Robertson Resigns From Christian Coalition

New York Times/December 6, 2001
By B. Drummond Ayres Jr.

Pat Robertson, the widely televised evangelist and one-time presidential candidate, resigned yesterday as president of the Christian Coalition, the grass-roots organization he made one of the most powerful political forces in the country in the mid-1990's, only to see it go into steep decline after that.

He said that he wanted to concentrate more and more on expanding his religious broadcasting network, at home and abroad, and that he intended to leave grass-roots political work like legislative lobbying, candidate recruitment and voter registration to others.

Some political experts and critics of the coalition said Mr. Robertson's resignation in all probability sounded the death knell for the faltering group. In their view, he helped bring on the decline by failing to make good on a promise to push through the organization's agenda, particularly on subjects like a ban on abortions and the authorization of school prayer and by failing at times to support conservative causes like President Bill Clinton's impeachment.

Mr. Robertson insisted that the coalition would bounce back.

"I'm just narrowing my concentration on things," he said. "I'm not abandoning anything. I will, of course, continue to comment sometimes on political affairs in my daily broadcasts. But I am 71 years old now, and my main focus in the active years of service left to me will be on religious broadcasting and the Christian Broadcasting Network I established years ago to promote it. We are now seen and heard by at least a million Americans every day, and we also do programming in more than 90 other countries, with more to come. In fact, I just got back from negotiations in China."

Roberta Combs, executive vice president of the coalition, headquartered in Washington, was named to succeed Mr. Robertson. She hailed Mr. Robertson as someone who had given Christians "a seat at the table" and she promised to redouble efforts to rebuild the organization.

Mr. Robertson's broadcast operation is headquartered in Virginia Beach. His flagship program is "The 700 Club," a daily broadcast that is generally expected to continue its taking strong conservative stands on political issues, despite Mr. Robertson's stated intention to step back from politics.

He has also established a religious school in Virginia Beach, Regent University, as well as offices that oversee business investments around the world that he says are intended to keep a flow of money arriving to underwrite the broadcast and education interests.

Whatever Mr. Robertson's reasons for leaving the coalition, which he founded in 1989 after a failed presidential campaign, there is no question that the group has its troubles. In its heyday in 1994, it helped elect the first Republican Congress in decades, had a budget of $25 million or so and boasted a membership of four million or more. Exact figures were hard to come by, because some enrollment rolls overlapped.

Today the coalition is broke and is widely believed to have fewer than two million members. Most political experts say that whatever its earlier political accomplishments it played just a marginal role in the election last year.

"Pat's resignation very well could be the death knell for the Christian Coalition," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty group in Washington that closely monitors the coalition. "Pat was the only real reason the group existed. And it can't exist without him."

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