Anybody who knows anything about my theology or my politics will be a bit surprised to see me offering my own words of praise for Oral Roberts who died this past week at age 91. On the other hand, anyone who knows about my heritage and scholarship as a pentecostal will think it perfectly appropriate for me to write in celebration of one of the most remarkable and accomplished religious leaders of the previous century.
I remember Oral Roberts's television show from my early childhood and such guests on the show as Mahalia Jackson. I remember the theme music "Something Good is Going to Happen to You" as the soundtrack to my getting dressed for church on Sundays when I was still in patent leather shoes. And yes I remember when Oral Roberts's fundraising tactics drew the scorn of the media and caused the disappointment of many others when he said that God has threatened to "call me home" if his supporters did not show up with the money.
None of those memories, though, prompts my writing about Roberts. In 2001, I traveled to Tulsa for the first time, to attend a meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, which was being hosted at Oral Roberts University. I knew, of course, that Roberts had founded an accredited institution of higher learning and that at one time that institution even housed a medical school. My college roommate's father was a professor at ORU. And I had seen their sports teams play on ESPN. But when I actually saw the buildings (corny and reminiscent of the 1970s as they were) and actually entered the prayer tower, I gained new respect for a man who was both a visionary and a person who accomplished what he set out to do.
Having begun his ministry as person with a gift for healing and having decided that the spiritual arts and medical science were not incompatible, Roberts did something that few religious or secular people have done - created an institution. His legacy as the founder and chancellor of ORU outdistances almost any of his critics'. I know that ORU has had its issues, particularly when Richard Roberts was at the helm, but none of that diminishes the accomplishments of Oral Roberts. He was a preacher, evangelist, pentecostal, and visionary. May he rest in peace from his labors and his works follow him.