In the American South, evangelical Christianity is a looming presence. Drive through any small town in the South and you’ll see more churches than restaurants. And it’s not just churches: many of us have relatives who watch televangelists and other Christian programming on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. It’s almost impossible for a politician to get elected, even for a minor office, without at least doing lip service to evangelical Christian beliefs (even if their actions do not match up with their words). What Flannery O’Connor said back in 1960 still rings true today: “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
That continued haunting is due in large part to the influence of televangelism. One of the early pioneers of modern televangelism is Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), whose daily TV show, The 700 Club, broadcasts in 138 countries and claims a million weekday viewers and 11,000 daily callers to its prayer line. A new book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP, is by Terry Heaton, who worked side-by-side with Pat Robertson for several years during the 1980’s, becoming the executive producer of The 700 Club. This is a fascinating inside look at the inner workings of CBN during a time when Pat Robinson and others made a conscious effort to move evangelical voters closer to the Republican Party – and the GOP itself further to the right.