Oral Roberts

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Oral Roberts
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Granville Oral Roberts

(1918-01-24)January 24, 1918
DiedDecember 15, 2009(2009-12-15) (aged 91)
NationalityChoctaw, United States
EducationOklahoma Baptist University
Occupation Evangelist
Years active19471993
Evelyn Lutman
(m. 1938;her death 2005)
Children4; including Richard Roberts
Church Pentecostal
Congregations served
Pentecostal Holiness Church
United Methodist Church
Offices held
Founder and President, Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association;
Co-founder, President, and Chancellor, Oral Roberts University
Website www.oralroberts.com/oralroberts/

Granville Oral Roberts (January 24, 1918 – December 15, 2009 [1] [2] ) was an American Charismatic Christian televangelist, ordained in both the Pentecostal Holiness and United Methodist churches. He is considered the godfather of the charismatic movement and one of the most recognized preachers worldwide. [3] He founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University.

Charismatic Christianity is a form of Christianity that emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and modern-day miracles as an everyday part of a believer's life. Practitioners are often called Charismatic Christians or Renewalists. Although there is considerable overlap, Charismatic Christianity is often categorized into three separate groups: Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movement and Neo-charismatic movement. According to the Pew Research Center, Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians numbered over 584 million or a quarter of the world's 2 billion Christians in 2011.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers.


Televangelism is the use of media, specifically radio and television, to communicate Christianity. Televangelists are Christian ministers, whether official or self-proclaimed, who devote a large portion of their ministry to television broadcasting. Some televangelists are also regular pastors or ministers in their own places of worship, but the majority of their followers come from TV and radio audiences. Others do not have a conventional congregation, and work primarily through television. The term is also used derisively by critics as an insinuation of aggrandizement by such ministers.


As one of the most well-known and controversial American religious leaders of the 20th century, his preaching emphasized seed-faith . [4] His ministries reached millions of followers worldwide spanning a period of over six decades. [5] His healing ministry and bringing American Pentecostalism into the mainstream had the most impact, [6] but he also pioneered televangelism and laid the foundations of the prosperity gospel [5] and abundant life teachings. [7] The breadth and style of his ministry, including his widely publicized funding appeals, made him a consistent subject of contention among critics and supporters. [5]

Pentecostalism Renewal movement within Protestant Christianity

Pentecostalism or Classical Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

"Abundant life" is a term used to refer to Christian teachings on fullness of life. It is not an organized movement or a unique doctrine, but a name applied to the teachings and expectations of the groups and people who follow the teachings. Abundant life teachings may include expectations of prosperity and health, but may also include other forms of fullness of life when faced with adverse circumstances.

Early life

Granville Oral Roberts was born on January 24, 1918, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, the fifth and youngest child of the Reverend Ellis Melvin Roberts (18811967) and Claudia Priscilla Roberts (née Irwin) (18851974). [8] According to an interview on Larry King Live , Roberts was of Cherokee descent. [9] Roberts was a card-carrying member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. [10] Roberts began life in poverty and nearly died of tuberculosis at age 17. [11] 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.

Pontotoc County, Oklahoma County in the United States

Pontotoc County is in the south central part of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the population was 37,492. Its county seat is Ada. The county was created at statehood from part of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory. It was named for a historic Chickasaw tribal area in Mississippi. According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Pontotoc is usually translated "cattail prairie" or "land of hanging grapes."

<i>Larry King Live</i> television program

Larry King Live is an American talk show that was hosted by Larry King on CNN from 1985 to 2010. It was CNN's most watched and longest-running program, with over one million viewers nightly.

The Cherokee are one of the indigenous people of the Southeastern Woodlands of the United States. Prior to the 18th century, they were concentrated in what is now southwestern North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee, and the tips of western South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.

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". [12]

Ministry and university

In 1945, Roberts resigned his pastorate in Shawnee, Oklahoma to hold revivals in the area and attend Oklahoma Baptist. But in the late summer of 1945, while preaching in a North Carolina camp meeting, Roberts was asked by Robert E. "Daddy" Lee of Toccoa, Georgia to consider becoming pastor of his small, eighty-member church. Roberts suggested they pray about it, and unexpectedly, decided to accept. By the end of the year, Roberts resigned and moved back to Shawnee. Apparently, the Georgia conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church frowned on having a minister from outside its conference as pastor. Short though it was, the Toccoa detour had a lasting effect on Roberts and his family. It was there that their daughter Rebecca, then five years old, first met her future husband, Marshall. There were also reportedly two instances of healing, which Roberts would later look back on as his first realization "that I was approaching 'my hour'." [13]

Shawnee, Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, United States

Shawnee is a city in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 31,543 in 2014, a 4.9 percent increase from 28,692 at the 2000 census. The city is part of the Oklahoma City-Shawnee Combined Statistical Area; it is also the county seat of Pottawatomie County and the principal city of the Shawnee Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Toccoa, Georgia City in Georgia, United States

Toccoa is a city in, and the county seat of, Stephens County, Georgia, United States, located about 50 miles (80 km) from Athens and about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Atlanta. The population was 8,491 as of the 2010 census.

International Pentecostal Holiness Church

The International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) or simply Pentecostal Holiness Church (PHC) is a Pentecostal Christian denomination founded in 1911 with the merger of two older denominations. Historically centered in the Southeastern United States, particularly the Carolinas and Georgia, the Pentecostal Holiness Church now has an international presence. In 2000, the church reported a worldwide membership of over one million—over three million including affiliates.

1947 was a turning point. Up until that time, Roberts struggled as a part-time preacher in Oklahoma. But at the age of 29, Roberts said, 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." The next day, he said, he bought a Buick and God appeared, directing him to heal the sick. [14]

Third Epistle of John book of the Bible

The Third Epistle of John, often referred to as Third John and written 3 John or III John, is the antepenultimate book of the New Testament and attributed to John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles of John. The Third Epistle of John is a private letter composed to a man named Gaius, recommending to him a group of Christians led by Demetrius, which had come to preach the gospel in the area where Gaius lived. The purpose of the letter is to encourage and strengthen Gaius, and to warn him against Diotrephes, who refuses to cooperate with the author of the letter.

Buick is a division of the American automobile manufacturer General Motors (GM). It was among the first American marques of automobiles, and was the company that established General Motors in 1908. Before the establishment of General Motors, GM founder William C. Durant had served as Buick's general manager and major investor. Buick was the first production automobile maker in the world to equip its cars with overhead valve engines, which it did in 1904.

Roberts resigned his pastoral ministry with the Pentecostal Holiness Church to found Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA). [15] He conducted evangelistic and faith healing crusades across the United States and around the world, claiming he could raise the dead. [16] [17] In November 1947, he started Healing Waters, a monthly magazine as a means to promote his meetings. [18] Thousands of sick people waited 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. [11] [19] [20] 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 included not only a university but also a medical school and hospital as well as buildings on 50 acres (200,000 m2) south of Tulsa valued at $500 million. [5] [14] Another part of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, the Abundant Life Prayer Group (ALPG), was founded in 1958. [15]

The Praying Hands, on the ORU campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma Praying Hands at the main entrance to the campus of Oral Roberts University.jpg
The Praying Hands, on the ORU campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 1963, he founded Oral Roberts University (ORU) [15] 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.

From left: Young Brown, Jack Moore, William Branham, Oral Roberts, Gordon Lindsay; photo taken at Kansas City in 1948 Young Brown, Jack Moore, William Branham, Oral Roberts, Gordon Lindsay Kansas City 1948.jpg
From left: Young Brown, Jack Moore, William Branham, Oral Roberts, Gordon Lindsay; photo taken at Kansas City in 1948

Roberts was a pioneer televangelist, and attracted a vast viewership. He began broadcasting by radio in 1947, [21] [22] and began broadcasting his revivals by television in 1954. [5] His television ministry continued with The Abundant Life program reaching 80% of the United States by 1957, and quarterly Prime Time Specials from 1969 through 1980. In 1996, he founded Golden Eagle Broadcasting. [15]

On March 17, 1968, Roberts and his wife were received as members of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma by Dr. Finis Crutchfield, then pastor. The United Methodist Church offered more leniency in doctrinal and moral issues than the Pentecostal Holiness Church had. This granted Roberts some leeway, as it was expected that the strictness of the Pentecostal tradition may have impeded his rise in popularity. [23] Before Roberts' switch to Methodism, Crutchfield arranged a meeting between Roberts and Bishop William Angie Smith, at which the Bishop told Roberts, "We need you, but we need the Holy Spirit more than we need you and we've got to have the Holy Spirit in the Methodist Church." [24] Roberts became an elder in the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church. From 1968 through 1987, Roberts was a member of the United Methodist Church's ministry. [25] [26]

Roberts affected the American Protestant community. According to one authority in conservative Protestant culture, his ministry's influence was second only to that of Billy Graham. [2] [27] [28] His divine healing ministry called for prayer to heal the whole person—body, mind and spirit. [29] Many labeled him a faith healer, but he rejected this with the comment: "God heals—I don't." [2] [6] He played a major role in bringing American Pentecostal Christianity into the mainstream. [30] Even though Roberts was 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 did not fully identify him with that movement. [31]

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. [32] [33] [34] In 1980, Roberts said he had a vision that 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, but the importance of treating the whole person—spirit, mind, and body—was conveyed to many medical professionals. [35] [36] 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. [37] [38]

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." [39] [40] However, the year before on Easter he had told a gathering at the Dallas Convention Center that God had instructed him to raise the money "by the end of the year" or he would die. [41] Regardless of this new March deadline and the fact that he was still $4.5 million short of his goal, [42] some were fearful that he was referring to suicide, given the impassioned pleas and tears that accompanied his statement. Late in March 1987 while Roberts was fasting and praying in the Prayer Tower, Florida dog track owner Jerry Collins donated $1.3 million. [43] [44] Highly worried from what he perceived as Roberts threatening to starve himself, Collins said, "I did it in order to save the guy from going to heaven in a hurry. It's got nothing to do with religion. I've been a Baptist and a Methodist. I believe in religion and not just the church. You have to help one another." [45] Altogether, Roberts raised a total of $9.1 million. [46] Later that year, he announced that God had raised the dead through his ministry. [47] Some of Roberts' fundraising letters were written by Gene Ewing, who headed a business writing donation letters for other evangelicals such as Don Stewart and Robert Tilton. [48]

Roberts maintained his love of finery and one obituary claimed that even when times became economically hard, "he continued to wear his Italian silk suits, diamond rings and gold bracelets—airbrushed out by his staff on publicity pictures". [14] [25]

The CityPlex office complex, originally built as Oral Roberts' City of Faith Medical and Research Center in Tulsa. CityPlex Towers in Tulsa, Oklahoma.jpg
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. [40] 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." [40] However, the income of his organization 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. [40]

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." [49] 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. In 1988, Oral Roberts and his son Richard were sued for $15 million in federal court by patients at City of Faith Medical Center, claiming the two were frauds who did not visit or heal patients in the hospital. [50] [51] [52]

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. [14]

Oral Roberts' son 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. [53] [54] The university was given a donation of $8 million by entrepreneur Mart Green, and although the lawsuit was still in process, [55] the school submitted to an outside audit, and with a good report an additional $62 million was given by Green. [56] [57] 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. [58] Oral Roberts continued as the ORU chancellor until his death, [15] but in 2009, eleven months before his death, handed over the leadership of ORU to its incoming president, Mark Rutland. [59]

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. [60] The Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters (OAB) elected Roberts to the OAB Hall of Fame one month before his death. [22] [61]

Personal life

Roberts was married to Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock (19172005) for 66 years from December 25, 1938, until her death from a fall, on May 4, 2005, at the age of 88. [62] [63] Their daughter Rebecca Nash died in an airplane crash on February 11, 1977 with her husband, businessman Marshall Nash. [64] [65] Their elder son, Ronald Roberts, committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart on June 10, 1982, five months after receiving a court order to undergo counseling at a drug treatment center and six months after coming out as gay. [66] [67] [68] The other two Roberts children are son Richard, an evangelist and former president of Oral Roberts University, and daughter Roberta Potts, an attorney.

Roberts died of complications from pneumonia on December 15, 2009, [69] [70] at the age of 91. He had been "semi-retired" and living in Newport Beach, California. [71] He was interred next to his wife at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma (the same cemetery where T. L. Osborn was interred, nearly 4 years after). [72]

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 Edwin Harrell Jr., a historian at Auburn University.

See also

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  44. FLORIDA TRACK OWNER 'SAVES' ORAL ROBERTS, The Orlando Sentinel (now SunSentinel published in Florida), Dan Tracy, March 22, 1987.
  45. Jerry Collins, 89; Built an Empire of Race Tracks (Obituary), New York Times, David J. Morrow, Aug. 6, 1997. " . . A founder of New College in Sarasota, Mr. Collins gave the institution a $1.2 million motel he owned in Bradenton, Fla., and raised another $7 million for a library. He also gave $600,000 for a new veterinary school at the University of Florida. . "
  46. Hand, Gary A. "Oral Roberts". On Doctrine. Archived from the original on 10 May 2007.
  47. Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers . Prometheus Books. p. 192. ISBN   0-87975-535-0.
  48. Swindle, Howard (10 March 1996). "Direct-market evangelist brings in millions lawyer says it all goes". The Dallas Morning News . Retrieved 17 May 2007.
  49. Juozapavicius, Justin (8 November 2007). "Oral Roberts' Son Accused of Misspending". The Washington Post . Associated Press. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  50. "Roberts Disputes Allegations In Suit". Bryan Times. 4 August 1988. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  51. "Faith Healer Fails To Win Delay". Saturday Morning Deseret News. 31 July 1988. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  52. "Oral Roberts Sued For Failing To Cure Woman Of Hernia". The Daily Telegraph. 17 October 1987. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  53. "Roberts resigns as ORU president". Tulsa World . 23 November 2007.
  54. Branstetter, Ziva (24 November 2007). "Roberts resigns". Tulsa World .
  55. "ORU Lawsuit". Tulsa World . Retrieved 9 January 2010.
  56. "Oral Roberts University takes $62M gift". USA Today . 15 January 2008.
  57. Marciszewski, April (14 February 2008). "ORU moves to trim its debt". Tulsa World . Retrieved 9 January 2010.
  58. Marciszewski, April (18 October 2007). "Roberts takes ORU leave". Tulsa World . Retrieved 18 October 2007.
  59. Sherman, Bill & Muchmore, Shannon (30 January 2009). "New ORU president says he has founder's blessing". Tulsa World . Retrieved 9 January 2010.
  60. "Oklahoma Senate Honors Oral Roberts". Associated Press. 7 May 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  61. "Oral Roberts, OAB Hall of Fame, Inducted 2010". Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters (OAB). November 2009. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011.
  62. "Evelyn Roberts, wife of Oral Roberts, dies". Tulsa World . 4 May 2005.
  63. "Oral Roberts 1918-2009: Legacy" (PDF). Tulsa World . 20 December 2009. p. 6.
  64. "The "Heaven Has a Floor" Crash: February 11, 1977". Location: about 6 miles south of Anthony, KS: Check Six. 2002. Updated December 7, 2009.
  65. Stefanic, Vern (11 February 1977). "Oral Roberts daughter, 5 others die". Tulsa World . Last modified March 25, 2008.
  66. "Oral Roberts's Son, 37, Found Shot Dead in Car". The New York Times . 10 June 1982. Retrieved 1 April 2007.
  67. "Oral Roberts' Gay Grandson: "It Gets Better."". Talk About Equality. 25 October 2010.
  68. Taffet, David (8 July 2010). "Oral Roberts' gay grandson speaks out". dallasvoice.com. Archived from the original on 30 August 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  69. "Oral Roberts Dies at Age 91". KTUL-TV. December 15, 2009. Archived from the original on December 18, 2009.
  70. Sherman, Bill (15 December 2009). "Oral Roberts dies". Tulsa World .
  71. Lobdell, William (16 December 2009). "Oral Roberts dies at 91; televangelist was pioneering preacher of the 'prosperity gospel'". Los Angeles Times .
  72. "Thousands Gather to Remember Oral Roberts". Charisma Magazine. 21 December 2009. Retrieved 19 February 2016.

Further reading

About Roberts

By Roberts