Oral Roberts, the pioneering televangelist and founder of Oral Roberts University, died today at the age of 91.
Roberts was adored in the charismatic world, with major televangelists crediting him with their own success. Roberts, who was the first prime-time televangelist and popularized seed-faith theology, was a mentor to many: Word of Faith icon Kenneth Copeland was Roberts’ personal pilot before launching his own ministry. Carlton Pearson, who later went on to reject the idea of hell, only to be rejected by his Pentecostal brethren, in his youth was a member (as was Kathy Lee Gifford) of Roberts’ World Action Singers. He and Roberts were so close that Roberts referred to him as “my black son.”
Roberts’ seed-faith theology became an essential part of Word of Faith televangelism, as did his claims of miraculous televised healings. If you sow a seed — as in giving money to your preacher or televangelist — you will reap a hundred or thousand-fold harvest. Seed-faith theology, combined with the Word of Faith theology popularized by another Tulsa evangelist, Kenneth Hagin, coalesced in modern televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, arguably the most financially successful television preacher.
A few years ago, Roberts wrote in Copeland’s magazine, The Believer’s Voice of Victory:
Brother Hagin had a tremendous influence on the [the Copelands]. And so they had a merging of my ministry, of the healing ministry, of the seed-faith ministry that I had introduced to the world; and Brother Hagin’s fantastic ministry on faith and the word of God.
Copeland boasted last year that he has raised a billion dollars in his television career.
Two years ago, Roberts’ son Richard was forced out of his position as president of ORU over a scandal alleging that he and his wife, Lindsay, diverted donor funds to family vacations and renovations of their Tulsa home.
Other ORU alumni include Rep. Michele Bachmann, Ted Haggard, Teen Mania founder Ron Luce, and Christian right “historian” David Barton.