Robison was born and raised in Pasadena, Texas; a suburb of Houston. Robison's mother, Myra Wattinger, was 40 years old at the time she gave birth to him. Robison has revealed that he was the product of rape and that his mother placed an ad in the Houston newspaper for a Christian couple to take care of him.
E.D. Hale, a local area pastor, and his wife answered the ad and took Robison in, after which he became "born again" at one of Hale's church services at the age of 14. He has talked often about his childhood, about the strained relationship with his biological father, who was an alcoholic, and whom he would wind up confronting in a violent manner at the age of 15. Robison eventually met his wife, Betty Freeman, while a student at Pasadena High School, and they wed on February 23, 1963, when both were 20. Two years later, in 1965, the couple graduated with honors from Middle Tennessee State University. The couple, who now host the daily television program LIFE Today, started their ministry together in late 1965 and then went into full-time television ministry, through the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, in 1968. James and Betty have three children and 11 grandchildren, and reside in Fort Worth, where their program LIFE Today and their ministry LIFE Outreach are based. They lost their daughter Robin to throat cancer in 2013.
In 1979, Robison lost his regular slot on WFAA-TV in Dallas for preaching a sermon calling homosexuality a sin. He'd already made a name for himself when he called "for God's people to come out of the closet" and take back the nation. In response, Robison organized a "Freedom Rally" at newly built Reunion Arena that attracted 10,000 people. According to Mike Huckabee, who was Robison's communications director at the time, that rally was the genesis of Moral Majority.
Robison eventually rose to become one of the more prominent and popular conservative religious leaders in politics during the early 1980s. Some suggested he could, in time, inherit the vaunted mantle held by Reverend Graham. However, in the mid of the 1980s, Robison abruptly withdrew from his political activities. He instead began focusing on his own church community, on church unity, and on seeking forgiveness.
By his own admission, his demanding schedule had consumed him, and the popularity he had so quickly achieved, together with an increasing desire for more such admiration, had changed him into someone he no longer recognized and did not like. This opinion was held doubly by his wife, Betty. He has since identified with the charismatic movement; he and Betty attend Gateway Church, a large charismatic church in Southlake.
Recently, however, Robison has become active in social conservative circles once again. In 2010, he convened a meeting in Dallas with several prominent conservative religious leaders, including Richard Land and Tony Perkins, in order to make plans to replace Barack Obama with a more socially conservative president in 2012.
The Robisons' TV program, the daily television program LIFE Today, airs around the world on various television networks, both secular and Christian, such as Trinity Broadcasting Network, and DayStar. It can also be seen on internet podcasts, as well as the Life Outreach International official website. LIFE Today often features guest interviews, musical guests such as Christian recording artists Sandi Patti, Steven Curtis Chapman, Larnelle Harris, as well as mission outreaches. Past guests have included actor Robert Duvall, singer Randy Travis, former President George W. Bush, baseball pitcher Andy Pettitte and other Christian celebrities. It also features real stories from various guest viewers; people who are ministry partners, their life stories, how they converted to Christ, and how their faith impacts their lives. The third-world mission outreaches include distributing emergency food, drilling water wells, establishing orphanages, rescuing girls from sex trafficking, and providing medical care.
In 1974, the James Robison Evangelistic Association purchased a hunting and fishing lodge near Hawkins, Texas, which the association developed into Brookhaven Retreat, a not-for-profit Christian camp and retreat center, still in operation today under different management.
Since 1962, while he was still in college, Robison has spoken to millions of people—first through crusade evangelism, and now today through television. He has authored more than a dozen books, including True Prosperity, Thank God I'm Free and My Father's Face. His book The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope (Tyndale House), Living In Love (Waterbrook Multnomah), Indivisible (Hachette), and "God of All Creation" (Waterbrook Multnomah).