Friday, 18 December 2009

The legacy of Oral Roberts

The late Oral Roberts was a healer, an exorcist, a preacher, a televangelism pioneer, an ecumenist and a cultural icon whose life and message united popular religion with the American Dream.
By his own admission he was a businessman. Early on in the post-war Pentecostal healing revival he distinguished himself among his contemporaries by running his ministry on a savvy business model that eventually made it a multimillion-dollar non-profit corporation. It is no coincidence that Roberts was instrumental in the founding of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship, an organisation at the forefront of the charismatic movement of the 1960s and '70s, when the once-ridiculed Pentecostal experiences of tongues, healing and prophecy broke into the traditional, more respectable churches and denominations worldwide.

In the early days he vowed to touch "neither the gold nor the glory," and proved remarkably resilient to public scandal over the years. Despite his increasingly ludicrous and manipulative pleas for funds, Roberts survived six decades of ministry without the moral and financial scandals that brought down other televangelists.

His message was a simple promise of health, wealth and salvation: Jesus wants you to be saved, healed and prosperous. It was a message that struck a natural chord with ...
Read the full article (by yours truly, David L Rattigan) at The Guardian's Comment is free.


  1. Hey, you're on a role now. What next- Sunday Morning talking head? Thougt for the Day (you should just squeeze in, you're agnostic, not atheist!)

    Congrats - it's a good article. I am in fact also really impressed with the comments. Usually CIF degenerates into nonsense.

  2. Thanks, Richard. I was hoping you'd chime in, since you're a bit of a scholar of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. I'm sympathetic to GetReligion's view that mainstream reporting doesn't really "get" evangelicalism, and particularly Pentecostalism (although infuriatingly GetReligion usually show themselves just as blinkered when it comes to getting liberals).

    The only part I would change is the sentence "By his own admission he was a businessman." It is true, but open to misinterpretation. In retrospect, I'd have simply quoted the relevant snippet (from Harrell's book on the '40s Healing Revival) and given more room for the reader to interpret it, rather than making it sound like a confession.

    It also gave leverage for the subeditor to give the article the title "Salesman for God," which was perhaps a bit predictable.

  3. Re: comments, I think the subdued nature of the comments is because the article wasn't advertised on the Cif front page. Anything on the front page gets at least a few dozen comments, where if something is tucked away in sections (in this case Cif America and Cif Faith) it tends not to attract as many people, and certainly not the most notorious commenters.

    Not sure what the criteria is for getting on the Cif main page. Maybe it's 'cause I'm a newbie!