Oral Roberts (1918-2009)

Oral Roberts has died. He was a famous television evangelist and the founder of Oral Roberts University. He was an advocate of “prosperity theology”, which claims that if you’re faithful, God will reward you with material wealth. Roberts also claimed to be able to heal people through prayer. Strange to say, none of the obituaries that I’ve read mention what, to me, is the most interesting thing about him: he saw a 900-foot tall Jesus (or at least that’s what he said.) And he saw Him more than once. The second time, Roberts was having trouble raising money for a medical center he wanted to build. (If he could cure people by praying, what did he need a medical center for?) According to the Tulsa World, when Roberts talked about his problems, the 900-foot Jesus said, “I told you that I would speak to your partners and, through them, I would build it!” (The wording here suggests to me that Jesus felt that Oral was starting to nag him.) I don’t know about you, but if a 900-foot tall Jesus showed up at my door and told me to give money to Oral Roberts, I don’t think I would be in a position to say “No”.

To me, there is something quintessentially American about all this. I doubt that it ever occurred to Bernadette Soubirous that her accounts of meeting Mary would have sounded more impressive if she said that the Holy Virgin was 900 feet tall. A predilection for gigantism seems characteristic of Roberts. In the 1980’s he built the City of Faith Medical Center, which included a 60-story building, in Tulsa, Oklahoma; even though the local medical community said it wasn’t needed. It went out of business in 1989. (When he was raising funds for the place in 1987, Roberts told people God would kill him if he didn’t raise the necessary money. It seems that God doesn’t mess around.)

Out of curiosity, I went to the website of Oral Roberts University. What do they teach at a Pentecostal Christian university? I found that they have colleges of Art and Cultural Studies, Business, Nursing, and Theology. I’m pleased to find that they also have a college of Science, though it is unclear whether they teach evolution – or geology, for that matter. Discussing the accomplishments of the school’s graduates, the website notes: “One of our recent French language students was hired by the CIA.” That’s not something I would brag about.

In 2007, ORU was the scene of a scandal involving Roberts’s son, Richard Roberts, who was then president of the university, as well as Richard’s wife, Lindsay. According to the Associated Press:

    Richard Roberts is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors’ expense, including numerous home remodeling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter’s senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife, Lindsay.

    Lindsay Roberts is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as “underage males.”

Maybe they thought that God was rewarding them for being faithful. Just a suggestion.

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