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Oral Roberts
Born January 24, 1918(1918-01-24)
Ada, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died December 15, 2009 (aged 91)
Newport Beach, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Occupation Televangelist
Salary $161,872 from Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association[1]
Spouse(s) Evelyn Lutman Roberts; married 1938–2005 (her death)
Children Ronald Roberts (deceased)
Richard Roberts
Rebecca Nash (deceased)
Roberta Potts
Parents Ellis Melvin Roberts
Claudia Priscilla Roberts
(nee Irwin)

Granville Oral Roberts (January 24, 1918 – December 15, 2009)[2] was an American Pentecostal televangelist and a Christian charismatic. He was the founder of Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University.

As one of the most famous and controversial religious leaders of the 20th century, his ministries reached millions of followers worldwide over six decades.[3] His healing ministry and bringing American Pentecostalism into the mainstream had the most impact[4], but he also pioneered TV evangelism and laid the foundations of the prosperity gospel[3] and abundant life teachings.


Early life

Roberts was born in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, the fifth and youngest child of the Reverend Ellis Melvin Roberts and Claudia Priscilla Irwin (d. 1974).[5][6] According to an interview on Larry King Live, Irwin was of Cherokee descent.[7]. Roberts was a card-carrying member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.[8] Roberts began life in poverty and nearly died of tuberculosis at age 17.[9] After finishing high school, Roberts studied for two years each at Oklahoma Baptist University and Phillips University. In 1938 he married a preacher's daughter, Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock.[10]

Roberts became a traveling faith healer after ending his college studies without a degree. According to a TIME Magazine profile of 1972, Roberts originally made a name for himself with a large mobile tent "that sat 3,000 on metal folding chairs" where "he shouted at petitioners who did not respond to his healing."[11]

Ministry and university

Roberts was a pioneer televangelist (he began broadcasting his revivals by television in 1954)[3][12] and attracted a vast viewership.

1947 came as a turning point. Up until that time Roberts had struggled as a part-time preacher in Oklahoma. But at the age of 29 he picked up his Bible and it fell open at the Third Epistle of John where verse two read: "I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." Roberts decided immediately that it was all right to be rich. The next day he bought a Buick and God appeared, he said, telling him to heal the sick.[13]

Roberts resigned his pastoral ministry with the Pentecostal Holiness Church to found Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA). He conducted evangelistic and faith healing crusades across America and around the world. Thousands of sick people would wait in line to stand before Oral Roberts so he could pray for them. He appeared as a guest speaker for hundreds of national and international meetings and conventions. Through the years, he conducted more than 300 crusades on six continents, and personally laid hands in prayer on more than 2 million people,[9][14] even though on several occasions people died at his healing prayer sessions.[13] He also ran direct mail campaigns of seed-faith, which appealed to poor Americans, often from ethnic minorities. At its peak in the early 1980s, Roberts was the leader of a $120 million-a-year organization employing 2,300 people. This spanned not only a university but also a medical school and hospital as well as buildings on 50 acres south of Tulsa valued at $500 million.[3][13] Another part of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, the Abundant Life Prayer Group, was founded in 1958.

The Praying Hands, on the ORU campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 1963 he founded Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, stating he was obeying a command from God. The university was chartered during 1963 and received its first students in 1965. Students were required to sign an honor code pledging not to drink, smoke, or engage in premarital sexual activities. The Prayer Tower, opened in 1967, is located at the center of the campus.

Roberts had a vast impact on the Protestant community. According to one authority, in conservative Protestant culture, his ministry had a worldwide impact second only to Billy Graham[15]. His divine healing ministry called for prayer to heal the whole person — body, mind and spirit. Many labeled him a faith healer, but he rejected this with the comment: "God heals — I don't."[4][15] He played a major role in bringing American Pentecostal Christianity into the mainstream.[16] From 1968 through 1987, Roberts was a member of the United Methodist Church’s ministry.[17][18] Even though Roberts is often associated with the prosperity gospel and the faith movement because of his close doctrinal and personal ties with Word-Faith teachers, his abundant life teachings do not fully identify him with that movement.[19]

In 1977, Roberts claimed to have had a vision from a 900-foot-tall Jesus who told him to build City of Faith Medical and Research Center, and the hospital would be a success.[20][21][22] In 1980, Roberts said he had a vision which encouraged him to continue the construction of his City of Faith Medical and Research Center in Oklahoma, which opened in 1981. At the time, it was among the largest health facilities of its kind in the world and was intended to merge prayer and medicine in the healing process. The City of Faith operated for only eight years before closing in late 1989. The Orthopedic Hospital of Oklahoma still operates on its premises. In 1983 Roberts said Jesus had appeared to him in person and commissioned him to find a cure for cancer.[23][24]

Roberts' fundraising was controversial. In January 1987, during a fundraising drive, Roberts announced to a television audience that unless he raised $8 million by that March, God would "call him home." [25][26] Some were fearful that he was referring to suicide, given the impassioned pleas and tears that accompanied his statement. He raised $9.1 million.[27] Later that year, he announced that God had raised the dead through Roberts' ministry.[28] Some of Roberts' fundraising letters were written by Gene Ewing, who heads a business writing donation letters for other evangelicals such as Don Stewart and Robert Tilton.[29]

Roberts maintained his love of good things and one obituary claimed that even when times become hard, "he continued to wear his Italian silk suits, diamond rings and gold bracelets – airbrushed out by his staff on publicity pictures".[13][17]

The CityPlex office complex, originally built as Oral Roberts' City of Faith Medical and Research Center in Tulsa.

He stirred up controversy when Time reported in 1987 that his son Richard Roberts claimed that he had seen his father raise a child from the dead.[30] That year, the Bloom County comic strip recast its character Bill the Cat as a satirized televangelist, "Fundamentally Oral Bill." In 1987 Time stated that he was "re-emphasizing faith healing and [is] reaching for his old-time constituency."[30] However, his income continued to decrease (from $88 million in 1980 to $55 million in 1986, according to the Tulsa Tribune) and his largely vacant City of Faith Medical Center continued to lose money.[30]

Harry McNevin said that in 1988 the ORU Board of Regents "rubber-stamped" the "use of millions in endowment money to buy a Beverly Hills property so that Oral Roberts could have a West Coast office and house".[31] In addition, he said a country club membership was purchased for the Roberts' home. The lavish expenses led to McNevin's resignation from the Board.

Scandals persisted through the 1980s as fraudulent healing practices were exposed. His organizations were also affected by scandals involving other televangelists[2] and the City of Faith hospital was forced to close in 1989 after losing money. Roberts was forced to respond with the sale of his holiday homes in Palm Springs and Beverly Hills as well as three of his Mercedes cars.[13]

Richard Roberts resigned from the presidency of ORU on November 23, 2007 after being named as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging improper use of university funds for political and personal purposes, and improper use of university resources.[32][33] The university was given a donation of $8 million by entrepreneur Mart Green, and although the lawsuit was still in process,[34] the school submitted to an outside audit, and with a good report an additional $62 million was given by Green.[35][36] Oral Roberts continued in his role as ORU chancellor, helping in the leadership of ORU along with Billy Joe Daugherty, who was named as the executive regent to assume administrative responsibilities of the Office of the President by the ORU Board of Regents.[37] Oral Roberts, the ORU founder and chancellor, in 2009 eleven months before his death, handed over the leadership of ORU to its incoming president, Mark Rutland.[38]

Even though Roberts' prosperous lifestyle, unorthodox fund-raising techniques, and the expanse of his organizations raised criticism and controversy, there was no credible evidence of malfeasance while he was in charge,[3] he did not have sex-and-money scandals like some other televangelists[4], and he was not named among the six prosperity teachers in the financial investigations launched by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in 2007.[39] The Oklahoma Senate adopted a resolution honoring the life of Oral Roberts, and he accepted this honor in 2009 at the age of 91, seven months before his death.[40] The legacy he left behind upon his passing was worthy of his favorite quote: "Make No Small Plans Here."[41]

Personal life

Roberts was married to Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock (April 22, 1917 - May 4, 2005) from December 25, 1938 until her death from pneumonia in a Southern California hospital at the age of 88.[42][43] Their daughter Rebecca Nash died in an airplane crash on February 11, 1977 with her husband, businessman Marshall Nash.[44] Their elder son Ronald committed suicide by shooting himself in June 1982, five months after receiving a court order to undergo counseling at a drug treatment center.[45] The other two Roberts children are still living — son Richard, a well-known evangelist and former president of Oral Roberts University (ORU), and daughter Roberta Potts, an attorney.

Oral Roberts died on December 15, 2009[46] at the age of 91. He had been "semi-retired" and living in Newport Beach, California.[47]

According to a 1987 article in the New York Review of Books by Martin Gardner, the "most accurate and best documented biography is Oral Roberts: An American Life, an objective study by David Harrell Jr., a historian at Auburn University. Two out-of-print books take a more critical stance: James Morris' The Preachers (St. Martin's Press, 1973) and Jerry Sholes' Give Me That Prime-Time Religion (Hawthorn, 1979)."[48]

See also


  1. ^ "Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association". Charity Navigator. October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  2. ^ a b Juozapavicius, Justin (December 15, 2009). "Evangelist Oral Roberts Dead At 91". The Associated Press.,0,1217900.story. Retrieved December 15, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Schneider, Keith (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts, Fiery Preacher, Dies at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Olsen, Ted (December 16, 2009). "Why the Oral Roberts Obituaries Are Wrong". Christianity Today. Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  5. ^ Ancestry of Oral Roberts
  6. ^ "Oral Roberts's Mother Dies". The New York Times. 1974-04-19. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  7. ^ "Interview With Lennox Lewis; Interview With Oral Roberts (transcript)". Larry King Live. January 31, 2002. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  8. ^ Website of the Cherokee Community of Central California [1], retrieved December 19, 2009
  9. ^ a b Arnett, David (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts Dies". Tulsa Today. Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
  10. ^ Evelyn Lutman Roberts - Find A Grave Memorial
  11. ^ "Oral's Progress". Time. February 7, 1972.,9171,905738-1,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  12. ^ Infoplease bio
  13. ^ a b c d e Christopher, Reed (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts obituary". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
  14. ^ Behrens, Zach (quoting press release of December 15, 2009). "Evangelist Dr. Oral Roberts Dies at 91 in Newport Beach". LAist. Retrieved December 19, 2009. 
  15. ^ a b Juozapavicius, Justin (December 15, 2009). "Evangelist Oral Roberts dies in Calif. at age 91". Associated Press. Retrieved January 10, 2010. 
  16. ^ Gorski, Eric (December 16, 2009). "Evangelist Oral Roberts leaves a complex legacy". Associated Press. Retrieved January 17, 2010. 
  17. ^ a b "Oral Roberts". Telegraph (UK). December 16, 2009. Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  18. ^ Website of Good News magazine [2], adapted from Oral Roberts’ autobiography, retrieved December 24, 2009
  19. ^ Reid, Daniel G.; Linder, Robert Dean; Shelley, Bruce L.; Stout, Harry S. (1990), Dictionary of Christianity in America, Westmont, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, ISBN 978-0830817764 
  20. ^ Ideas and Trends: Oral Roberts's Word on Cancer", New York Times, January 30, 1983
  21. ^ "Oral Roberts' Ministry Hits a 'Low Spot'", "Dallas Morning News", January 5, 1986
  22. ^ "Oral Roberts tells of talking to 900-foot Jesus", Tulsa World, October 16, 1980, 
  23. ^ Time, July 4, 1983
  24. ^ "Oral Roberts Seeking Millions for Holy Mission Against Cancer", Washington Post, January 22, 1983
  25. ^ Randi, James (1989), The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-369-2 and ISBN 0-87975-535-0  pages 186
  26. ^ Ostling, Richard (July 13, 1987). "Raising Eyebrows and the Dead". Time.,9171,964970,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  27. ^ 'Oral Roberts: "God will call me home"'
  28. ^ Randi, James (1989), The Faith Healers, Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-369-2 and ISBN 0-87975-535-0  p. 192
  29. ^ "Direct-market evangelist brings in millions lawyer says it all goes". Dallas Morning News. March 10, 1996.,0ED3D68534F95845.html. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  30. ^ a b c Ostling, Richard (February 7, 1972). "Raising Eyebrows and the Dead". Time.,9171,964970,00.html. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  31. ^ Juozapavicius, Justin (November 8, 2007). "Oral Roberts' Son Accused of Misspending". The Washington Post (Associated Press). Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  32. ^ "Roberts resigns as ORU president", Tulsa World, November 23, 2007.
  33. ^ Ziva Branstetter, "Roberts resigns", Tulsa World, November 24, 2007.
  34. ^ "ORU Lawsuit". Tulsa World. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Oral Roberts University takes $62M gift". USA Today. January 15, 2008. 
  36. ^ Marciszewski, April (February 14, 2008). "ORU moves to trim its debt". Tulsa World. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  37. ^ "Roberts takes ORU leave", Tulsa World, 17 October 2007, retrieved 18 October 2007
  38. ^ Sherman, Bill and Muchmore, Shannon (January 30, 2009). "New ORU president says he has founder's blessing". Tulsa World. Retrieved January 9, 2010. 
  39. ^ Kwon, Lillian (December 19, 2007). "Grassley Still Waiting on Preachers Under Financial Scrutiny". The Christian Post. Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  40. ^ "Oklahoma Senate Honors Oral Roberts". Associated Press. May 7, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2010. 
  41. ^ Cooke, Phil; "Oral Roberts and Me: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It";
  42. ^ "Evelyn Roberts". Oral Roberts University. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  43. ^ Oral Roberts dies
  44. ^ - The Crash of Navajo #838
  45. ^ "Oral Roberts's Son, 37, Found Shot Dead in Car". New York Times. June 10, 1982. Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  46. ^ "Oral Roberts Dies at Age 91". 
  47. ^ "Oral Roberts' son, his wife face scandal at university". Los Angeles Times. October 5, 2007.,1,7279421.story?track=rss. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  48. ^ Gardner, Martin (August 13, 1987). "Giving God a Hand". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2007-10-18. 

Further reading

About Roberts
By Roberts
  • The Call: An autobiography. by Oral Roberts, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1972.
  • Expect a miracle: my life and ministry. by Oral Roberts, Nashville : T. Nelson, 1995.ISBN 0785277528
  • Oral Roberts' life story, as told by himself. by Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1952.

External links

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