TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Richard Roberts told students at Oral Roberts University that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but that he did so because God insisted.
God told him on Thanksgiving that he should resign the next day, Roberts told students in the university’s chapel on Wednesday.
”Every ounce of my flesh said ‘no”’ to the idea, Roberts said, but he prayed over the decision with his wife and his father, Oral Roberts, and decided to step down.
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Roberts said he wanted to ”strike out” against the people who were persecuting him, and considered countersuing, but ”the Lord said, ‘don’t do that,”’ he said.
After submitting his resignation, he said, for ”first time in 60 days peace came into my heart.”
Roberts spoke for only a few minutes and was applauded and cheered by students. He wiped away tears with a white handkerchief and his hands.
”This has nearly destroyed my family, and it’s nearly destroyed ORU,” Roberts said.
A lawsuit accuses Roberts of lavish spending at a time when the university faced more than $50 million in debt, including taking shopping sprees, buying a stable of horses and paying for a daughter to travel to the Bahamas aboard the university jet.
Roberts has previously said that God told him to deny the allegations. The week the lawsuit was filed, Richard Roberts said that God told him: ”We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit … is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion.”
On Wednesday, Roberts said God told him he would ”do something supernatural for the university” if he stepped down from the job he held at the 5,700-student school since 1993.
On Tuesday, the founder of a Christian office and education supply store chain pledged $70 million to help the university, provided it passed a 90-day review of the school’s finances. Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green, founder of the Mardel chain, offered to donate $8 million immediately.
Roberts said he would return to the full-time evangelistic healing ministry, ”which is where my heart has always been,” and told students and faculty that he will be praying for them every day of his life.
”I believe with all my heart the best is yet to come for ORU,” he said.
Roberts walked out of the chapel through a side door to more cheers. Regents Chairman George Pearsons followed, telling students the ORU administration is ”endeavoring to do the right thing” during a very difficult time.
”This is a good university,” Pearsons said. ”ORU is a place where love is king.”
Gary Richardson, the attorney who filed the lawsuit accusing Roberts of lavish living, said Wednesday there was a possibility for settlement with the university, but held out little hope for settling with Richard Roberts after what he said was his failure to admit in chapel he did anything wrong.
”You can’t imagine the people who say to us, ‘Don’t let it be swept under the carpet,”’ Richardson said.
Richardson also said his firm filed a request with Roberts’ attorneys for a copy of a report detailing an outside audit of the university’s finances. Tuesday, Pearsons refused to provide details of the audit, citing the pending litigation.
”We’ll get it, as long as there’s a lawsuit involved,” Richardson said.
Roberts remains the CEO of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and remains a ”spiritual regent” who cannot vote on university matters.
On Tuesday, Pearsons announced a plan to separate the finances and leadership of the university from the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, a move welcomed by many students and faculty members.
The university has been under the ministry since its inception in 1963, an arrangement that critics say led to co-mingling of funds and a blurring of leadership roles.