Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oral Roberts, 1918-2009. R.I.P.

Televangelist Oral Roberts has died from complications of pneumonia. He was 91.

Roberts was a pioneer when it came to mixing religion with television. He was amongst the first ministers to take the pulpit to the airwaves in the mid-1950s. In the 1960's, Roberts would establish a university in his home state of Oklahoma bearing his name.

He was known for preaching the "prosperity gospel." This holds that the Lord will reward those who give money in his name. It was Roberts as much as anyone else who reinforced the stereotype of the minister asking his viewers to send in money. Indeed, it was this very "prosperity gospel" that would see his ministry lose influence in the late 1980s.

I remember back in 1987 when Roberts told the nation that the Lord would be "calling him home" if he didn't raise $8 million within 60 days. Although Roberts managed to avoid the sex scandals that plagued Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart all of these events happened over the course of 18 months. It was Roberts' desperate plea that began a strong public backlash against TV evangelists.

Two decades later his son Richard Roberts would be forced to resign as President of Oral Roberts University due allegations of use of donor funds for personal use. To be fair most of the lawsuits against the younger Roberts have been dismissed. But the damage has been done and some of it was self inflicted.

There is no doubt that Roberts leaves behind some good works. But the Evangelicals I know don't think much of Roberts' opulence and prefer to serve the Lord in other ways.

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