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TULSA, Okla. – Evangelist Oral Roberts was remembered Monday as a charismatic leader who deftly used television to spread the message of Christianity throughout the world.
Thousands packed an arena at Oral Roberts University for the memorial service for the man who founded the evangelical liberal arts school. Roberts died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 91 last week in California.
“You sent us a man who we know and loved and who walked with God and never gave up the common touch,” fellow evangelist Pat Robertson said during the ceremony’s opening prayer. “I know you broke the mold with Oral.”
Roberts rose from poverty and tent revivals to become one of the nation’s most recognized and influential preachers. Roberts, along with Billy Graham, helped pioneer TV evangelism and used the power of the new medium – and the message of God’s healing power – to build a multimillion-dollar ministry.
ORU President Mark Rutlege noted how adept Roberts was at using the medium of television to spread his message.
“There was something when Oral leaned into that TV and said, `Something good is going to happen to you today.'”
Claiming God told him to build the university to spread the Christian faith, Roberts chartered ORU in 1963 as a place where Pentecostals could live, study and pray together. The school became the first Pentecostal university in the world, taking the fiery brand of Christianity to the mainstream through radio and television.
While today’s student body has changed – it represents 40 Christian denominations, as well as nonbelievers – ORU students still adhere to the honor code the founder introduced that prohibits them from cursing, using drugs and alcohol, and having sex while enrolled. And students are still required to attend chapel service.
Only 6 percent of today’s students are preparing for the ministry – media studies and business administration are the most popular majors. Nevertheless, Roberts’ original goals for the school are still strongly present, even though he long ago scaled back his television appearances, stepped down as school president and retired to California.
Pictures of Roberts healing sick children at crusades hang on school walls, and the honor code pledge he created is still in effect. But perhaps the most visible thumbprints are the 60-foot tall bronze statue of praying hands – modeled after Roberts’- at the entrance to campus and the 200-foot-high prayer tower that rises above the school.
Roberts is also credited with helping put Tulsa on the map, building his university up from a pasture south of the city limits into a school that has tens of thousands of alumni. The campus, with its 1960s architecture, is a Tulsa landmark.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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