Richard and Lindsay Roberts steel themselves for crisis with prayer

One thing about Richard and Lindsay Roberts: They pray all the time.

In a darkened plane returning to Tulsa after their interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Tuesday, Lindsay Roberts stepped into the aisle to hug her husband, the president of Oral Roberts University, and to pray.

She could not sleep. The night before, Richard Roberts got four hours of sleep and Lindsay Roberts, more like one.

Earlier in the day, she had eaten her first real meal — bread and cheese — since three former professors sued ORU, her husband and three campus administrators Oct. 2.

The Tulsa County District Court lawsuit alleges that Richard Roberts illegally involved the university in politics and that the Roberts family misused ORU and Oral Roberts Ministries money for themselves. The former professors charge that they were wrongfully fired or wrongfully forced to resign. The Robertses deny the allegations.

Little about them communicates crisis. They joked, they held hands and they seemingly were forthright in responding to the allegations during an interview Tuesday on the flight to New York for their CNN appearance.

But Lindsay Roberts said this is the toughest circumstance she has seen her husband experience, and he said, “I can’t remember a time in my life, growing up under my father’s ministries, when there’s not been criticism.”

The Robertses have been praying with their daughters, but their prayer has not been, “Oh, my God, help our daddy,” Lindsay Roberts said.

Richard Roberts added: “And our prayer has not been to strike them down. We’re called to pray for them, love them, forgive them.”

Facing criticism

The Robertses said the lawsuit took aim at their character. It contains a report at least partially written by Lindsay Roberts’ sister, Stephanie Cantees, whose job is to record happenings and rumors around town and in government and report to Richard Roberts.

The report claimed that the Robertses used ministry vehicles for themselves, had ORU and ministry employees do their daughters’ homework, charged personal clothing expenses to business accounts, used the ORU “jet” to take one daughter and her friends on a senior trip, and more.

When the Roberts daughters heard those allegations, they said, “All right, here we go again,” Lindsay Roberts said.

The family has been the subject of false rumors before: that Lindsay Roberts was pregnant when she and Richard Roberts married, that the family had installed a wall-length aquarium in their home to house a shark, and that Oral Roberts died in surgery, to name a few, they said.

The report referenced in the lawsuit “was so ridiculous, I just dismissed it out of hand” when he received it from Cantees three years ago, Richard Roberts said.

He is having a harder time dealing with the lawsuit’s claims now. One plaintiff, Tim Brooker, alleges that he was forced to resign. At the mention of this, Richard Roberts became visibly agitated and repeated “That is not true” several times until his wife came over and patted him on the arm.

At the heart of the report is the implication that the Roberts family, kin to the former tent preacher who started his namesake university in 1965, lives in opulence.

Riding in the eight-passenger airplane that ORU leases, Lindsay Roberts mocked that claim by holding out her arm and pulling up her sleeve to reveal three simple golden bracelets she received from her father and a silver charm bracelet she got from her daughter Jordan, 22.

In the 2005-2006 tax year, Lindsay Roberts was paid $196,298 by the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and its for-profit subsidiary Traco Advertising. Richard Roberts was paid $431,554 by those entities and ORU, the association’s IRS 990 form says.

The couple defended Richard Roberts’ presidential salary of $228,000 as in line with what other university presidents make. The ORU board of regents sets the salary.

“I think we are compensated for the job we do,” Lindsay Roberts said.

God “says he calls his children to prosper,” she said, adding that the couple tithe a share of their income to ORU and other ministries.

Change of plans

This is not the life either Roberts envisioned.

Lindsay Roberts expected to become a lawyer. She described herself as being shy when she met Richard Roberts at ORU. Since that day, she knew she wanted to marry him. Now she appears on television 10 or more times a week.

Her husband wanted to be an athlete and night-club singer. Not yet a Christian, he wanted to get out of his parents’ house. He started singing and acting at the University of Kansas and had plans to sing in Las Vegas lounges for the summer. But in his second semester, he was hospitalized with a colon problem that would require surgery. He prayed, “God, if you’ll heal me, I’ll serve you.”

“I felt the power of God go through my body that night on the bed,” he said. His doctor asked the next day what had happened because the colon problem was nowhere to be found, he said.

Two weeks passed, and Richard Roberts forgot about his promise to God. He was lying in bed in his dorm room when he heard a voice say, “You’re in the wrong place.”

He sat up and realized he was alone. He heard the voice again.

“I realized, for the first time in my life I was hearing the voice of God,” who told him his destiny was at ORU, he said.

He returned to ORU, became a Christian at 19 and began to remember his worldwide travels with his evangelist father.

“Words of prophesy had been spoken over me when I was a little boy that I would be in the ministry someday,” he said.

Faith challenged

The couple’s daughters are now 18, 20 and 22, but before them was a baby boy, Richard Oral, who lived 36 hours.

Lindsay Roberts said a nurse in the hospital asked, “Are you still going to be a Christian?” and she answered, “More than ever.”

Another person who was not a Christian asked, “What do you think of God when your back’s up against the wall?”

She told him, ” That is where I have found him.”

She realized that in hard times, “it’s not always easy, but it’s always right to do the right thing. It’s always right to raise up Jesus,” she said.

The couple said they spoke with Oral Roberts on the phone last Monday night, and that he told them: “You must reassure your children to trust God. This can in no way shake their faith in God.”

The allegations have been “exceptionally hard” on their daughters, Lindsay Roberts said, but the youngest, Chloe, left a sky-blue sticky note on her mother’s Bible before the couple left for the Larry King show. Referring to the couple’s chance to talk publicly, the note said: “This is good!

Fear and accusations are under our feet.” It was signed with a heart and “Chloe.” Lindsay Roberts said she wants to be an example for her children, but she admitted:

“Do I cry sometimes? Do I walk out of the room?” Her husband interrupted: “Honey, you’re a human being.”

After the TV show, Lindsay Roberts’ expression was heavier. She talked to one daughter on her cell phone, saying: “I don’t want to attack anyone, honestly I don’t. We just have to stay full of integrity.”

Richard Roberts scanned through text messages of support that started rolling in as soon as he was off camera.

New Yorkers with umbrellas passed by the rain-dotted windows of their limousine, provided by CNN, while the Robertses listened to encouragement from their daughters and friends.

“We should have been talking about this on Day One,” Richard Roberts said into his phone.

ORU’s regents gave the couple permission to speak publicly a week after the suit was filed. But in that first week, the Robertses said, the campus “daddy” was not providing his understanding of the situation to students, and his wife felt that her silence was like holding back hugs from her “babies,” the students.

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This post was last updated: Monday, October 15, 2007 at 4:45 AM, Central European Time (CET)