Pat Robertson resigns from Christian Coalition to spent more time on ministry

Thursday, December 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) _ Pat Robertson stepped down as leader of the Christian Coalition after more than a decade in charge of the conservative organization, saying he wants to spend more time on his ministry.

``People come and people go. It's a good thing for leaders to step down and others, younger, to come and take their place. I don't see this as anything but positive for the Coalition,'' Robertson, 71, said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Christian Broadcasting Network headquarters in Virginia Beach.

Robertson founded the Christian Coalition in Chesapeake, Va., in 1989, a year after his failed bid for the Republican nomination for president. The coalition became a major force in GOP politics in the 1990s by mobilizing conservative voters through grass roots activities.

In his resignation letter to the coalition's board of directors, Robertson wrote that the organization had fulfilled all of its 10-year goals established in 1990.

He said the coalition was pivotal in the election of Christian conservatives nationwide and ``without us, I do not believe George Bush would be sitting in the White House or that Republicans would be in control of the United States House of Representatives.''

But Stephen Medvic, a political analyst at Old Dominion University, said the group lacked a high profile in last year's presidential race and in the governor's race this year in Virginia, which Republicans lost.

Robertson's resignation as coalition president is ``symbolic of the decline of the Christian Coalition,'' Medvic said. ``The person who founded it is leaving it, and not even leaving it in a position where they clearly have a larger voice than, say, five years ago or even 10 years ago.''

The coalition's board elected Roberta Combs, who had been executive vice president since late 1999, to succeed Robertson as president.

Combs pledged to train and mobilize grass-roots activists nationwide, and to continue the coalition's distribution of voter guides and congressional scorecards prior to the 2002 elections.

``Two years ago, people were writing our obituary, saying we were no longer a force,'' Combs said. ``I think the 2000 election proved differently. You can't be as active and as involved as we were and not be a force.''

She also said she expects to seek advice from Robertson as she leads the organization and its 1.5 million supporters and donors.

Robertson said he's happy to provide advice to Combs, and that he will continue to be concerned about public affairs and to comment on them on his ''700 Club'' television program. He founded the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1960.

Robertson rallied fundamentalist Christians to politics, even though his campaign for the presidency in 1988 ultimately fizzled after he stunned a sitting vice president, George Bush, in the Iowa caucuses. Robertson built a movement that wrested control of many state party organizations from moderates, and helped Republicans seize power in the U.S. House in 1994.

Robertson's influence began to wane in the late 1990s, however, and in the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush declined to court Roberton's support, instead reaching out to moderate and swing voters.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Robertson drew criticism for agreeing with the Rev. Jerry Falwell during a broadcast when Falwell said the attacks happened because Americans had insulted God by allowing abortion, feminism and pornography.

Falwell later apologized, and Robertson released a statement calling Falwell's remarks ``severe and harsh in tone.'' It said he had ``not fully understood'' the on-air comment. Previously, Robertson had released a statement saying terrorism ``is happening because God Almighty is lifting his protection from us'' because of abortion and ``rampant Internet pornography.''