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Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts
Born (1918-01-24)January 24, 1918
Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died December 15, 2009(2009-12-15) (aged 91)
Newport Beach, California, U.S.
Spouse(s) Evelyn Lutman Roberts; married 1938–2005 (her death)
Children Ronald Roberts (deceased)
Richard Roberts
Rebecca Nash (deceased)
Roberta Potts
Parent(s) Ellis Melvin Roberts
Claudius Priscilla Roberts[1]
(nee Irwin)
Website //
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

Granville Oral Roberts (January 24, 1918 – December 15, 2009[2][3]) was an American Methodist-Pentecostal televangelist and a Christian charismatic. He founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University.

As one of the most well-known and controversial American religious leaders of the 20th century, Roberts's 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 TV evangelism 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]


  • Early life 1
  • Ministry and university 2
  • Personal life 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

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 and Claudius Priscilla Roberts (née Irwin) (d. 1974).[8] According to an interview on Larry King Live, Irwin 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.[12]

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 According to a TIME Magazine profile of 1972, Roberts originally made a name for himself with a large mobile tent "that sat 3,000 on metal folding chairs" where "he shouted at petitioners who did not respond to his healing."[13]

Ministry and university

1947 came as a turning point. Up until that time Roberts struggled as a part-time preacher in Oklahoma. But at the age of 29 Roberts claims 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]

Roberts resigned his pastoral ministry with the 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.[1]

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

In 1963, he founded Oral Roberts University (ORU)[1] 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 was a pioneer televangelist, and attracted a vast viewership. He began broadcasting by radio in 1947,[20][21] 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.[1]

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 Pentecostalism. This granted Roberts some leeway, as it was expected that the strictness of the Pentecostal tradition may have impeded his rise in popularity.[22] 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." [23] 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.[24][25]

Roberts had an impact on the American Protestant community. According to one authority, in conservative Protestant culture, his ministry had an impact second only to Billy Graham.[3][26][27] His divine healing ministry called for prayer to heal the whole person — body, mind and spirit.[28] Many labeled him a faith healer, but he rejected this with the comment: "God heals — I don't."[3][6] He played a major role in bringing American Pentecostal Christianity into the mainstream.[29] 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.[30]

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.[31][32][33] 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, but the importance of treating the whole person – spirit, mind, and body – was conveyed to many medical professionals.[34][35] 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.[36][37]

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." [38][39] 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.[40] Regardless of this new March deadline and the fact that he was still $4.5 million short of his goal,[41] some were fearful that he was referring to suicide, given the impassioned pleas and tears that accompanied his statement. He raised $9.1 million.[42] Later that year, he announced that God had raised the dead through Roberts' ministry.[43] 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.[44]

Roberts maintained his love of finery 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".[14][24]

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.[39] 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."[39] 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.[39]

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".[45] 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.[46][47][48]

His organizations were also affected by scandals involving other televangelists[3] 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.[49][50] The university was given a donation of $8 million by entrepreneur Mart Green, and although the lawsuit was still in process,[51] the school submitted to an outside audit, and with a good report an additional $62 million was given by Green.[52][53] 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.[54] Oral Roberts continued as the ORU chancellor until his death,[1] but in 2009 eleven months before his death, handed over the leadership of ORU to its incoming president, Mark Rutland.[55]

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.[56] The Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters (OAB) elected Roberts to the OAB Hall of Fame one month before his death.[21][57]

Personal life

Roberts was married to Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock (1917-2005) for 66 years from December 25, 1938 until her death from a fall at the age of 88.[12][58][59] Their daughter Rebecca Nash died in an airplane crash on February 11, 1977 with her husband, businessman Marshall Nash.[60][61] 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.[62][63][64] The other two Roberts children are son Richard, an evangelist and former president of Oral Roberts University (ORU), and daughter Roberta Potts, an attorney.

Oral Roberts died on December 15, 2009[65][66] at the age of 91. He had been "semi-retired" and living in Newport Beach, California.[67]

According to a 1987 article in the 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. 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)."[68]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Oral Roberts".  
  2. ^ Juozapavicius, Justin (December 15, 2009). "Evangelist Oral Roberts Dead At 91".  
  3. ^ a b c d Juozapavicius, Justin (December 15, 2009). "Evangelist Oral Roberts dies in Calif. at age 91".  
  4. ^ Roberts, Oral (1980) [1975]. A Daily Guide to Miracles and Successful Living Through Seed-Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan:  
  5. ^ a b c d e Schneider, Keith (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts, Fiery Preacher, Dies at 91".  
  6. ^ a b Olsen, Ted (December 16, 2009). "Why the Oral Roberts Obituaries Are Wrong".  
  7. ^ Bill Sherman (December 20, 2009). "Oral Roberts 1918-2009: A Lasting Influence" (PDF).  
  8. ^ "Oral Roberts's Mother Dies".  
  9. ^ "Interview With Lennox Lewis; Interview With Oral Roberts (transcript)".  
  10. ^ "Cherokee Community of Central California". Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Arnett, David (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts Dies". Tulsa Today. Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
  12. ^ a b "Evelyn Lutman Roberts".  
  13. ^ "Religion: Oral's Progress".  
  14. ^ a b c d Christopher, Reed (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts obituary". London:  
  15. ^ "Oral Roberts Tells Conference He Has Raised People From the Dead", New York Times, June 27, 1987
  16. ^ "I've Raised People from the Dead, Oral Roberts tells 5,000 in Tulsa," The Pittsburgh Press, June 26, 1987
  17. ^ Harrell, Jr., David Edwin (1985). Oral Roberts: An American Life. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-253-15844-3
  18. ^ Behrens, Zach (December 15, 2009). "Evangelist Dr. Oral Roberts Dies at 91 in Newport Beach".  
  19. ^ "ORAL ROBERTS DIES: Funeral Arrangements Pending for Legendary Evangelist" (PDF).  
  20. ^ "Broadcasters Vote Three to Hall of Fame" (PDF). Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010. 
  21. ^ a b "Chancellor Roberts Elected to Hall of Fame".  
  22. ^ Harrell, Jr., David Edwin (1985). Oral Roberts: An American Life. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 298.  
  23. ^ Harrell, Jr., David Edwin (1985). Oral Roberts: An American Life. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 294.  
  24. ^ a b "Oral Roberts".  
  25. ^ Roberts, Oral (1995). Expect a Miracle: My Life and Ministry. Nashville, Tennessee:  
  26. ^ "Oral Roberts".  
  27. ^ Sherman, Bill (December 20, 2009). "Oral Roberts 1918-2009: A Lasting Influence" (PDF).  
  28. ^ Roberts, Oral (1969) [1947]. If You Need Healing, Do These Things (4th ed.). Whitefish, MT, USA:  
  29. ^ Gorski, Eric (December 16, 2009). "Evangelist Oral Roberts leaves a complex legacy".  
  30. ^ Reid, Daniel G.; Linder, Robert Dean; Shelley, Bruce L.; Stout, Harry S. (1990). Dictionary of Christianity in America. Westmont, Illinois:  
  31. ^ Biddle, Wayne; Slade, Margo (January 30, 1983). "IDEAS AND TRENDS; Oral Roberts's Word on Cancer".  
  32. ^ Reifenberg, Anne (January 5, 1986). "'"Oral Roberts' Ministry Hits a 'Low Spot.  
  33. ^ "Oral Roberts tells of talking to 900-foot Jesus".  
  34. ^ "Oral Roberts Dies" (PDF). A. Larry Ross Communications (ALR). December 15, 2009. p. 3. 
  35. ^ "Oral Roberts' Legacy".  
  36. ^  
  37. ^ Herbut, Paula (January 22, 1983). "Oral Roberts Seeking Millions for Holy Mission Against Cancer".  
  38. ^  
  39. ^ a b c d  
  40. ^ "Oral Roberts Also Predicted Death in 1986, Paper Reveals". February 25, 1987. Retrieved September 1, 2013. 
  41. ^ Kay Morgan Atkins (March 1, 1987). "Oral Roberts' Missionary Fund-Raising Won't End With First $8 Million". NewsOK. Retrieved 2013-09-01. 
  42. ^ Hand, Gary A. "Oral Roberts". On Doctrine. 
  43. ^  
  44. ^ Swindle, Howard (March 10, 1996). "Direct-market evangelist brings in millions lawyer says it all goes".  
  45. ^ Juozapavicius, Justin (November 8, 2007). "Oral Roberts' Son Accused of Misspending".  
  46. ^ "Roberts Disputes Allegations In Suit". Bryan Times. August 4, 1988. Retrieved 2013-09-01. 
  47. ^ "Faith Healer Fails To Win Delay". Saturday Morning Deseret News. July 31, 1988. Retrieved 2013-09-01. 
  48. ^ "Oral Roberts Sued For Failing To Cure Woman Of Hernia".  
  49. ^ "Roberts resigns as ORU president".  
  50. ^ Branstetter, Ziva (November 24, 2007). "Roberts resigns".  
  51. ^ "ORU Lawsuit".  
  52. ^ "Oral Roberts University takes $62M gift".  
  53. ^ Marciszewski, April (February 14, 2008). "ORU moves to trim its debt".  
  54. ^ Marciszewski, April (October 18, 2007). "Roberts takes ORU leave".  
  55. ^ Sherman, Bill and Muchmore, Shannon (January 30, 2009). "New ORU president says he has founder's blessing".  
  56. ^ "Oklahoma Senate Honors Oral Roberts".  
  57. ^ "Oral Roberts, OAB Hall of Fame, Inducted 2010". Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters (OAB). November 2009. 
  58. ^ "Evelyn Roberts, wife of Oral Roberts, dies".  
  59. ^ "Oral Roberts 1918-2009: Legacy" (PDF).  
  60. ^ "The "Heaven Has a Floor" Crash: February 11, 1977". Location: about 6 miles south of Anthony, KS: Check Six. 2002. Updated December 7, 2009. 
  61. ^ Stefanic, Vern (February 11, 1977). "Oral Roberts daughter, 5 others die".  
  62. ^ "Oral Roberts's Son, 37, Found Shot Dead in Car".  
  63. ^ """Oral Roberts’ Gay Grandson: "It Gets Better.. Talk About Equality. October 25, 2010. 
  64. ^ Taffet, David (July 8, 2010). "Oral Roberts' gay grandson speaks out". 
  65. ^ "Oral Roberts Dies at Age 91".  
  66. ^ Sherman, Bill (December 15, 2009). "Oral Roberts dies".  
  67. ^ Lobdell, William (December 16, 2009). "'"Oral Roberts dies at 91; televangelist was pioneering preacher of the 'prosperity gospel.  
  68. ^  

Further reading

About Roberts
  • The Faith Healers, by James Randi, Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1987. ISBN 0-87975-369-2
  • Oral Roberts: An American Life, by David Edwin Harrell, Jr., Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-15844-3
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 0-7852-7752-8
  • Oral Roberts' life story, as told by himself. by Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1952.

External links

  • Oral Roberts at Find-a-Grave
  • Webcast of Chancellor Oral Roberts' Memorial Service
  • Oral Roberts Ministries
  • Oral Roberts University
  • Oral Roberts: The Man. The Mission. The Ministry., online archive at Tulsa World
  • Life With Oral Roberts slideshow by Life magazine
  • Voices of Oklahoma interview with Oral Roberts. First person interview conducted with Oral Roberts on August 11, 2009. Last interview before his death. Original audio and transcript archived with Voices of Oklahoma oral history project.
  • UM Portal: Q&A: Evangelist Roberts was comfortable with Methodism
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