'On Religion' flashback -- Pat Robertson, evangelicals and the White House (column No. 1)

Since this week marked the 30th anniversary of this column, some friends asked to see "On Religion," column No. 1 -- which predates the Internet by about five or six years. So here it is, typed into the system, working from a copy printed at the time on a newsroom dot-matrix printer. Remember those?

There may have been a few edits in DC, because the column format was about 100 words shorter in the early days. The 30th anniversary column will, of course, appear here in a few days.

-- tmatt


WASHINGTON DESK: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 4/11/88.

On the morning before Easter, Pat Robertson stood in a pulpit under an American flag and a banner that read, "King of Kings, Lord of Lords."

The press was barred from the meeting in the Harvest Christian Center, in a Denver suburb.

One of the last stops on Robertson's first try to reach the White House was at a luncheon here with about 200 clergy and church activists. Days later, he stopped active campaigning, but pledged that he would try again.

Still this 1988 scene held pieces of the puzzle that is Robertson's future.

The faithful raised their hands high in praise to God and sang familiar hymns with a man that they knew well, a fellow "charismatic" Christian who believed in miracles, prophecy and "speaking in tongues." A nearby table held tapes on a subject close to Robertson's heart -- healing.

It was a scene from his past. And Robertson's aides were trying to keep it out of his public image in the present and future. So, they ripped the "press only" sign off the door 90 minutes before he arrived. If Robertson was going to show his colors, it would be in a safe place in front of supporters.

Robertson surrendered his Southern Baptist ordination credentials months earlier -- to shed the telltale letters "R-E-V" in front of his name. A new "authorized" biography contained very few references to the spiritual gifts that brought Robertson national fame and success.

For weeks, Robertson and his staff had knocked journalists who called him an ex-televangelist, instead of his label of choice -- "religious broadcaster."

A supporter was blunt: "What Pat might have to say to a group of pastors … might not be the kinds of things he'd want mainstream Republicans to read in the press," said Carl Hoopes, a campaign volunteer.

Hoopes and several other volunteers admitting that trying to hide Robertson's charismatic past could have a negative effect -- making the press even more determined to write about it.

Was there reason to hide?

After all, the Rev. Jesse Jackson also came here for Easter and the Colorado caucuses -- preaching openly political sermons in Baptist and Catholic pulpits and waving his "R-E-V" flag for all to see.

Jackson, clearly, is confident that his religious views are mainstream enough to help him, or at least not hurt him with Democrats.

Robertson is acting unsure of his role.

But his followers are not. Loyalists held hands in a prayer circle at Harvest Christian Center about an hour before the candidate arrived, a scene repeated coast to coast during his campaign.

Prayer leader Kenn Hayes asked for a "special anointing" of God's power on the candidate as his workers.

There are two kingdoms, Hayes prayed, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the earth -- the church and the state. "We thank you for men of courage, like Pat Robertson, who are working to bring these two kingdoms closer together," he said.

Robertson drew cheers at a rally that afternoon with a softer message.

"What this country needs, is a profound moral and spiritual revival," he shouted.

The only way to assure such a national revival, he added, was for "Christians and other conservatives" to build political power in "school boards, city councils, state legislatures and the Congress."

If that takes until 1992, then so be it.

"People talk about the campaign I'm in being dead," he said. "But they're not familiar with the Resurrection."


Terry Mattingly covers religion for The Rocky Mountain News in Denver. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.