The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined the GOP is written by Terry Heaton and details his role at CBN and The 700 Club. Before we used terms like fake news and every single person had a voice via social media, the Christian Broadcast Network entered a new frontier of sorts by not only reporting the news but by shaping the way people thought. CBN in general, and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club in particular, played a profound role in shifting the Republican Party to the right back in the 1980’s. While Robertson was in front of the camera Terry Heaton was behind the scenes and very much involved in making the things Robertson talked about a reality. Heaton believes today’s Christian Right is the end result of work they did together back then.
Love him or hate him, Pat Robertson has a brilliant mind and a charisma that attracts people to both listen and follow. Robertson had a specific vision of what he wanted the program to look like and it was the job of Heaton and many others to give him what he asked for. Everything was staged, everything was carefully engineered, to achieve a particular purpose. Terry Heaton was brought on board to increase the production value of CBN and the flagship program, which he did almost instantly, but what they accomplished over the years went far beyond good production value. Each episode of the 700 Club had several personal testimony segments but those were combed through very carefully so only the ones that were “just right” were ever seen. The person had to be a certain age – and a certain weight – to be featured in an on-air segment. Religious and political conservatives had a stigma of being older and they wanted to avoid that paradigm. There was a strict no fatties policy. Robertson wanted lots of miracle stories. The production staff went through mountains of mail to identify true miracles, healings with no rational explanation, that sort of thing. Many letters they received were certainly answered prayers but if medical science could explain what happened that didn’t qualify. They wanted it to look on the show like miraculous events happened every day to regular people but in reality that was very hard to do.
The show had a certain look and feel in order to achieve certain results. “The 700 Club began as a Christian talk show for the faithful, but its evolution into a politically motivated, point of view news program began in bits and pieces before I arrived and accelerated afterward” Heaton writes. Pat Robertson had a vision and offered biblical justification for moving the ministry in that direction. The result is that Jesus is now associated with the Republican Party and whether or not he wishes to be is irrelevant. The Gospel of Self is Terry Heaton’s narrative of how they put him there. It is with regret that he explains the process he was involved in, that of motivating people of faith with good intentions to political activism.
“There’s an old joke that suggests there are three people the devil doesn’t want in hell: Billy Graham, because he would get everybody saved; Oral Roberts, because he would get everybody healed; and Pat Robertson, because he’d raise the money for air conditioning.” They raised 248 million dollars in the year 1984, a record for any CBN ministry. That money was considered a blessing from God and Heaton wishes he could say it was all used for righteous purposes. The truth is that most of it went to running a television network with over 2,000 employees. Some funded radio stations overseas with mixed ministry and political agendas, and some went to programs that interfered with government policies, such as funding the Contras in Nicaragua.
Pat Roberson ran for president in 1988. As the head of a tax-exempt religious organization that raised millions of dollars annually (billions in today’s economy) what could possibly go wrong? In the primaries he finished in third place behind Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan’s Vice President George H.W. Bush. In the IRS case that followed a lot of attention was given to the format of the show and what kinds of guests were invited. In the view of the IRS the 700 Club itself could have been used by Robertson to build a political platform, if the selection of guests, news stories presented etc. went beyond a purely biblical position. Terry Heaton had already left (been fired actually) and while he still loved and respected Robertson did not want to go to jail for him. Tax laws had been broken and by extension, rules of the Federal Election Commission. CBN would eventually pay a “significant fine” to the IRS and Pat Robertson would be charged personally nearly $400,000 by the Federal Election Commission.
Terry Heaton came from local television and after CBN went back to local television. He has an optimistic view of the future believing we will someday get it right. His book is a look into what I will summarize as wrong things done for the right reason. The end was meant to justify the means but for Terry Heaton it simply does not.
The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined the GOP is available on Amazon.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.