A leading figure in the Christian Pentecostal and charismatic
world, Oral Roberts has been preaching since the 1940s. Called a saint and a charlatan
, Oral's impact on the Pentacostal world is indisputable.
In the spring of 1947, Roberts claims he cried out to the Lord in prayer and God spoke to him, leading him to a passage in III John 2: `I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.'
A short time later, Roberts and his wife bought a new car and the ministry on wheels began. God and Oral became fast friends and later that year God told Oral: `You will have the power to pray for the sick and cast out devils.'
Oral started holding healing services and supposedly, a woman with a crippled hand was healed by his powers. Word spread quickly and Oral's fame grew. By 1949, he had his own gospel radio program. According to the book The Life and Times of Oral Roberts, "by 1950, he was traveling the country with an 18,000-seat tent simultaneous broadcast on 63 stations. Within two years, his radio and television programs were being broadcast on 400 stations in the United States, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii and by short-wave to listeners around the world."
This man was popular. He gave away anointed prayer cloths to listeners of his show (provided they send a love offering); one year saw over 100,000 requests for the cloths. Whew! That's a lot of oil.
Oral was also daunted by his failures. Some people who came to his prayer/healing] revivals died from their ailments amyway (some during the prayer meetings). Other so-called healers that Roberts endorsed, like Jack Coe, were later exposed as frauds.
Oral had legal problems too. Robert's biographer David Edwin Harrell, Jr. wrote: "I offered to appear before the Senate Investigating Committee in Washington and present evidence that Oral Roberts was guilty of `payola' on his TV Healing program. Among other things, I had evidence to prove that a person had `performed' on the Roberts healing TV program, claiming that he was healed as a `cripple,; but it was all a fake and he was paid by them to `fake' the healing. The person who faked the healing offered to testify."
Much of the speculation about Oral was quieted when the man himself, Billy Graham, endorsed Roberts as a true Man of God. Roberts later left the Pentacostal Holiness church to join the Methodists.
Financial questions have plagued most popular televangelists and Roberts is no exception. Books written by his former daughter in law and former employees detailed the extravagent lifestyle peddling Jesus brought Oral. In 1979 book was published by Jerry Sholes, a former employee of Oral Robert ministries, which detailed the hypocrisy:
"Here is a portrait of the real Oral Roberts, the man not too many of his admirers know. He dresses in Brioni suits that cost $500 to $1000; walks in $100 shoes; lives in a $250,000 house in Tulsa and has a million dollar home in Palm Springs; wears diamond rings and solid gold bracelets employees `airbrush' out of his publicity photos; drives $25,000 automobiles which are replaced every 6 months; flies around the country in a $2 million fanjet falcon; has membership, as does his son Richard, in `the most prestigious and elite country club in Tulsa,' the Southern Hills (the membership fee alone was $18,000 for each, with $130 monthly dues) and in `the ultra-posh Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California' (both father and son joined when memberships were $20,000 each--they are now $25,000); and plays games of financial hanky-panky that have made him and his family members independently wealthy (millionaires) for life. When his daughter and son-in-law were killed, they left a $10 million estate!"
Later in his ministry skepticism arose about Oral's close friendship with Jesus. Some Christians found it odd that Jesus would only talk to Oral when Oral needed money. Enter the 900 ft Jesus. Here are Oral's own words: "I felt an overwhelming holy presence all around me. When I opened my eyes, there He stood ... some 900 feet tall, looking at me ... He stood a full 300 feet taller than the 600-foot-tall City of Faith. There I was face to face with Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. I have only seen Jesus once before, but here I was face to face with the King of kings. He reached down, put his Hands under the City of Faith, lifted it, and said to me, "See how easy it is for Me to lift it!" Oral said that his eyes filled with tears, and Jesus assured him that He would speak to the ministry's partners and that the City of Faith would be finished."
Oral got a lot of flak for that...and a hell of a lot of money.
Since the end of the excessive 1980s, Oral's popularity has died down quite a bit. He's still kicking however, waiting for Jesus to speak again.
Update: Oral Roberts died on December 15, 2009.