Forgotten Word Ministries
THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF ORAL ROBERTS
report is from the Digging in the Walls section of O Timothy magazine,
Volume 7, Issue 3, 1990. and is a review of the book "Oral Roberts: An
American Life", by David Edwin Harrell, Jr., Bloomington,
Indiana: Indiana University Press 47405. The review appeared in
Christian News December 9, 1985. We want to print this now because
of the events which have happened recently in regard to Roberts. In
spite of his supposed visions in which Christ appeared to him and told
him to build the City of Faith medical center and told him that from
this center would flow a healing stream throughout the world, Roberts is
in the process of closing it down. It should be obvious now even to the
gullible that Roberts is a phony. We print this review to show that he
has always been a liar and a phony. It isn't something new! The fact
that Roberts has been acclaimed and accepted as a great man of God by
the charismatic movement is itself evidence of the spiritual bankruptcy
The publisher says on this book's jacket:
"Millions of people throughout the world consider Oral Roberts a prophet of God. Millions more believe him to be a charlatan. While his ministry has been stormy and controversial, few would question its huge impact on America and the world. For nearly forty years the name Oral Roberts has been synonymous with religious healing. He is the leader produced by the Pentecostal and charismatic world.
"A pentecostal spokesman in the 1980s claimed that fifty million people throughout the world had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and predicted that by the end of the century, half of the world's Protestants would be pentecostal.
"Of course, the pentecostal and charismatic movements were not the creations of Oral Roberts. The pentecostal churches, the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, and among individuals, David du Plessis played catalytic roles in the spread of spirit-filled religion. But Roberts stands nearer the head of the amorphous movement than any other man, commanding respect throughout it." (page vii)
[Editor: Before we reprint the review of Harrell's book from Christian News, we give a summary of the first half of Roberts' life as published in an article in the St. Petersburg Times, September 7, 1985:]
"Roberts [left] high school, [and his] formal education, from that time on consisted of the equivalent of about two years of college work, all taken in part-time study at Bible schools in Oklahoma. He and his father laborer-preachers populating the fringes of the pentecostal movement.'
"Roberts has spent the rest of his life trying to change that image. At his side has been his wife, also the daughter of a pentecostal preacher. Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock, a school teacher whom he met while both were playing guitars and singing at a camp meeting, was just as determined as Oral to escape poverty ... Mrs. Roberts has since acknowledged, just as her husband has, that she `yearned for respectability and resented poverty.'
"But the first 10 years of their marriage offered no such escape. They were tied to a denomination that taught that `you had to be poor to be a Christian.' Roberts had traveled the evangelistic circuit for five years and held four brief pastorates before he found justification for their suppressed desires in a biblical passage and in another `audible' message from God.
"The awakening began in the spring of 1947 when, discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm in his congregation in Enid, Okla., Roberts prayed desperately for help. He says the Lord responded first by 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.'
"Roberts considered it a revelation. Mrs. Roberts has described it since as their `point of embarkation' and their `liberation.' Shortly afterward, they bought their first new car, a Buick, which Roberts said became `a symbol to me of what a man could do if he would believe in God.'
"A month later, Roberts say, he had his second encounter with the voice of God. He was in his church study, praying for direction to his ministry, when the voice told him to get into his car and drive home to the parsonage. On the way, the voice told him to concentrate his ministry on healing. `You will have the power to pray for the sick and cast out devils,' Roberts says the voice told him.
"In April, he began holding healing services in his church on Sunday afternoons. His first healing was a woman whose hand had been crippled for 38 years. Word of the healing spread. By May, the crowds were so large that he rented facilities in a large downtown Enid building. In June, he announced to his congregation that he had received invitations to conduct healing services in eight states and had decided to resign his pastorate.
His climb since then has been steady. In 1949, he began a series of radio programs. 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.
"In 1957, his evangelistic association contended that his programs on radio and television were reaching an audience of `almost one billion persons'--probably an exaggeration, but one that not many of his colleagues in evangelism were willing to dispute."
[Now we continue with the Christian News review of Oral Roberts: An American Life by David Harrell:]
The author notes that Roberts' early prayer cloths were imprinted with this message:
"I prayed over this cloth for God to deliver you--use as a point of contact (Acts 19:11-12). Oral Roberts, Tulsa 2, Okla. It is not necessary to wear the cloth unless you feel you should. It can be used more than once or for more than one person. If you wish to request more, I will be glad to send them to you. The important thing is to use the cloth as a point of contact for the body ... I have prayed over this cloth in the name of Jesus of Nazareth and asked Him to heal you when you apply it to your body."
By 1949 the number of prayer cloths mailed numbered nearly 100,000 a year.
Oral Roberts praised such fellow faith healers as Jack Coe. He said that "Jack has faith." Coe and other faith healers defended by Roberts have been exposed as phonies.
Harrell writes: "He was repeatedly taunted about his failures--the Amarillo storm, the death of persons in his meetings, his admission that not all in his healing lines were helped--and challenged to deliver a miracle on demand. In perhaps the harshest charge made against him, a widely distributed tract accused Oral of "payola":
"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."
ORAL ROBERTS LIES ABOUT DOCTORS
"Probably the most damaging religious attack on Oral ever published appeared in the Presbyterian Outlook in 1955. The article, written by Carroll R. Stegall, Jr., pastor of the Pryor Street Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, was later republished in a widely circulated tract. It was Stegall's tract which preceded Oral to Australia and fanned opposition to him.
"Stegall's curiosity was piqued by the March 1952 issue of Healing Waters, which featured a cover picture of `three great medical doctors congratulating Oral Roberts.' Stegall and Donald Grey Barnhouse, noted conservative Presbyterian pastor in Philadelphia, addressed an inquiry to the American Medical Association that `brought the answer from their bureau of investigation that not one of the men mentioned ... could be identified as doctors of medicine ... One of the three men was found operating in Phoenix as a `naturopathic physician' [meaning he was not a licensed medical doctor]. No organization headed by `Dr. J.H. Miller, outstanding medical doctor and president of a medial society of over 20,000 physicians,' was discovered.'
"Stegall later attended a number of campaigns, interviewed Oral, and did some follow-up interviews with those who had passed through the healing line. He concluded that Oral was not `as bad as some others in the miracle business,' but found no basis to support his claims. `I have never seen a vestige of change. I challenge any honest investigator to follow my technique and see whether his findings do not agree with mine.' Stegall concluded: `So far from glorifying God with this they (the healing evangelists) cause His name to be blasphemed by the world by their excesses. So far from curing, they often kill. Far from blessing, their arrival in a city is rather a curse, a misery, a racket, a destruction of faith in simple people.'" (pp. 163,164)
ROBERTS' HEALING MEETINGS FREQUENTLY THE SCENE OF DISASTER
According to Harrell:
"The negative assessments were exacerbated by the morbid fascination of the press with the periodic tragedies which struck the crusades. In 1951, an Alabama businessman died while attending a Roberts campaign in Atlanta.
"Such tragedies struck with some regularity during the 1950s and were generally accompanied by flurries of bad publicity.
"In 1955, the death of an elderly Indian, Jonas Rider, during Oral's campaign in Calgary, Alberta, occurred according to the local press `in the evangelist's tent surrounded by converts and followers of the cult.' A prominent `Southern Alberta physician' condemned the campaign as `ridiculous,' no more than `mass hypnotism.'
"The following January, Mary Ida Buddington Vondersher, who had appeared the year before on Oral's television program in the healing line, returned to testify of her healing of cancer, but she died in her California home only twelve hours after her testimony was aired.
"The year 1959 was particularly beset by tragedy. In January, a sixty- four-old California man died of a heart attack during a campaign in Oakland Auditorium. Then, in May, death struck twice in a campaign in Fayeteville, North Carolina. First, a three-year-old girl died under the tent in her parents' arms while waiting for the service to begin." (pp. 164,165)
GRAHAM'S ENDORSEMENT OF ROBERTS
Harrell tells about Billy Graham's endorsement beginning in 1950 of Oral Roberts:
"As they left their Portland hotel to catch a taxi to the crusade, Billy was just leaving. The ever-gracious Graham grabbed Oral's hand and requested that he and Evelyn ride with him. Oral demurred, but Billy insisted: inside the taxi he told Oral that he expected him to sit on the platform and lead the evening prayer. Oral protested: `Billy you can't afford to have me pray.' As they rode, Billy told Oral that he and Cliff Barrows had visited a Roberts campaign in Florida a few months before, slipping in and out unnoticed, and they had been blessed by it. He also revealed that his wife's sister had experienced a healing in a pentecostal setting; he was not ashamed to be identified with Oral Roberts. Oral offered the evening prayer, and that evening, after he and Evelyn returned to the hotel coffee shop, Billy and Ruth Graham insisted that they join them for a snack.
"The meeting had been brief, casual, and mostly unplanned. But for Oral it was loaded with meaning. His appearance on Graham's platform was unprecedented recognition for a pentecostal to receive from an evangelical ministry--especially from Billy Graham. Graham's personal kindness, his glad and wholesome embrace of a fellow Christian, placed Oral momentarily in a larger, more respectable, world than he had ever imagined he could be a part of. He had glimpsed a vision which Graham would open to him more clearly sixteen years later" (p. 179)
When Oral Roberts University was opened in 1965, "Carl F.H. Henry wrote Oral a `letter of congratulations' at the time, along with the note: `Billy Graham and I are hopeful that you will be at the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin ... and I know that an invitation will be forthcoming in the months ahead.'
"Oral was coy but `tickled as a little kid' to be invited to dine with Billy and a circle of conference dignitaries. As the dinner closed, Billy told Oral that he wanted him to lead prayer before one of the plenary sessions of the congress, and Oral `quietly declined.' As Billy greeted each guest as he left, he asked Oral, `Oral when are you going to invite me to speak at your campus?' Oral seizing the opportunity, replied, `How would you like to come to the campus not only to speak but to dedicate the University?' `I'd be honored to do it,' replied Graham, making a commitment which placed his own ministry in some jeopardy." (p. 201) ...
Graham introduced Roberts at the World Congress on Evangelism:
"Our prayer is going to be led by a man that I have come to love and appreciate in the ministry of evangelism. He has just built, and is in the process of building, a great university. He is known throughout the world through his radio and television work, and millions of people listen to him. They read what he writes and they thank God for his ministry. I am speaking of Dr. Oral Roberts, and I'm going to ask him to say a word of greeting to us before he leads the prayer."
The author says that "Oral's rapport with the audience was magical" (pg. 203). After Roberts concluded, Harrell quotes Calvin Thielman as saying, "pandemonium broke loose, they jumped up from every angle and applauded and applauded."
"Oral's prayer, many felt, moved the entire Congress." Leighton Ford tracked down Calvin Thielman and asked for an introduction to Oral; others clamored to meet him. as the delegates returned home, many filtered through Montreat [North Carolina] to talk with Billy, and Calvin reported that `every word I heard about Oral Roberts was one of great commendation. People deeply appreciated the contribution which he made to the Congress. He made an impression on all of us that was good.' The Christianity Today report on the conference emphasized the good will Oral had won in the evangelical community:
"Evangelist Oral Roberts won a significant measure of new respect through the congress. He made a host of friends among delegates who were openly impressed with his candor and humility."
"It was Oral who had been most deeply changed by the congress. `What it did, in effect,' surmised Calvin Thielman, `was to open a new ... circle of friends to him.'" (p. 205) ...
"Robert's friendship with Billy Graham--highlighted by Oral's presence in Berlin and Graham's dedication address at ORU--did much to lessen tensions between charismatics and evangelicals. The spread of the charismatic movement into the main-stream churches, bringing unexpected acceptance to the pentecostal experience of speaking in tongues, and Oral's discovery of the evangelical world and welcome into it were, in Calvin Thielman's words, `a happy combination of events.' ... In the years following the Berlin congress, Oral Roberts University hosted a procession of noncharismatic evangelical speakers, including Leighton Ford, F.F. Bruce, Josh McDowell and Hal Lindsey." (p. 291)
ROBERTS JOINED THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Roberts joined the Methodist church in 1968, leaving the Pentecostal Holiness church. The Methodist church is a member of the National Council of Churches. Roberts was content to be a member of the Methodist Church even though a scientific survey taken at that time showed that only about 50 percent of the Methodist clergy accepted the resurrection of Christ as a historical fact.
Harrell says that:
"The most compelling attraction of the Methodist Church was its latitude. Oral was increasingly cramped by pentecostal theology and his church's moral prudishness; both restraints would have hindered his new television format." (p. 298)
ROBERTS AND THE FULL GOSPEL BUSINESS MEN INTERNATIONAL
Harrell says that: "The Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International proved to be an extraordinarily effective tool for spreading the pentecostal message to the American middle class. By 1975 it had 1,650 chapters, in every state and in fifty-two foreign countries ... But the relationship between Oral Roberts and the FGBMFI remained constant--he was the organization's high priest and most coveted friend. The members of the fellowship were probably the most important reservoir of funds in the building of Oral Roberts University; Shakarian and Roberts never faltered in their belief that each was specially raised up to spread the baptism and the Holy Spirit to the wider world." (pp. 288,289)
Harrell mentions Roberts' great respect for Miss Kathryn Kuhlman. "She has long admired Oral; he believed that `she represented the finest of the healing ministry of Jesus.' Kuhlman made frequent visits to Tulsa in the last years of her life, giving the baccalaureate address at ORU in 1972 and receiving the university's first honorary doctorate the same year. The flamboyant evangelist signed on as `head cheerleader' for the university and was a warm friend of the Roberts family at the time of her death in 1976."
Kuhlman has been exposed as a phony healer by a medical doctor who formerly supported her. She broke up a family when she married a man she later divorced without any scriptural reason. Charismatics generally reject what the Bible teaches about divorce. Roberts excused the unscriptural divorce of "Miss" Kathryn Kuhlman and like most charismatics rejects what the Bible teaches about women leading public worship services.
The author observes that one of Oral's most enthusiastic supporters was Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a unitarian editor of the Tulsa Tribune.
TRAGEDY STALKS ROBERTS LIFE
The last two decades have been marked by tragedy in the Roberts family. His daughter Rebecca and her husband Marshall Nash were killed in an airplane crash in 1977. His son Richard and daughter-in-law Patti, who were being groomed to take over the ministry, were divorced in 1979. Three years later, his rebellious older son Ronnie committed suicide. And last year , his 10th grandchild--the son of Richard and his second wife Lindsay and the only heir to be named after him--died two days after birth.
Harrell describes the death of the grandchild:
"Within a few hours after his birth, doctors discovered the child was having difficulty breathing. The news, Evelyn recalled, `just tore Oral to pieces.' For over thirty hours, while doctors fought to save the baby, Oral, Richard, and others prayed. Lindsay was wheeled up to the baby's side to pray; Kenneth Hagin and his wife, and other ministers, came to pray for healing. When Richard Oral finally died, on January 19, it `devastated Oral.' He called it the worst tragedy of his scarred life. `I think' Evelyn reflected, `because he felt there was so much healing power in that room that they could have healed a thousand people ... But he said there was something in that baby and he got it as far as the head and it would not leave ... Some obstacle would not leave. It was stubborn.'
"The family once again faced misfortune bravely, searching for meaning in the death. They immediately announced the addition of an obstetrics suite in the City of Faith Medical Center in memory of Richard Oral Roberts." (p. 347, 348)
ROBERTS' PERSONAL FINANCES
"Roberts' two California homes, partly for security reasons, were not much discussed by the ministry. Oral also remained sensitive about press criticism of his lifestyle. His house in Palm Springs, purchased for $285,000 and financed by a Tulsa bank, was his only privately owned home. In 1982 ORU endowment funds were used to purchase a $2,400,000 house in a high-security development in Beverly Hills. Considered a potentially profitable investment, the house served as Oral's West Coast office and residence." (p. 355)
"Oral's homes in California inevitably kept alive the old questions about his personal wealth and lifestyle. While probably not as probing as the press had been fifteen years earlier, reporters still took a keen interest in Oral's financial affairs. In 1981, the Associated Press published Roberts' personal income figures for the preceding five years--ranging from $70,000 in 1976 to $178,000 in 1978.
"In addition to his healthy income, derived mostly from book royalties, Oral continued to enjoy generous expense accounts: `The Robertses wear expensive clothes and jewelry and travel in a company-owned eight-passenger fanjet.'
Patti Roberts' book [following her divorce from Oral's son, Robert] and an earlier expose written by Jerry Sholes, renewed curiosity about the family's financial affairs, although Patti confessed that her own `extravagance' while she was Richard's wife had `blunted' her protest.
Tax records indicate that Oral's partners donated in excess of $38,000,000 in the fiscal year 1977-78, "surpassing every other religious association in the nation." (p. 389)
In 1979 a book was published by Jerry Sholes, a former employee of Oral Robert ministries, which detailed deep deception and 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!)" (Evangelist R.L. Sumner's review of Give Me that Prime- time Religion by Jerry Sholes)
"By the mid-1980s, Oral Roberts had come to be the chief executive officer of an organization that employed about 2,300 people and did an annual business of about 110 million dollars, about 60 percent of which was raised through contributions." (p. 485)
CITY OF FAITH MEDICAL CENTER VISION
Roberts describes a vision he received from God:
"He said to me: `Son, you cannot put the vision I have given you into a place where My full healing power is not freely accepted. It must not be in a place defeated by lack of faith in My miraculous power. You must build a new and different medical center for Me. The healing streams of prayer and medicine must merge through what I will have you build. ...
"There rising before me were the details of the buildings. Immediately I was led to read the two chapters in the Bible, Revelation 21,22. There I saw the City of God, the New Jerusalem, with its River of Life and its broad avenues. ...
"`I saw the City of God as a reflection of God himself bringing healing and health to those who entered there. Suddenly God gave me a new name for the Health Care and Research Center I am to build in His name.
"`You shall call it the City of Faith.'
"I thought my heart would burst with joy. The City of Faith. What a name! I knew only God could give a name like that to the Health Care and Research Center He wanted me to build.'" (p. 333)
By late 1984 Oral's City of Faith hospital had only opened about 130 of its 294 beds and the projected figure of 777 operational beds seemed a remote goal (p. 391).
"In a dramatic announcement in July 1984, he reported that Jesus had once again visited him and an `angel of the Lord' had been placed at his disposal. Oral `dispatched' the angel to bring the `poor, needy and the sick' to the City of Faith, opening the hospital to indigent patients. In the fall of 1984, the occupancy rate at the hospital seemed to be rising" (p. 391). [The rise in the rate of occupancy at the City of Faith was only temporary.]
The twenty-story medical research center also developed more slowly than anticipated. By 1984 only three floors of the research center were in use.
BILL BRIGHT AND CAMPUS CRUSADE ACCEPT ROBERTS
The most promising connection explored in the early 1980s appeared to be a cautious alliance struck with Bill Bright, founder and leader of Campus Crusade. After talking to Bright in April 1982, Oral excitedly spoke of the potential of a link with Campus Crusade:
"Right now this very second the global aspects of the outreach of this university are shaping up. I've got off the phone from one of the most influential men in the world. A spiritual leader who has more people over the world in 150 nations and the Lord spoke to him several months ago that he was to work with us and with our students. While he and I have been friends for thirty years, there was always a difference in the charismatic area and we never fell out or anything like that ... We were friends sides. We have a working relationship that will begin this summer and it probably (will be) one of the ... two or three most important things that has ever happened to his university."
"Bright came to the ORU campus in November 1982, received a warm reception, and agreed for a City of Faith physician to spend two months in a Campus Crusade hospital in Swaziland. It was a trial union between two very powerful and independent organizations; the Roberts ministry felt, at least, that there was `a good promising area there.'" (pp. 394,395)
VISION OF THE 900-FOOT JESUS
Many Bible believing Christians have been skeptical about the visions Roberts claims to receive when he needs money and the fact that he says God talks directly to him. Orthodox Christians maintain that God speaks to man today only through His Word, Holy Scripture.
"The partner letter which triggered the most resounding outburst of public ridicule and criticism [to that time] was a September 1980 description of Oral's vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus. Roberts reported that late on the afternoon of May 25, he stood looking at the unfinished skeleton of the City of Faith, distraught over his financial difficulties, when `suddenly an unusual feeling swept over me':
"`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 recalled that his eyes filled with tears, and Jesus assured him that He would speak to the ministry's part ners and that the City of Faith would be finished." (p. 415)
ROBERTS' ENDORSEMENT OF THE READER'S DIGEST CONDENSED BIBLE
Oral Roberts has enthusiastically endorsed the Reader's Digest Bible, a Bible which, like the RSV, eliminates the deity of Christ in its translation of such key passages as Philippians 2:6 and Romans 9:5. It translates the Hebrew "almah" in Isaiah 7:14 as "young woman" rather than "virgin." It eliminates Christ from various important messianic passages as Genesis 22:18.
"In spite of his literalistic faith in the Bible, it was quite true, as Jim Buskirk observed, that Oral was `not fundamentalist,' but rather he spanned `the Bible in his theology. He thinks of it wholistically.' Roberts was not rigid or legalistic; he did not, in fact, have a systematic theology. When Reader's Digest published a condensed version of the Bible in 1982, fundamentalists uniformly denounced the project, but Oral endorsed it. Whereas the Bible became a static, verbally inspired book to nineteenth-century evangelicals, to pentecostals it was a living revelation to be perceived by experience" (p. 441).
ORAL ROBERTS SINCE 1985
O Timothy Editor: Since the publication of Oral Roberts--An American Life by David Harrell in 1985, Roberts has claimed to have had more strange visions. In January 1987, he told his television audience that God had appeared to him in March of 1986 and had told him that he must raise $8 million within the next 12 months or he would die. The money was supposed to provide scholarships for medical students who attend Oral Roberts University. In the January broadcasts, Roberts claimed he has raised $3.5 million but he must have another $4.5 million before March 31--or he would die! Apparently the gimmick worked, because in April Roberts announced that he had received the $8 million.
Now it has become clear that the medical college will be closed due to financial troubles and no scholarships will be distributed.
It is obvious that Roberts is a deceiver and a false prophet. His prophecies have been proven wrong time and time again. Sadly, he has deceived multitudes with his lying words and false promises, and has robbed God's people of hundreds of millions of dollars. And in spite of all the evidence which proves Roberts' hypocrisy, he is still regarded as a great Christian leader in charismatic circles and is still promoted as a man of God. This is another evidence of the spiritual bankruptcy of the pentecostal movement.
[This report is from the Digging in the Walls section of O Timothy magazine, Volume 7, Issue 3, 1990.]