Granville Oral Roberts, the famous Pentecostal televangelist, died in the hospital on Tuesday from complications of pneumonia. He was 91.
What are we to make of this man? He was more than a little crazy, perhaps. In 1977, Roberts claimed that a 900-foot-tall Jesus had commanded him in a vision to build the “City of Faith Medical Research Center”, a hospital which was to integrate prayer with traditional medicine in the healing process. Four years and millions of dollars later, the center opened, and eight years after that, it closed due to lack of funds. Jesus also, according to Roberts, had commanded the preacher to found Oral Roberts University (he did), as well as find a cure for cancer (he didn’t). He predicted, in the middle of a fundraising drive that unless he raised 8 million dollars, God would “call him home” (many took this as a veiled suicide threat), but dodged the bullet when he exceeded the goal by 1.1 million.
He was also a man who made massive amounts of money by preaching about Jesus, the same Lord who commanded more than one rich man to “sell all you have and give to the poor”. Roberts was one of the pioneers of the prosperity gospel and the inventor of “seed faith”: the promise that a congregant’s donation to Roberts’ ministry was a “seed” which, once planted, would return to the congregant sevenfold (it often didn’t). If you ever dare to flip to the Trinity Bible Network today, you can still hear the doctrine as expounded by televangelists today. It is a doctrine transparently designed to profit the preacher at the expense of the preached. In 1980 his salary exceeded 88 million dollars.
More than a little disgusting.
Roberts also managed to get himself in hot water over the way he managed his (and other people’s) money, and on more than one occasion. The Board of Regents of Oral Roberts University spent valuable endowment money to buy Roberts and his family a home in Beverly Hills, complete with membership at the local country club. His son, Richard, is currently under investigation for the “improper use of university funds” for “personal and political uses”.
Given all of that, you’d think that a young Christian emerging from the evangelical world, like myself, would be quick to disown Oral Roberts. Hell, I’m self-admittedly the least Pentecostal person I know. And I find Roberts’ greed upsetting, his knee-jerk conservatism laughable, and his antics annoying.
But more than that, more than all of that, there is this:
It’s the “Oh, that’s wonderful!” that gets me every time. It’s classic. And, at the end of the day, that’s the thing I will always remember about Oral Roberts. He was a bona fide healer.
I suppose I merely want to say this: say what you want about the man himself, but speak no evil of the God whose Spirit moved through him. And remember that at the end of that video, Roberts glorifies not himself, but God. Wealthy, certainly. Greedy, perhaps. But God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were all yet sinners, Christ died for us, and gave us His spirit to sustain us until His return.