Oral Roberts

Evangelist

Born: 24 January 1918
Died: 15 December 2009 (pneumonia)
Birthplace: Pontotoc County, Oklahoma
Best known as: TV preacher and healer who founded Oral Roberts University

Name at birth: Granville Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts was the first evangelist to lead large televised revivals in which worshipers claimed to be miraculously healed. He was raised in a Pentecostal Christian tradition whose worship style emphasized personal experiences of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues. Roberts pastored churches from 1941 to 1947, then became a full-time traveling preacher, holding revivals in tents seating as many as 18,000. He began filming them for television in 1955. Some worshipers committed their lives to Jesus; others sought healing from illnesses or disabilities, for which Roberts forcefully prayed, often while gripping the person's head. He invited viewers to put their hands on their hearts or TV sets for his closing prayer. His fame grew with the 1965 opening and 1971 accreditation of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an academic institution with Pentecostal convictions. By the time of his network TV specials in 1969, he was America's second best-known evangelist, behind his friend Billy Graham. Roberts reported occasional divine visions and messages throughout his life. Some of these brought public criticism or ridicule, such as his reported 1980 encounter with a 900-foot-tall Jesus and his 1987 claim that God had said Roberts would die if a fund-raising goal were not met.

Extra credit: His parents were evangelists in the Pentecostal Holiness Church, in which Oral became a licensed minister; he became a Methodist later in his ministry... The unusual name "Oral" was given by a cousin who customarily named babies in the family. She attached no particular significance to the name; several family names started with "O"... He attributed his own healing from severe tuberculosis at age 17 to the prayers of a revivalist, George Moncey. His childhood stuttering also ceased after that... In 1938 he married Evelyn Lutman Fahnestock (1917-2005). Their children were Rebecca (1939), Ronald (1943), Richard (1948) and Roberta (1950). Rebecca died in 1977 (plane crash), Ronald in 1982 (suicide). Richard was president of the university from 1993 until 2007, when he resigned amid allegations of financial mismanagement.

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