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Robertson Finds Success Means Increased Scrutiny : His Prayer Diverted Hurricane, He Insists

February 14, 1988|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential hopeful Pat Robertson insists that his prayers did divert a killer hurricane from his religious broadcasting headquarters in Virginia, says he "absolutely" has heard God speak and declares that he would not have hesitated to kill Moammar Kadafi for the Libyan leader's involvement in terrorism.

In addition, Robertson says during a new television interview that he would resign as the nation's chief executive if a conflict were to arise between his "deeply held religious beliefs" and his constitutional oath of office as President.

Although Robertson has been playing down his background as a religious broadcaster since entering the race for the Republican presidential nomination, in an interview with British journalist David Frost that was scheduled to be broadcast early today, he spoke seriously and forcefully on praying for miracles, faith healing, the practice of speaking in tongues and other religious issues.

Robertson's remarks are likely to add new fuel to the controversy that has surrounded his entry into the political arena after a long career as a fundamentalist Protestant religious leader.

Until now, much of the controversy surrounding Robertson has sprung from statements and actions in his past. The Frost interview will provide fresh material for the arguments.

Interviewed shortly before his surprise second-place finish in Iowa ahead of Vice President George Bush, Robertson declared that if elected President he would not preach from the White House because "I'm not running for chief pastor, I'm running for chief executive officer."

In remarks reflecting his views on morality and public policy questions, Robertson said that despite the biblical injunction against killing, "I wouldn't have hesitated to kill" Kadafi because "he's a madman and he was a terrorist and . . . he declared war on the United States. . . . "

'Must Be Moral Leader'

When asked whether marital infidelity should disqualify a candidate for President, Robertson said it should--unless it had happened some years ago. "I think the President must be a moral leader. . . . And I think it's a legitimate question: Are you now--or recently have you been--running around with a bunch of bimbos?" he said.

Robertson also said: "But I think what happened 20 years, 10 years, 30 years ago, that's nobody's business."

Smiling and at times laughing as Frost gently pressed him on his controversial religious background, Robertson at one point said that former President Richard M. Nixon had told him: " 'You can be as fanatical as you want to, just do it in private.' "

Robertson, laughing loudly, said: "That maybe is a bit too pragmatic, of course."

Part of 'President' Series

The hourlong Robertson program is part of "The Next President" series jointly produced by Frost and U.S. News & World Report.

In the interview, Robertson, who has long asserted that his prayers spared Virginia Beach, Va., and his Christian Broadcasting Network from destruction by Hurricane Gloria in September, 1985, said he knew he would be "laughed at by people all across the country" and "I knew I could just as easily keep my mouth shut and let the thing hit and not get involved."

But he said that he "couldn't allow that loss of life" and, therefore, led about a million people watching his television program in prayers that sent the hurricane "harmlessly out to sea."

"And indeed, the way that one prays when dealing with natural events," he said, "is not only to ask God, but to speak to the element.

'No Other Explanation'

"So it was, of course, a miracle. . . . There's no other explanation," he said. "The newspaper the next day said we were very lucky. Well, I don't think it was lucky. I think it was divine intervention."

Residents of the Long Island, N.Y., area "should have prayed too," Robertson said, because Hurricane Gloria, after veering out to sea, swept back inland and caused 6 deaths as well as almost $300 million worth of damage in what New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo called "the most devastating natural disaster" in the state's history.

Robertson said he had "no control over what happened next" after his prayers caused God to spare Virginia Beach. There's nothing "unholy" about self-interest, he said, and when a hurricane is headed your way, "you just pray for your family and loved ones at that moment and leave the consequences, the rest of it, in his hands."

Questioned on God's Voice

When asked if he had "absolutely known" at times that it was God's voice and not his own idea that he was hearing when, he has said, he was inspired to take such steps as expanding his television ministry, Robertson declared:

"Absolutely. On a few very rare occasions I have absolutely known, but it's not something that would just be happening all the time. Along the way I pray that God will give wisdom. But I don't just go out bouncing around like a Ping Pong ball thinking I've heard voices or something."

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