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when a Buick is a sign from God

November 30, 2012

Granville Roberts was born in Oklahoma in 1918.  He would grow up to head a $120

million a year empire.  Wikipedia offers no explanation about the acquisition of his

nickname “Oral”, but I’ve long thought that it was an odd choice to have in the name

of a university that demands its students pledge premarital abstinence.


Then again, that might have been his point.  If so, well played, Oral.


Roberts survived poverty and tuberculosis as a child, then struggled as a part-time

preacher as a young man.  When he was 29, however, he picked up his Bible and it

spontaneously opened to a passage that he interpreted as permission from God to

seek wealth.


The next day Roberts bought a Buick.  He claims God then appeared to him and bade

him heal the sick.  We can only speculate what The Big Guy would have told him if he’d

bought a Volvo, or if He would have appeared at all if Oral had bought a hybrid.


He quit the Pentecostal Holiness Church to establish the Oral Roberts Evangelistic



Alleging he could raise the dead, Roberts started touring the world.  The money began

rolling in.  In 1963 God sought him out again and suggested that he start an education

center in Tulsa.  Oral Roberts University (ORU) opened two years later.  The divine

intervention seems to have helped its athletic department.  ORU has fielded several

successful baseball and basketball teams.


In 1968 Roberts abandoned his Pentecostal roots and joined a Methodist church to widen

his base.  A ground-breaking televangelist, his show The Abundant Life reached 80% of

U.S. households at one point.  After going Methodist, he broadcast quarterly prime time



He raised eyebrows in January 1989 when he announced that if he didn’t raise $8 million

by March, God would “call him home”.  He soon had $9.1 million.  The über-droll comic

Steven Wright may have helped when he said God had offered him $1 million to bump

Roberts off.


The good reverend would need that revenue.  His City of Faith Medical Center in Tulsa,

opened in 1981, was bleeding money by the end of the decade.  Some of the very few

patients sued him and his son Richard for $15 million for fraud.  Oral was forced to sell

his homes in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, plus three of his Mercedes.


Despite that, Roberts wouldn’t give up his lesser riches.  A British obituary about him

reported “he continued to wear his Italian silk suits, diamond rings and gold bracelets —

airbrushed out by his staff on publicity pictures.”


Even with his conspicuous consumption, he managed to avoid any real scandals that

other evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard couldn’t.  His son

Richard didn’t fare so well.  In 2007 he resigned as president of ORU after former

faculty members accused him of financial improprieties and wrongfully terminating



They further alleged that Richard’s wife Lindsay also misused university funds and

spent at least nine nights with a 16-year-old male in the ORU guesthouse.


This May, Richard pled guilty to misdemeanor DUI and received 18 months probation.


Oral finally was called home December 15, 2009, but not before other family problems

tested his faith.  His daughter Rebecca was killed in a plane crash in 1977.  His older son

Ronald killed himself in 1982, six months after coming out and five months after being

court-ordered to drug rehab.  His grandson Randy is gay and has written about growing

up closeted in the Roberts family.





I am having increasing problems with logging onto WordPress.  Combined with the near

constant rainstorms we’re having, I can’t get online consistently.  If I haven’t posted on

Mondays and Fridays as usual, that’s probably why.  Please bear with me.

  1. November 30, 2012 9:44 pm

    you post more than 80% of the other bloggers i read so do what you can..

    • December 3, 2012 9:31 am

      Thank you. I dream of a fiber optic connection some day.

  2. December 2, 2012 4:02 pm

    Perfect weather here but my internet tower has had it’s share of problems lately as well. Inconsistant usage, I was on the phone for over an hour the other night and… on top of that they will not adjust my account for the 4 days that I couldn’t get online for more than a few minutes at a time.
    Fasinating story of Oral Roberts, and given his age, I am assuming it is one of the turn of the century names. I had an uncle named Oral and knew several men with the same name. Back then, I do not think that Oral had the same meaning then as it does now, but if it did, wouldn’t that have been a cosmic joke, lol.

    • December 3, 2012 9:38 am

      I’ve seen it spelled “Orel”, as in baseball great Orel Hershiser. My best guess is that there was no irony intended in the Roberts family.

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