Roberts, Oral

Roberts, (Granville) Oral

(1918–  ) Protestant evangelist; born in Ada, Okla. The son of a Pentacostal preacher, he had little formal education and endured poor health as a youth. After a dozen years as a pastor and evangelist in a succession of Southern towns, he became a faith healer in 1947. He went on to establish a multimillion dollar evangelical empire and to found Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. He had television and radio programs and published several books, including Don't Give Up (1980). In the later 1980s, when his enterprises encountered financial troubles, he made widely publicized appeals for aid.
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Evangelist Oral Roberts, shown here in 1962, has long been famous for his practice of spiritual healings through the power of Christ. Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Roberts, Oral (b. 1918)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Oral Roberts, the most prominent Pentecostal healing minister of the twentieth century, was born January 24, 1918, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. He was the son of an independent Pentecostal minister. In 1935, he became ill with tuberculosis, but he was healed at a Pentecostal revival meeting. He later attended Oklahoma Baptist College and Phillips University, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

In 1947 he left the pastorate to become a fulltime evangelist with a ministry center on prayer for healing. He settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, founded the magazine Healing Waters, and wrote one of his most popular books, If You Need Healing—Do These Things. As early as 1952 he penned an autobiographical book, and he has periodically expanded and updated it since then.

Roberts became one of the pioneers of religious broadcasting when in 1954 he began what became one of the most successful television ministries. He began to film his own revival tent meetings and featured his prayers for healing, along with a sermon, on his weekly show. His crusades, writing, and television work consumed the next decade.

In the mid 1960s his ministry underwent a variety of changes. In 1963, Oral Roberts College (now University) was chartered, and the first students arrived two years later (he passed the presidency of the university to his son Richard Roberts in 1993). Then, in 1964, he left the Pentecostal Holiness Church, joined the newly formed United Methodist Church, underwent its course of study for the ministry, and was eventually ordained a Methodist minister. He discontinued the tent ministry that had formed the core of his work. In 1970, Roberts published his book, The Miracle of Seed Faith, which signaled a new direction in his ministry. Along with healing, Roberts began to suggest that God’s plan included prosperity for believers.

The 1980s and 1990s were years of triumph for the long-lived Roberts as the Charismatic revival greatly enlarged the Pentecostal community and Oral Roberts University became the revival’s leading educational institution. Roberts’s television ministry evolved through the years and continues under his son Richard, who has gradually assumed leadership of the many structures created by his father.

Roberts’s career has not been without controversy. Almost from the beginning of his healing ministry, he has had to deal with critics of healing ministries in general. In spite of critics who charge that many reported healings never occurred (charging the people healed were not really sick or that the healing did not really occur), enough people were helped in his ministry to overwhelm the critics. Roberts was also beset by family problems, including the suicide of his homosexual eldest son and Richard’s messy divorce in 1979. These problems were largely behind him when in 1988 he celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Evelyn.

Continuing to be active into the twenty-first century, though at a much reduced pace, Roberts has written more than 120 books. His original periodical continues under the title Miracles Now.

Sources:

Harrell, David E. Oral Roberts: An American Life.Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985.
Lippy, Charles H. Twentieth-Century Shapers of American Popular Religion. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Roberts, Oral. Expect a Miracle: My Life and Ministry. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
______. If You Need Healing—Do These Things. Tulsa,OK: Standard Printing, 1947.
______. The Miracle of Seed Faith. Charlotte, NC:Commission Press, 1970.
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