Saving America's Soul: Religion and Politics at Pat Robertson's Church Kempsville Presbyterian Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia, March 23, 2003

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Saving America's Soul: Religion and Politics at Pat Robertson's Church Kempsville Presbyterian Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia, March 23, 2003

When televangelist Pat Robertson and his family relocated in 1959 to the Tidewater area of Virginia, the rapidly growing region was known for its beach-side resorts and its military bases. Its resorts are no longer so prominent, but Robertson has helped make the area a center of conservative Christianity. In 1960 he established the Christian Broadcasting Network, which now reaches a worldwide audience with such well-known programs as "The 700 Club," a news-format broadcast that he anchors. In 1977 he founded a Christian graduate school, originally named CBN University and now called Regent University, of which he is president and chancellor. In 1990 he began the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative counterpart to the American Civil Liberties Union. And since 1989 his Christian Coalition, which he describes as a "pro-family citizen action organization," has sought to "teach Christians effective citizenship, and to promote Christian values in government." It has also lobbied actively against conceding any part of modern Israel to the Palestinians, on the grounds that "God's chosen people" have reclaimed the "promised land" according to biblical prophecy.

Robertson and his institutions are controversial-not only among political and religious liberals but also among moderate conservatives. Speaking in Virginia Beach in 2000, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, described Robertson as an "agent of intolerance." Robertson's views, he declared, exist in the "outer reaches of American politics."

Kempsville Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach is Robertson's church and proclaims his religious and political message. Only a few miles from the dual campus of Regent University and CBN, it counts among its members many Regent University staff and students, numerous employees of CBN (including its president and chief operating officer), and Pat Robertson's wife, Dede. According to a member of the church staff, Robertson attends the church on "special occasions." A visitor to the church is given to understand that because Robertson constantly receives threats to his safety, he worships privately on most Sundays.

Kempsville Presbyterian Church was founded in 1962 in affiliation with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the largest Presbyterian body in the United States. In 1980 the congregation voted to affiliate itself instead with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The latter denomination was formed in 1980 by disgruntled members of mainline churches who were determined to jettison certain "corrupt" doctrines and practices in favor of what they considered pure New Testament standards. It characterizes itself as evangelical because of its view of scripture as "infallible, totally trustworthy and fully inspired" and its three-fold concern for proselytizing, achieving a personal relationship with God, and undergoing an emotional religious experience. It describes itself as "presbyterian" because of its Calvinistic beliefs and its governance by presbyters or elders. Today the EPC claims 65,000 active members and 190 congregations. It has eight presbyteries in the United States and one in Argentina.

Kempsville Presbyterian Church stands adjacent to one of many strip-mall-style shopping centers common to its part of Virginia Beach. Entering the parking lot on 23 March 2003-the first Sunday following the start of the second war in Iraq-a visitor notices that nearly every vehicle bears an American flag (and sometimes two flags), usually in the form of a large magnet or bumper sticker. Other bumper stickers offer such messages as "Pray for our troops, join Operation Prayer Shield"; "I proudly pledge allegiance to one Nation under God"; and "God Bless America, But Will America Bless God?"

In the style of many contemporary evangelical churches, the church building is plain, emphasizing function over form. …

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