Bishop Carlton Pearson, who for 15 years was on the Oral Roberts University Board of Regents, said Tuesday he was not surprised by the lawsuit filed against ORU, its president Richard Roberts and others.
Pearson told the Tulsa World he had no first-hand evidence that allegations in the lawsuit were true.
“But this kind of behavior is typical in family-run and -owned ministries,” he said.
“You’re talking about the founder’s son. He does what he wants to do. Oral Roberts University is not the only one guilty of that.”
Three ORU professors who recently lost their jobs sued the school and its leaders last week for wrongful termination and slander.
The suit alleges they were forced out for uncovering a report that Richard Roberts’ family improperly benefited from ORU money, among other things.
Pearson, who attended ORU, was a regent until he fell out of favor with the school several years ago for adopting a universalist theology, that because of what Christ did, all people will go to heaven.
As an ORU student, he had a close relationship with Roberts, and sang in a singing group that Roberts directed.
“We were real close,” Pearson said. “We didn’t like each other, necessarily, but we loved each other; you know, some siblings are like that.”
Pearson suggested Roberts’ actions may have precipitated the lawsuit.
“Richard fires people abruptly,” he said. “He has a record of making people clear out their desk by 5 o’- clock. He humiliates them, so he’s created some enemies. You have to fire people sometimes, but there’s a way to do it with dignity. These are college-trained Ph.Ds, brilliant, Christian educators. You don’t treat them like children. I think these guys have just said, ‘That’s enough.’ ”
He said he was concerned about the lawsuit’s impact on ORU.
“It can hurt. We’re real concerned, because the money is already tight, and if partners stop dropping off . . . “I personally think they’re making more of this than they need to. I mean it’s not like Richard is squandering millions of dollars. He did do some things that are excessive, but it’s not worth throwing the whole ministry away.
“Richard and (Roberts’ wife) Lindsay’s little escapades are not worth comparing to the 40 years of a man’s life (Oral Roberts) and labor to build a half-billion-dollar entity that has trained some 25,000 students, with missions all over the world and churches all over the world.”
Pearson also said he is worried about what might happen if ORU does not survive the crisis.
“It would be a crushing blow, and a terrible loss to the city, and to what we call the body of Christ. There’s nothing like ORU on the planet.
“I don’t think Tulsa can afford to lose ORU. We need to do what we need to do to shore it up. The university has never hurt this city. It’s only been a blessing.”
Pearson founded and pastored Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa, a large charismatic church. He lost most of his congregation and his building when he became a universalist. He is now a United Church of Christ minister who pastors New Dimensions Church, meeting Sunday afternoons at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Tulsa.