Oral Roberts Says He’s Been Given A Money-or-Death Ultimatum
TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Oral Roberts was the object of jokes in 1980 when he based a fund-raising campaign on a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus.
Four years later, the evangelist’s ministry asked for donations while offering a 7-inch-tall replica of an angel Roberts said visited him.
This year, with his following dropping off, his City of Faith Medical Center unable to fill its beds and the university named after him struggling, Roberts told viewers he will die in March unless he raises $4.5 million for medical missionary scholarships.
A spokeswoman says the evangelist means what he says and that his supporters have no reason to question his methods.
Roberts said God gave him the ultimatum in March, warning that he had to raise a total of $8 million or ″I’m going to call you home in one year.″ The money, $3.5 million of which already had been raised, is to allow Oral Roberts University medical students to graduate debt-free and become missionaries.
Roberts’ latest appeal has been criticized by some religious leaders and a few of the 200 television stations that broadcast his program. One station said it would not run Roberts’ message, while others said they will screen programs for such appeals before broadcasting them.
″The danger is not so much in the way funds are raised, but in that it can lead people to believe in a God that is manipulative,″ said the Rev. Kent Ingram of the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, where Roberts is a registered member. ″He may not mean that, but that’s what frightens me.″
The ministry said $1.6 million in cash and pledges poured in within two weeks of Roberts’ remarks Jan. 4.
Roberts rarely grants interviews and has been out of state since he reported his conversation with God.
Jan Dargatz, the ministry’s vice president for creative development, said she believes the goal will be reached and that Roberts will live.
″He firmly believes that this is a mandate of God on his life, something that he must do. This is his next project for God, and his life is on the line about it. It’s not atypical for him to do this,″ Dargatz said.
Roberts, 68, entered the spotlight 40 years ago with fiery sermons and faith healing that drew thousands to huge tents erected across the South.
Today, he heads a $500 million empire that includes the university named after him, a huge medical complex in Tulsa and an evangelistic association that has offices in seven countries. His syndicated TV specials began 30 years ago and his weekly ″Expect A Miracle″ program has been on for 20 years.
The number of households watching the 30-minute show, however, has dropped in the last eight years from 2.5 million to 1 million, ministry officials say.
In 1981, Roberts opened his medical center next to the campus, featuring three gleaming towers 20-, 30- and 60-stories high.
But followers failed to flock to the City of Faith despite his warnings that the devil was trying to close it. The hospital was built to accommodate 777 beds but was allotted 294 by planning officials and has treated an average of only 120 at a time.
Last year, he gave employees prizes for bringing patients and offered free airline tickets to followers who would fly to Tulsa for medical treatment.
Ms. Dargatz said the hospital broke even last month. ″We feel like we have that ship righted,″ she said.
Ministry officials also say that Oral Roberts University is now self- sufficient, but only after the dental school was closed and the law school was conveyed to fellow evangelist Pat Robertson.
Income has also been dropping. The Tulsa Tribune reported last year that Roberts received $58 million in contributions in fiscal 1985, a drop of nearly $30 million from five years before.
In 1980, as funds for completing the City of Faith lagged, Roberts told followers he had had a vision of a 900-foot Jesus standing above the hospital and lifting it with his hands.
″I felt an overwhelming holy presence all around me,″ Roberts wrote to supporters. ″When I opened my eyes, there He stood ... some 900 feet tall, looking at me. His eyes ... Oh 3/8 His eyes 3/8 He stood a full 300 feet taller than the 600-foot-tall City of Faith.″
Roberts’ vision was the subject of jokes and a poster that showed an intersection near Oral Roberts University posted with a warning sign ″Begin 900 Foot Jesus X-ing.″
In 1984, Roberts said he saw an angel at the foot of his bed while he was recovering from surgery at the City of Faith and had a 20-minute conversation with Jesus about the hospital. A full-page advertisement in the ministry’s Abundant Life magazine offered a replica and asked for donations.