BILLIONAIRE televangelist Oral Roberts this week fell off the perch aged 91 – but his passing has generated a great deal more derision than sadness.
The life of the preposterous old fraud was, to my mind, best summed on Gawker.com:
Oral Roberts was a pioneer of televangelism, and he profited handsomely from it. Born into poverty in Oklahoma, he suffered from tuberculosis as a child, thereby learning early on that desperately sick people are willing to part with their money in exchange for some hope. You can make a good living this way if you travel around and take cash directly. Roberts’ innovation was in lying to hundreds of thousands – millions!Â – of people at a time through the miracle of television, and taking checks in the mail.
His show “Oral Roberts Presents” was a forum for healing the sick and dispossessed through God’s power, but God doesn’t work for free. Roberts famously told his viewers in 1987 that God was going to “call him home” if he didn’t raise $8 million from the poor dupes who believed what he said. The death threat worked: After climbing up into a “prayer tower” and going on a hunger strikeâ€”a “fast”â€”until he got his money, Roberts hit the $8 million mark.
Other toxic and preposterous lies: A 900-foot-tall Jesus appeared before him and commanded him to raise $120 million to build a hospital. The devil tried to strangle him in his bedroom, only to be driven away by his wife. Special holy water sprinkled on a billfold will bring prosperity. God told him he would return from the dead to rule over the Earth.
In addition to a legacy of fraud and theft, Roberts left us Oral Roberts University, a Christian educational institute that served as a playground for his son Richard, who ran it, and his wife. According to a 2007 lawsuit, Richard’s wife spent school money to remodel their home 11 times in 14 years, employ her “underaged male” friends, run up $800 cell phone bills, spend $39,000 a pop on clothes at Chico’s, and fly their daughter to Orlando for spring break on a private jet. The couple also allegedly forced professors and students to do their daughter’s homework.
Anyway, he’s dead.
But we at the Freethinker should point out: Not for long! In 1987 Roberts told a conference of charismatic Bible believers that God had informed him that he would not loiter on the Other Side; that he was destined to return to earth where:
I’m Going to Rule.
He had a picture that God would return him to Tulsa.
I’m looking to the world to come because I’m not going to stay over there. I’m coming back. And I’m going to help bring that world to come with me and put it right on top of this world right here that’s been persecuting me. And I’m going to get my rightful place. I’m going to rule and I’m going to reign. You look at Oral Roberts University, what happens to it when I get back from the other side.
Roberts, unsurprisingly, was a dyed-in-the-wool homo-hater. You can here him on the subject of the correct use of the penis and vagina in this hilarious YouTube video: