Pat Robertson just endorsed Rudolf Giuliani for the nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. The day before Senator Charles E. Grassley, announced that he is investigating six evangelistic ministries to see if they illegally used donations to finance opulent lifestyles. We are awash in religion. It's not church and state, just church and more church.
As a former (and repentant) evangelical and the son of religious right leader -- the late Francis Schaeffer -- I can testify to the fact that there are three kinds of evangelical leaders. The crazy and/or idealistic ones who really believe, i.e. Pat Robertson, the out and out charlatans of the kind Sen. Grassley is investigating, i.e. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and Benny Hinn et al, and the smart ones who still believe -- sort of -- but know that the evangelical world is crazy, but who can't figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. Before I quit in the mid 1980s I was one of those, having started out in the idealistic/stupid category.
I remember the last time I met Pat Robertson. I was at the studios of the 700 Club with my father. This was during the 1980s confirmation battles over Reagan's nominee for the post of Surgeon General, C Everett Koop. While we were with Pat, Dad and I were going to be on the 700 Club-again...
So we were standing in the green room before the show in a "circle of prayer," in other words squeezing some stranger's sweaty hands with our heads bowed. A preacher from Kansas City had just "interpreted" someone's tongues utterance that had been shouted moments before, something like "Nagaz, shagaz, spiffy-biffy blabooo!"
In other words he translated the godly gibberish of the "heavenly language" into English. Then we started to shuffle for the door.
But we tried to act polite because even though we all wanted to get down the hall first to see Pat, so we could get a couple seconds of his undivided attention and make sure he put in a good plug for whatever we were hocking that day -- the point is you want Pat to tell the director to cut to a close-up of your book when he holds it up -- we didn't want to look like we were too pushy because of all that stuff in scripture about being meek that we were still supposed to believe.
Pat had a private makeup suite that he shared with the 700 Club's other star, old Ben Kinchlow, the friendly sidekick. They liked frozen air. You could see your breath in Pat and Ben's makeup suite. Pat was sitting in a big old fashioned barber chair with his makeup and hair girls fussing around him doing last minute touch-ups.
Pat still had the paper make-up ruffle tucked around his neck. It made him look like a stripped-down Dutch seventeenth century pastor in a Rembrandt, only under Pat's neck ruffle he had on a cashmere tan jacket rather than black robes. And any sober Dutch Reformed pastor would have had Pat burnt at the stake as soon as he heard him speaking in tongues, let alone the stream of gibberish he was about to unleash on us.
Pat's makeup was more or less done. He was ready to share from his heart and dedicate that day's show to the Lord. Ben was ready too. His job on and off the air was to do his part for Jesus by hanging around and laughing at Pat's jokes and saying, "Yes, Lord" every time Pat said something wise and heart-warming or even looked like he might.
The first wise and heart-warming thing Pat said to us-with plenty of his trademark goofy giggles and laughs, and his voice going up an octave for emphasis, was, "Today the Lord showed me a special sign concerning the spirit of the age!"
"Yes Jesus!" shouted Ben.
The rest of us nodded and thanked Jesus too.
Then Pat said, "I went out to my garage this morning and a snake was curled up right next to the passenger side door of my car. So I got a shovel and killed it. Then I go outside to throw its body into the woods and there's another snake sitting on the path!" (Long goofy chuckle) "Well, folks, you need to know that I've lived in that house ten years and never seen a snake before! I knew the Lord was trying to tell me something!"
Pat chuckled and Ben laughed and we all chuckled too and said, yes, Jesus. Then Pat said, "Would you believe it but everywhere I turned there were more and more snakes! My arms got tired smiting them! Finally God spoke to my heart and said, 'Pat no matter how many serpents you smite I'll send more so trust in me, Pat, not in your own strength!' Then I fell down and wept before the Lord and when I looked up all the snakes were gone even the bodies of the dozens I had killed! I can't tell if I was in my body or caught up in the Spirit."
Ben, "Lord You are so great, we just worship you."
"Oh, Jesus, we just thank you for Pat!" whispered a make up girl.
Pat cut her ass-kissing short.
"You want to know what (long goofy chuckle) the serpents signify?" asked Pat.
We all said yes, yes we did. Ben moaned and shivered as if what Pat might say next was probably more than regular folks could bear. Meanwhile the make-up girl dabbed at Pat's face with a foam wedge smoothing out the make-up where she'd missed a spot. This was all business as usual to her. Pat could have claimed that Jesus was sitting on his knee eating an ice cream cone and she would have just kept dabbing away.
"I'll tell you what ladies and gentlemen," said Pat, swiveling the make up chair to survey us all, "the snakes are the sins contaminating the Body of Christ! The Secular World's not our only problem ladies and gentlemen it's our own sin that's grieving the Lord's heart and delaying His return!"
Ben: "That's right!"
"The other day," said Pat, "I was invited to speak to the Orlando chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men's Association. At the end of my talk on how God will bless us if we plant a seed of faith and give richly to His work, by supporting the 700 Club's special fund, I said, 'Now bow your heads, open your hearts and close your eyes so no one but God and me can see you. Now each one of you men' -- they were all successful, married Christian men in their mid-forties to fifties-'raise your hands if you still masturbate.' And do you know over half raised their hands!"
"Oh Lord, just forgive us!" Ben wailed.
On the Club that day there was an interesting moment. The floor director was doing what floor directors do everywhere, silently counting down on her fat fingers so Pat could wrap things up for the break. Pat was having a Word of Knowledge, that's when God tells Pat things directly, as if he's on the phone calling in information about, say, some woman in Milwaukee with a tumor in her left ovary.
Anyway that day God gave Pat a "Word" for some lady with deafness in one ear. Pat squinted at the floor director through closed eyelids-he was deep in his healing, we-just-this-Lord-we-just-that, prayer. She was counting down the seconds on her fingers to the out. And Pat wrapped up the Word of Knowledge right on cue! Since a Word of Knowledge is as direct a message from God as you can get this side of the Last Judgment it interested me to learn God made sure his Word fit the time slot.
Good to know Pat likes Giuliani. With friends like these the former New York mayor might as well drop out of the race right now, or check into an asylum.
Frank Schaeffer's latest book is "Crazy For God-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back"