opposition to abortion that you speak of will be the death of the entire Christian religion, at this rate, not to mention the knee-jerk opposition to LGBTQ+ rights.

  • I have begun to think there is no such thing as a “TRUE Christian”. Each group seems to think that they and they alone have the corner on TRUTH–ignore everyone else but ME!

  • “By virtue of his chairmanship of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Robertson remains a consequential figure on the religious right. ”

    Um CBN has not existed as a broadcasting network for almost 20 years. Robertson sold his holdings to Disney but retained the right to a time slot for the 700 Club. Generally scheduled in “dead spots” on the schedule for Freeform (formerly ABC Family).

    Robertson’s sole claim to fame right now is that he makes ridiculous offensive public statements, nowadays in line with support for Trump.

  • Funny how the only people claiming it was the work of “rogue killers” were Trump and the Saudi Prince.

    “the vital battle against Darwinism”

    ….was lost over a century ago. Creationism is nothing more than lying in service of an immature version of faith.

  • Unanswered questions aplenty on this one. But some folks don’t want to wait for a full investigation, it seems.

    Meanwhile, Creationism is the Alabama Football of biological origins. You simply can’t do better than Number One.

  • ” But some folks don’t want to wait for a full investigation, it seems.”

    Trump and the Saudi government appear to the ones least interested in delving into what happened.

    Creationism is glorified lying in service of a narrow subset of Protestant Christianity. Even a Republican appointed Federal judge determined that much to be true.

  • Ahh, Susan. Well said. It is a problem when someone wants to enclose God into a box of human understanding. No one can ever get it right. God is too big, too awesome, too beyond human understanding. We can only approximate what God is, what He intends and wants out of His creation. But, we do need to work on it. He made us to want to try. The real problem comes when someone or a group thinks they have found THE ANSWER instead of realizing they have found a place from which they can act on what they think God wants and they have a community that helps them keep that understanding active in their lives. It isn’t bad, until it thinks it is THE ANSWER.

    Here is the good part, though. There are a lot of good people who do good things in the world out of their faith.

  • You’re right that CBN is not a broadcasting network in the normal sense of network. But “Christian Broadcasting Network” is still its official name. I’m not sure if you’re making the point to suggest that The 700 Club doesn’t reach as many people as claimed.

  • The official name of the cable network is now Freeform. Before, it was ABC Family. There are no Robertson owned stations or channels anymore. CBN has a paper existence for programming/content production, not broadcasting anymore.

    “I’m not sure if you’re making the point to suggest that The 700 Club doesn’t reach as many people as claimed.”

    It doesn’t.

    Disney has been burying the timeslot for The 700 Club on the FreeForm channel . Keeping it solely as a contractual obligation and little else.

  • Ah, so let’s just have a “Trial by BoingBoing.” A sure winner. Who needs the FBI anyway?

    Anyway, just as a historical footnote for an already defeated evolutionism, the Dover Decision never did extend beyond the small town of Dover PA, and and a few central PA villages thereof.

    Then the evolutionists’ favorite Decision went staight to the mothballs (where it currently resides all these years), once the ACLU-proof Louisiana Science Education Act won the day (and the decade, and the century, and … ).

  • Robertson is the great-grandfather of today’s MAGA bigots.
    The lineage goes Robertson/Falwell > right wing radio > Tea Party > MAGA bigots.

  • Who’s leading the Christian fight to redeclare the geocentric universe?

    Or, perhaps bringing back bleeding as a cure for disease? That germ theory is just a bunch of evil not in the bible.

  • Better than “let’s repeat crap from Trump” and ignore all available news on the subject. Those murderers are never going to see due process for their crimes.

    The FBI isn’t investigating this. Not their jurisdiction.

    There is no such thing as evolutionism. There is established scientific framework on the subject, accepted in the field. Then there is your dishonest voodoo nobody accepts in any scientific context promoted he lying Christian Fundamentalists.

    Dover was the chance for ID supporters to establish it as a scientific idea, not just a rehash of religious claptrap. The ID “experts” chickened out rather than face scrutiny or examination of their ideas.

    You are proud that Louisiana is violating the Constitution and lying to children about science. How very cretnious. Christian Fundamentalists are proud of illegal dishonest sectarian stupidity. What else is new?

    Ever notice that places which adopt Creationist lying hover at the bottom of education stats? It’s enforced ignorance.

  • I wasn’t referring to the official name of the cable network, but of CBN, which is: © 2018 The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., A nonprofit 501 (c)(3) Charitable Organization.

  • Spuddie, I’m asking you to dial back the intensity. As in: “How very cretinous.” If you don’t, I will block you. I’m sorry, but that’s how I’m now rolling.

  • It’s on a basic cable channel buried late on weekdays. It would be lucky to viewership figures on par with South Park reruns.

    Cable viewership shares are tiny even on hugely successful shows. With timeslots designed to bury a show, they would be infinitesimal.

  • Pat Robertson did indeed used to be a major figure; CBN was his platform and he seemed to be talking independently. Now, all of a sudden, he’s repeating administration talking points like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

    (There’s also the oddity about a need for arms sales and money. I don’t remember anything in the Gospels about “blessed are the armsmakers”.)

  • Of course. One’s religion is mostly an accident of birth, that is location and family. That is slowly changing in more open, secular societies.

    Given the lack of evidence of the veracity of any supernatural entity, there’s no basis for discussion or reason. Believers latch on to the hubris of “I know what God wants.” That leads, over and over through history, to slaughter and misery.

  • So Pat Robertson, who absolutely is an influential evangelical leader notwithstanding the bleats of No True Scotsman, puts a price tag on human life. If, say, abortion brought in enough money and jobs, he would presumably be cool with it. So the real problem with the “abortion industry” is that it’s not big enough.

  • In my opinion, this country has had more than enough of its share of religious crackpots and nut cases and man-child leaders like Donald Trump who knows very little about foreign policies, diplomacy and possesses little political dexterity People like Trump and Robertson know little about the people that live beyond the America shores.trump & Robertson have a very narrow view of the world at large. People like Putin and XI Xiaoping have a more broader view of the political landscape they are dealing with. Trump thinks the world is a fool but he doesn’t realize the world knows why he’s cozying up to the Saudi Prince. They both have skeletons to hide. A recent TV report alleges that Trump has borrowed billions and billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia to finance his 2016 campaign and now that he cannot repay the amount without upsetting his own financial cart, he cannot afford to put sanction on Saudi Arabia because the Prince, if placed in a bumpy situation will spill the beans. As for Pat Robertson, he’s a cipher in political affairs and is only one of Trump’s hundreds of evangelical minions who’d do anything to spit and shine Trump’s boots.

  • There are a lot of good people who do good things without having a religious faith! THAT is the good thing. With or without religion good people will be good (and do good things) and not so good people will be not so good (and do many not so good things) and downright evil people will be evil (and do evil things).

  • Hubris has been the downfall of many. It is even mentioned in the Bible though not by that name “Do not stand on the corners and pray as the hypocrites do but pray quietly in your own home….” (I paraphrase here) It is hubris to declare look at how pious I am!

  • Alabama’s unofficial state motto is, “Thank god for Mississippi!” Because, if it weren’t for Mississippi, Alabama would be the least literate state in the union. You can’t do worse than dead last.

  • Why on earth would Christians ever care about obvious financial conflict of interest at the highest levels of government? They’re too busy counting the 30 pieces of silver that they got in return for selling this country out to fascist theocrats who go around lynching everyone who disagrees with their religious dogma, like Jamel Myles.

  • Re your first two sentences. It is good that people of no particular faith also seek to do good things. Perhaps God put into the creation of humans some instinct to seek to do good. Maybe it is a part of the fact that we are social creatures and know we function, live, survive in community. We really do need each other.

    I do think religion plays a role in helping (okay, some) people seek to know and do what is good. So perhaps the “good thing” is that both religion and instinct/reason are both sources for understand what is “good” and seeking it.

  • Quite a few anti-vaxxers aren’t religious and certainly not fundamentalists. Illogic and disregard of evidence is not confined to the religious.

  • Also think about the logic (or lack thereof).

    “I believe the Bible is inspired.” “Why?” “Because it says so.” Would anyone let that logic pass if it came from the followers of any other book or person? “I believe x is inspired because x says so.” Fill in the blanks:

    x=Pat Robertson
    x=the ayatollah Sistani
    x=David Koresh
    x=the Koran”

    more “logic”?

    “I believe there is One God Jehovah because He is revealed in the infallible
    Bible. I believe the Bible is infallible because it is the Word of the One God Jehovah.”

  • A tad confused about what ‘knee jerk’ reaction to abortion is ? Surely we follow the Bible, the Scriptures, not Pat Robertson, or Donald Trump or even the ‘scientific community’ on any of these issues.

    Read your Bible, what does GOD say and forget anything to the contrary

  • Just need to read the Scriptures – work out what is cultural and what is eternal – it isn’t difficult nor complicated as people make it. Cultural might be having to wear hats in church – eternal is ‘Thou shalt not murder’ – .. Christianity isn’t complicated, but neither is it easy.

    People often say that Christianity is dying – I see no evidence of this anywhere – only church attendance down. People are starting house churches in the 100s of thousands and the real growth and maturity is there.

  • Get your religious bigotry out of my uterus. The bible is not a valid basis for governance.

  • Well said.
    Old Pat, the old fart, belongs to Christianity. You are accountable for him and the snake handlers and the anti-abortionists who shoot and kill abortion doctors while they are handing out bulletins in church.

  • the buy-bull says NOTHING about abortion. Not one word. Besides, this is a secular nation with a secular government–even if Trump tears down the wall of separation between church and state every day. Geez, he wants to build a wall between Mexico and the USA but wants to tear down the wall protecting Americans from Fund-gelicals.

  • More and more of us are leaving religion all together. Who needs this abrahamic, bombastic, war-loving sky god???

  • I don’t know where you live but around here there are NO house churches, and nationwide the younger generation is leaving Christianity as fast as they can. Even evangelical children are leaving the foundering ship.

  • James Haught, who writes on religion says that the true followers of Jesus are the atheists and the socialists. I think he’s absolutely correct.

  • “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.” Around here (Massachusetts and RI, the march around saying their rosaries. Complete farce.

  • The Devil in Dover won over the country. That book is read widely as a warning of how evangelical zealots took over a town, riled up the people, and in the trial over the teaching of bogus creationism, the judge, a republican appointee of George H.W. Trump, oversaw the complete meltdown of the ID/Creationist side and the fulsome and scientifically valid Darwinist side and ruled that creationism was a political/religious fraud.

    Next you’ll be telling us about that huckster, Ken Ham and has boondoggle of a concrete ark in KY.

  • Re: “Read your Bible, what does GOD say and forget anything to the contrary” 

    It says a lot of things, most of which Christians (both currently, and historically) refuse ever to do:

    You know, stuff like “when you pray, go into your inner room,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” “do not store up treasures on earth,” “turn the other cheek,” “judge not lest ye be judged,” “let he who is sinless cast the first stone,” “render to God what is God’s,” “sell your possessions & give to the poor,” and plenty more. You know, stuff they either ignore, or rationalize away. You know, stuff that’s hard to do, or inconvenient. 

    I can count on one hand, minus a few fingers, the total number of Christians in all of history who’ve ever lived that way. 

  • He’s just speaking facts. These Evangelicals are political shills. Go look up “Dominionism” and “Reconstrutionists.” PS Pence is one.

  • yes, remember when the preachers objected to women getting ether to end the pains of childhood. Harrumph, they’d say, the buy-bull says that women are cursed by God-almighty to suffer those pains.

  • Religions, and I mean all the world religions not just Christianity, and the worlds great philosophies can be used to help people become better people and by better I mean, more tolerant, open minded, curious, thoughtful, compassionate OR the world religions and philosophies can be used to help people become worse people and by worse I mean more judgmental, hypocritical, self-righteous, intransigent.

    With Trumpism we are seeing how religion is being used to bring out the worst in people.

    I don’t have a beef with those who have actually become better people, whatever their religion or lack of religion. I do have a problem with those that use their religion as a weapon, to demonize, persecute, harm, those that reject their beliefs to follow a different belief system. Those that use their religion to justify and sanctify their fear, bias, prejudice and the actions those spawn.

  • Jesus thinks torturing and killing is okay if you gat a lot of money for it. That is what Robertson is saying, and it is what many Christians think.

  • James Haught has a point. Those “christians” who spend so much time in – and so much money on – praise and worship but don’t bother with feeding the hungry, working to provide shelter for the homeless, helping the sick, visiting the imprisoned – are not doing what Jesus told them was important. I do believe that those who live life helping others and doing what Jesus asked us to do – but who do not worship Him – are still doing what God wants, are acting out of a God given/inspired sense of what God calls us to be to one another. They, too, are loved by God.

  • I wonder what his opinion is of the California Camp Fire…since the last fire was a result of God chastising their presidential pick….or something to that effect.

  • Back in the day he would have been a Roman declaring that the life of Jesus wasn’t as important as jobs and money….