Born into poverty as the son of a traveling Pentecostal minister, Oral Roberts would become a pioneer televangelist who oversaw what was at one time a $500 million empire. The man who led nationally televised healing crusades found his calling as a teen, when he said he was healed of a life-threatening case of tuberculosis by a traveling evangelist.
Roberts recovered, preached his first sermon when he was 18, held his first healing service in 1940s, and founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association. In 1963, he founded Oral Roberts University. Even those who don't remember the days of his televised crusades will recognize the names of some who attended the university, such as Joel Osteen and Ted Haggard.
His success also prompted scrutiny. His healings generated skepticism, and he was widely criticized for a 1980s fundraising claim that God would "call me home" if Roberts failed to raise millions of dollars for his City of Faith Medical Center. Eventually, the center closed.
In 2007, his son Richard was forced to leave his post as head of the university after a scandal involving lavish spending. The university now has a new president and more than 3,000 students, and offers more than 75 undergraduate and graduate degrees. After Roberts's death from complications of pneumonia in December, his legacy will no doubt be debated. But his influence as a powerful Pentecostal leader and as a proponent of the idea that God wants to bless believers helped shape a generation of the faithful.
By Ansley Roan
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