The pulpit is going to have to give way to [conversations between] human beings…how they’re living life…and not marching in lockstep…with those who would choose to manipulate the mass market.: “In his new book The Gospel of the Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP,
Heaton reflects on his years working alongside Robertson, and how the
advertising strategies he brought to CBN helped transform and politicize
a generation of Christians. Heaton presents Robertson and his team as
well-meaning idealists whose desire to use the power of the media to
bring people to Jesus morphed into a need to hold on to power for its
”Often, Heaton writes, the desire to put on a convincing
“show” for their audience meant eliding the truth in favor of a more
marketable approach: casting only conventionally attractive and
“successful”-looking Christians in their segments, exclusively focusing
on the positive aspects of Christianity, and hinting that faith could
bring temporal as well as spiritual rewards. In other words, the Bible
became a “self-help manual” advertised as something to be valued because
of its impact on one’s own life, what Heaton now calls “the gospel of
I spoke with Heaton about Robertson and the future of the
alliance between CBN and the GOP, and about how CBN helped bring
together conservative Christianity and Republican Party politics.
I wrote the book because I felt I needed to apologize for
my role in what we have in front of us today…I just want to get it on the record
that I participated in something that has turned out to be pretty bad.
[The problem] was [The 700 Club] itself, getting
more and more political. People from Pat’s campaign wanted me [to get
involved with the political side of his campaign] all the time. I knew
where the line was. But that didn’t stop us from going right up to it
and even crossing over.
We always showed people getting healed, overcoming the odds. The
strong impression that the viewer would get from the program was that if
you just followed the formula, you would be blessed!
There was only one time we did a program about things not
going right — it was a program about death. And it was one of the most
powerful shows we did. Anyone who worked on it will tell you that. But
Pat hated it because it wasn’t “prosperity!” and “everything’s going to
work out just fine!”
…we felt that the
world was going to hell and that we were afraid it would take us with
it. And so we wanted to present a different view from, a news and
information perspective, about what was taking place in the world, and
build that around a biblical perspective: that God is alive and well and
that he’s not happy with what is going on in the world.
But we used as evidence [for God’s presence] every
self-centered trick in the book. When you get into black-and-white
theology, you have to be able to explain things in a very simple way.
For example, if you believe that God rewards good Christians by making
them prosperous, and you’re not prosperous, you have to ask yourself
why. And there’s really only two answers to that question. One is that
you’re doing something wrong — a.k.a. sinning — and the other is that
somebody out there is taking what rightfully belongs to you and you’ve
got to do something about that. And that’s a pretty easy sell to human
beings — we all want what we don’t have.
And that’s really what we did.
We taught the Bible as a self-help manual. And it was
very easy to move people [doing that], because who doesn’t want to have a
sanctified self-help deal going on? [The conceit is that] you need a
personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ so that he can make
[your life] better. … I’ve learned since that, really, I think God wants
us to be better human beings, and that’s a far cry from building up
spiritual points that you can cash in for reward at the end of your
It turns out that abortion, gays and lesbians, and birth
control — they’re all about sex. Sex, more than everything else, scares
people who want their children to be safe and to live in a sanctified
world. I don’t want to overstate that, but it’s the truth.
There’s a strong sense among people that they wanted to
do something about it. And guiding them becomes an easy task — what we
gave them was Republican Party politics. We had an explanation for all
their fears — the lack of personal responsibility, big government,
people trying to take from you what really belongs to you,
self-responsibility, self-responsibility, self-responsibility. All those
things worked very well with the type of Christianity we were
all had a mission — to restore the USA to a godly nation. The fact that
all that revolves around sex — it was convenient. To me, people who tout
that all the time — they’re looking at [the biblical story of] Sodom
and Gomorrah [used by some Christians as biblical proof that God
punishes people for homosexuality]. But the Bible says that God didn’t
destroy Sodom because of their sexual sins. He destroyed them because
they didn’t take care of the poor or the afflicted.
But that message doesn’t sell when you’re trying to whip people into a political frenzy.
Pat is a politician who happens to be a minister. He grew
up as a Southern aristocrat in Virginia. His father was a US senator.
It’s in his blood, but more than that, it’s in his environment. So the
fact that he got to be a minister and was able to manipulate a
substantial audience into becoming political is actually quite an
accomplishment, whether you believe it’s a good accomplishment or a bad
[But] I just want all the people that we served
and that CBN serves today to understand the degree to which they have
been pushed into the Republican Party and the Republican Party has been
pushed to the right.
People are living, breathing, and practicing lies. And I
don’t think that doing something about it is going to come from anybody
who’s lording it over these Christians.
…regarding Pat and his relationship with
Donald Trump — I think that’s very, very scary. As smart as Pat
Robertson is, and as good as he is at marketing, he is also highly
susceptible to his own hype. In that way, Trump plays him like a piano.
If you watch his most recent interview, some of the things that Trump
says to Pat are really way out there in terms of manipulating Pat. He
builds him up like a salesman would, and Pat is susceptible to that, I
think. But he wouldn’t be susceptible if Trump didn’t speak the language
that Pat wants.
There is such fear on the right about the Supreme Court. I
remember one show that we were taping in which Pat prayed that God
would kill the Supreme Court justices. We had to stop the tape and
advise him that he couldn’t say that on TV. But that’s the way he felt.
Trump really sings Pat’s tune when it comes to the Supreme Court, also
on the issue of religious liberty. When Trump starts talking about how
Christianity is going to be “great again,” people like Pat sit up at
listen. And they’ll support him whenever necessary — even if it means
blowing up North Korea!
As an observer of the web and media for the past 20
years, I’ve noticed that the church hasn’t really been involved in the
World Wide Web. Because in terms of media development, the church — the
message of evangelicalism — has always been at the forefront [of
technology]. In the early days of radio, the church was ever-present. In
the early days of television, the church was very present. In the early
days of satellite — two of the 10 transponders on the first satellite
were owned by Christian organizations. So when the Web came along and
nobody of the faith went near it, that fact caused me to have an
epiphany, if you will. The reason they didn’t go to it is because the
web is a three-way communication street. It’s not one-way. The network
is top to bottom, but [the web] is bottom to bottom. It doesn’t need any
The pulpit is going to have to give way to [conversations between] human
beings…how they’re living life…as a believer,
whatever…and not marching in lockstep with certain beliefs, with those
who would choose to manipulate the mass market.”