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Evangelist Oral Roberts dies in Calif. at age 91

TULSA, Okla. – Oral Roberts, a pioneer in televangelism who founded a multimillion-dollar ministry and a university that bears his name, died Tuesday. He was 91. Roberts died of complications from pneumonia in Newport Beach, Calif., according to his spokesman, A. Larry Ross. The evangelist was hospitalized after a fall on Saturday. He had survived two heart attacks in the 1990s and a broken hip in 2006.
Roberts was a pioneer who broadcast his spirit-filled revivals on television, a new frontier for religion when he started in the 1950s. He was also a forerunner of the controversial “prosperity gospel” that has come to dominate televangelism. The evangelist’s “Seed-Faith” theology held that those who give to God will get things in return.
“If God had not, in His sovereign will, raised up the ministry of Oral Roberts, the entire charismatic movement might not have occurred,” said Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, in a statement.
Roberts overcame tuberculosis at age 17, when his brother carried him to a revival meeting where a healing evangelist was praying for the sick. Roberts said he was healed of the illness and of his youthful stuttering. He said that it was then that he heard God tell him he should build a university based on the Lord’s authority and the Holy Spirit.
Roberts rose from humble tent revivals to become one of the country’s most famous preachers.
He gave up a local pastorate in Enid in 1947 to enter an evangelistic ministry in Tulsa to pray for the healing of the whole person – the body, mind and spirit. The philosophy led many to call him a “faith healer,” a label he rejected with the comment: “God heals – I don’t.”
By the 1960s and ’70s, he was reaching millions around the world through radio, television, publications and personal appearances. He remained on TV into the new century, co-hosting the program, “Miracles Now,” with son Richard. He published dozens of books and conducted hundreds of crusades. A famous photograph showed him working at a desk with a sign on it reading, “Make no little plans here.”
He credited his oratorical skills to his faith, saying, “I become anointed with God’s word, and the spirit of the Lord builds up in me like a coiled spring. By the time I’m ready to go on, my mind is razor-sharp. I know exactly what I’m going to say and I’m feeling like a lion.”
Unity of body, mind and spirit became the theme of Oral Roberts University. The campus is a Tulsa landmark, with its space-age buildings laden with gold paint, including a 200-foot prayer tower and a 60-foot bronze statue of praying hands.
His ministry hit upon rocky times in the 1980s. There was controversy over his City of Faith medical center, a $250 million investment that eventually folded, and Roberts’ widely ridiculed proclamation that God would “call me home” if he failed to meet a fundraising goal of $8 million. A law school he founded also was shuttered.
Semiretired in recent years and living in California, he returned to Tulsa, Okla., in October 2007 as scandal roiled Oral Roberts University. His son, Richard Roberts, who succeeded him as ORU president, faced allegations of spending university money on shopping sprees and other luxuries at a time the institution was more than $50 million in debt.
Richard Roberts resigned as president in November 2007, marking the first time since Oral Roberts University was chartered in 1963 that a member of the Roberts family would not be at its helm. The rocky period for the evangelical school was eased when billionaire Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green donated $70 million and helped run the school in the interim, pledging to restore the public’s trust. By the fall of 2009, things were looking up, with officials saying tens of millions of dollars worth of debt had been paid off and enrollment was up slightly.
That September, a frail-looking Oral Roberts attended the ceremony when the school’s new president, Mark Rutland, was formally inaugurated.
“He was not only my earthly father; he was my spiritual father and mentor,” said son, Richard Roberts, in a statement.
AP Religion writers Eric Gorski in Denver and Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.
Associated Press – December 15, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • cknuck

    Tough old bird, he lived a good life.

  • pagansister

    Auf Wiedersehen, Chiao,Adios,Au revoir, Bye!
    Touch old bird, for sure.

  • Scott R.

    And don’t come this way again!

  • nnmns

    Tough, yes. good, I’d say no.

  • Hey look

    When do the gay lovers come out of the woodwork?
    If they don’t, may he rest in peace.
    I never followed his movement.

  • wawoo

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. He provided the template for Copeland, Hinn, Murdock, Robertson , the Cerillos, and other that prey on the ignorance of many exploiting their money and health including the loss of many lives.

  • Henrietta22

    A real life Elmer Gantry.

  • cknuck

    God blessed him with a good and rich life, God smiled upon him.

  • Henrietta22

    But why did his oldest son in the 80’s with two small children and wife commit suicide? Didn’t God smile on him?

  • cknuck

    His oldest son committed suicide, his wife died, and his daughter was killed in an accident; does this all mean that God did not smile upon him? Not according to the best judge of that Oral himself. What about Job, oh yeah that is just a fairy tale to you and not literally true. My life was even harder and God has smiled upon me richly so I believe and I believe the bible, silly me.

  • Henrietta22

    I heard it was rumored that his son committed suicide because he couldn’t deal with being gay, and his father being the Pentecostal Dad that he was. I don’t know if Job was real or not, but I do know God loves his children and if you’re sick or suffering it has nothing to do with not having God love you. Everything that is in the Bible is a lesson for humans to learn from ck. It doesn’t have to have a camcorder picture to prove anything. Didn’t you know that?

  • cknuck

    H22, “Didn’t you know that?”
    I don’t know if I understand that and I don’t deal in rumors people tilt rumors to fit their own preferences and I suspect you would love that rumor to be true, shame on you for wanting to profit off of other people’s misfortune.

  • Henrietta22

    How am I profiting for telling the rumor that I read elsewhere in a posting in a newspaper? Thousands of young people have taken their lives because of the guilt that their parents imposed on their homosexuality they were born with. Sorry if that shocks you, but you said exactly what I imagined you would say. In other words you walked right into it. You hear what you want, and the important things you can’t seem to grasp.

  • cknuck

    H22, thousands? You don’t know that and your shock therapy fails if it is based of false and unproven statistics. If you really want someone to believe that you have no intentions to profit from information then at least don’t falsify stats.

  • Henrietta22

    The reason I said in the thousands is because I’ve been reading about this since the 80’s. It would be interesting to count every person who has taken their life since 1980 that was cast out of their families. Here is a good one for Pew.

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