Oral Roberts, Fiery Preacher With Vast Empire, Dies at 91
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Wednesday December 16, 2009
Oral Roberts, the Pentecostal evangelist whose televised faith-healing ministry attracted millions of followers worldwide and made him one of the most recognizable and controversial religious leaders of the 20th century, died Tuesday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 91.
At the height of his influence, Mr. Roberts sat at the head of a religious, educational and communications enterprise based in Tulsa, Okla., that managed a university that bears his name, mounted healing “crusades” on five continents, preached on prime-time national television and published dozens of books and magazines.
He was the patriarch of the “prosperity gospel,” a theology that promotes the idea that Christians who pray and donate with sufficient fervency will be rewarded with health, wealth and happiness.
Mr. Roberts trained and mentored several generations of younger prosperity gospel preachers who now have television and multimedia empires of their own. Mr. Roberts was as politically conservative as his contemporaries in what became known as the “religious right,” but he was known more for his religious style than for his political pronouncements. He was widely lampooned after he proclaimed on his television program in 1987 that God would “call him home” if he did not raise millions.
By 1985, the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University employed more than 2,300 people and earned $110 million in revenue. The expanse of Mr. Roberts’s ministry, coupled with his fiery preaching, tycoonlike vision and jet-set lifestyle, also attracted persistent questions throughout his career about his theology and his unorthodox fund-raising techniques, although no credible evidence of malfeasance was ever produced on his watch.
His university later fell into debt, however, and his son, Richard Roberts, was forced to leave his post as head of the university in 2007 after he was accused of using university funds for personal luxuries.
Mr. Roberts came out of retirement in 2007 to temporarily assume the largely ceremonial position of co-president of Oral Roberts University, after Richard Roberts took a leave of absence.
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