Oral Roberts dies
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
1/16/13 at 5:20 AM
Oral Roberts: The Man. The Mission. The Ministry. View a Web site dedicated to his life and career as an evangelist. View a complete archive of stories written about Roberts, watch videos, slide shows and view an interactive timeline.
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The Rev. Oral Roberts, the internationally known television evangelist and faith healer who founded Oral Roberts University, died today in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 91.
According to a release, his son, Richard, and daughter, Roberta, were at his side. A public memorial service in Tulsa is pending and there will be a private family interment.
“Oral Roberts was the greatest man of God I’ve ever known,” Richard Roberts said. “A modern-day apostle of the healing ministry, an author, educator, evangelist, prophet, and innovator, he was the only man of his generation to build a worldwide ministry, an accredited university, and a medical school. ...
“The Bible teaches that when a Christian dies, he or she is instantly transferred into the presence of God. The past few months, my father has talked about going home to be with the Lord on a daily basis. He has run his race and finished his course. Now he is in heaven, and we as Christians have the Bible promise that someday we will be reunited. My heart is sad, but my faith in God is soaring.”
ORU President Mark Rutland immediately expressed his sympathies. Roberts was last in Tulsa for the inauguration of Rutland who succeeded Richard Roberts as ORU’s president.
“The Oral Roberts University family was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of our dear Chancellor, Oral Roberts,” Rutland said in a statement. “Chancellor Roberts was one of the brilliant spiritual lights of the 20th century and a giant of the Christian faith. At the core of his legacy is a great university that bears his name. Like millions worldwide, I am mourning his passing and am grateful for his visionary life and contributions.”
As news spread Tuesday, condolences came in from religious and political leaders.
Pat Robertson in a statement said: “I am grieved at the passing of my dear friend, Oral Roberts. He was a pioneer in healing evangelism and in Christian education. He inspired a generation of young people to follow his lead in the charismatic ministry. We were friends for over 50 years and I will miss him. My sympathies to those children who survive him.”
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry added that “Oklahoma and the nation have lost a truly remarkable man of God. The influence and impact of Oral Roberts and his ministry are beyond measure. His faith, compassion and charity have left a legacy that will be felt for generations to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rev. Roberts’ family and loved ones during this difficult time.”
The often-controversial charismatic minister built Oral Roberts University, the now-closed City of Faith Medical and Research Center and the University Village Retirement Center in Tulsa.
He was a pioneer of the healing evangelism movement in the 1940s and ’50s and of radio and television ministry, which made his a household name to generations of Americans.
Roberts’ life was fashioned by what he described as a call to take “God’s healing power” to his generation, and every major effort he undertook was to that end.
Born Granville Oral Roberts in Pontotoc County in January 1918, he was the fifth and youngest son of a poor Pentecostal minister, the Rev. Ellis Roberts.
At the age of 17, Roberts was told he had tuberculosis. He was bedridden for months, and doctors gave no hope for his life.
On the way to a healing revival in a nearby town, Roberts said God told him that he was going to be healed and that he would take God’s healing power to his generation.
Roberts said the TB left him at the revival that night. The healing was later confirmed by a clinic in Ada. In addition, a stuttering problem was gone, and two months later he gave his first sermon.
Commenting on his childhood, Roberts once said, “I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today from where I started without God’s power.”
On Dec. 25, 1938, Roberts married Evelyn Lutman.
Ordained by the Pentecostal Holiness Church, Roberts preached for several years in various churches in Oklahoma. He studied at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and Phillips University in Enid. He went to seminary at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Roberts resigned from a pastorate in Enid in 1947 to begin the Healing Waters ministry, “to pray for the healing of the whole person.”
In the 1950s, Roberts’ tent crusades gained in popularity. In the latter part of the decade, crowds of more than 15,000 would spill outside his huge circus tent, which it took eight tractor-trailer rigs to carry. The tent, which seated 12,500, was advertised as the “largest gospel tent in the world.”
The prominent feature of these emotion-packed crusades was the “healing line.”
Every night, Roberts would give an altar call and lay his hands on hundreds of people to pray for them to be healed. He claimed to have personally laid his hands on more than a million people.
He once said he felt “the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in me so fiercely that some nights, I just walk the floor.”
Roberts, along with the Rev. Billy Graham, was a pioneer in radio and television ministry.
He already had a large radio network by the time he aired his first television program over 16 stations in 1954. In 1955, he began regular weekly programs from the tent.
To finance his move into television, Roberts introduced the “Blessing Pact.” He told his followers they should give to God like a seed they plant and that they could expect to receive blessings from God in return. He promised that if at the end of one year, God had not blessed them, Roberts would refund their money.
Only two people wrote and asked for their money back. After Roberts had returned it, one sent it back saying he just wanted to know if Roberts would keep his word.
This “blessing pact,” which later became known as “seed-faith,” was a concept he promoted for the rest of his ministry.
In the late 1960s, Roberts began quarterly prime time TV specials and went to a new format for his weekly show. By 1975, his program had a weekly audience of nearly 4 million and was carried on 350 stations in the United States and Canada.
At one time, it was rated the No. 1 syndicated Sunday morning religious program. The quarterly specials were aired on more than 525 stations, including in every state, in Canada and in several other foreign countries.
Ratings of these specials often showed audiences of nearly 64 million people.
In his evangelistic efforts, Roberts developed a few trademark phrases, including “Something good is going to happen to you!” “God is a good God” and “Expect a miracle.”
In 1968, Roberts changed his religious affiliation to the Methodist Church, although he noted at the time, “I switched from one earthly religious organization to one with another denominational name.”
He was an ordained elder of the Oklahoma Methodist Conference and a member of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.
Over the years, he built up a large following of “prayer partners.” He promised a reply if people would write to him so he could pray for their needs. By the 1980s the ministry was receiving 5 million pieces of mail a year.
Roberts wrote more than 50 books, including “Miracle of Seed-Faith,” “Don’t Give Up,” and his autobiography, “The Call.”
In 1961, Roberts said he had received a message from God to build a university, to “raise up your students to hear my voice. ... Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.”
In 1965, 300 freshmen began classes at Oral Roberts University. Billy Graham gave the dedicatory address in 1967.
At the heart of the campus to “emphasize the importance of prayer” is the Prayer Tower, in the shape of a modernized cross.
The university was founded on the concept of “education for the whole person” and aimed at “excellence in spirit, mind, and body.”
Roberts served as the university’s first president, from its founding until 1993, when his son Richard Roberts, also a healing evangelist, became its second president. The elder Roberts remained on as chancellor until his death.
At one time, ORU had a dental school, law school and medical school. All were closed due to financial problems.
In 1977, Roberts told his partners that God had told him to build a medical complex that would merge “the healing streams of prayer and medicine.” Construction of the $150 million City of Faith complex began in 1978.
Although Roberts had encountered controversy before, this project stirred intense debate and proved to be one of the biggest financial burdens on his ministry. During the construction, when donations were down, Roberts said he saw a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus lifting up the City of Faith complex and saying, “I told you that I would speak to your partners and through them, I would build it!”
A $25 million debt forced the closing of the City of Faith and its medical school in September 1989.
The three gold-tone towers, which contain 1.9 million square feet of space, once housed a 60-story clinic, a 30-story hospital, and a 20-story research center and continuing education center. They are joined by a four-story base that housed support facilities and a visitor’s center.
Roberts was preceded in death by his wife, Evelyn, a daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca Ann and Marshall Nash; a son, Ronald David Roberts; a grandchild, Richard Oral Roberts; his mother and father; two sisters, Velma Roberts and Jewel Faust; and two brothers, Elmer and Vaden Roberts.
He is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Richard and Lindsay Roberts; a daughter and son-in-law, Roberta and Ronald Potts, all of Tulsa; as well as 12 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Oral Roberts Ministry Healing Missions Fund, Oral Roberts Ministries, P.O. 2187, Tulsa, Okla. 74102, or online at www.OralRoberts.com.
Please check back at Tulsaworld.com as more information becomes available.
Board Chair Mart Green, Chancellor Oral Roberts and President Mark Rutland. Courtesy of ORU
In this September file photo, Chancellor Oral Roberts waves to the audience during the inauguration of Dr. Mark Rutland as President of Oral Roberts University. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World File
Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley. Courtesy of ORU
Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. Courtesy of ORU