On March 29 2023, amid escalating attacks on transgender people, journalist Miguel Petrosky shared a clip of far-right televangelist and disinformation purveyor Pat Robertson purportedly espousing a message of tolerance:
Petrosky also observed “how conservative Christian outrage is selective and sometimes fluid.” That particular assertion emerged during discourse over the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, highlighted in articles about the evolution of evangelical politics and abortion:
The history of [the anti-abortion] movement, however, is more complicated. White evangelicals in the 1970s did not mobilize against Roe v. Wade, which they considered a Catholic issue. They organized instead to defend racial segregation in evangelical institutions, including Bob Jones University.
To suggest otherwise is to perpetrate what I call the abortion myth, the fiction that the genesis of the Religious Right — the powerful evangelical political movement that has reshaped American politics over the past four decades — lay in opposition to abortion.
The historical record is clear. In 1968, Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, organized a conference with the Christian Medical Society to discuss the morality of abortion. The gathering attracted 26 heavyweight theologians from throughout the evangelical world, who debated the matter over several days and then issued a statement acknowledging the ambiguities surrounding the issue, which, they said, allowed for many different approaches.
“Whether the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed,” the statement read, “but about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord.”
When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and sometime president of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued a statement praising the ruling. “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” Criswell declared, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
As for the clip of Robertson, it was just under 90 seconds long and began with a viewer’s question transcribed on the screen:
“I work with two people who have decided that they are females. I know what the Bible says about homosexuality, but is it wrong to refer to them as females since they’ve had their gender status changed in the eyes of the law?” –David
At the beginning of the clip, a woman read out the question displayed on the screen. The remainder of the segment primarily consisted of Robertson’s response; which began:
“I don’t understand all that, but, um, I think there are men who are in a woman’s body? It’s very rare, but it’s true — or [there are] women that are in men’s bodies, and, um they — they want a, uh, sex change.
“And that is a very permanent thing, believe me, when you have certain body parts amputated, and you have shot up with various kinds of hormones, it’s a radical procedure. Uh, I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that, I don’t condemn somebody for doing that … but somebody who just says ‘well, I’m really a woman, I — I question the validity of that statement … [stammering] … you don’t count someone as female unless they really are, or male, unless they really are.”
Robertson’s co-host appeared to concur with his assessment. She responded:
” … [And] in this instance, so this [question was posed by a] person who works with two people. So he doesn’t really know their intentions, or know their personal medical scenario …”
At that point, both hosts prepared to answer a completely different viewer question. Robertson ended his statements on transgender people, concluding:
“It’s not for you to decide or judge, all right?”
Robertson’s statement did not go unnoticed when it aired; libertarian-leaning Reason magazine described it as “fairly progressive.” In July 2013, the Huffington Post tweeted a link to an article about the segment, reporting:
Pat Robertson has said a lot of shocking things, but his latest comment about the transgender community might be the most surprising yet.
The 83-year-old televangelist sat down on [July 28 2013] for the “Bring It Online” advice portion of his Christian Broadcasting Network show, “The 700 Club.” A viewer named David wrote in asking how he should refer to two transgender females who work in his office and have legally changed their genders. Instead of criticizing the trans individuals, Robertson approached the situation in a seemingly level-headed manner … The remarks from Robertson — who has ranted about [gay people], Muslims and demons in Goodwill sweaters — were applauded by various blogs.
On March 29 2023, Twitter video of right-wing evangelist Pat Robertson discussing transgender people in 2013 spread virally. The video was real, unaltered, and accurately described. The segment originally aired on July 28 2013, and shows Robertson telling a viewer: “It’s not for you to decide or judge, alright?”