Oral was a controversial figure, maligned mostly by those who didn’t know him. My history with Oral started when I was but a lad. Standing about four feet in front of the magic black-and-white Sylvania television set, I felt a strange sense of wonder watching this energetic man as he preached the gospel in a huge tent and prayed for a long line of sick folks. It was heady stuff for a 5-year-old boy growing up in the suburbs of steely and smoky Pittsburgh. I must have made some connection between the petroleum industry and Tulsa, because my mom tells me that I called him Oil Roberts.
I later would attend the university he founded and after graduation work the first seven years of my career in one of the most incredible organizations you can imagine.
Many people will have diverse memories of Oral. Oral was as tough as crocodile hide. I loved that about him. He told me one day I was pretty tough. I kept waiting for the “But,” follow up. Still am. Oral was a visionary, but the thing that made him outstanding was his insistence on action. He was a man of action. Often times it was ready… fire… aim, but he knew the value of doing and not just dreaming and he knew how to keep momentum against the tide of opinions that usually ran against him.
Growing up in a “Grapes of Wrath” family that shunned California to stay in rural Oklahoma, his religious background was Pentecostal Holiness. Now, the PH folks were known for their disdain of higher education. Being too educated could actually decrease your chances of be selected for a pastorate. Yet, from this background Oral Roberts emerged to found a university and through ORU he made it not only acceptable to be Pentecostal and educated, but desirable.
His impact on this stream of the Christian church in America and throughout the world was huge, and is part of the reason that while attendance has been decreasing in many of the staid mainline denominations, the charismatic, Pentecostal camp has continued to grow.
It has been one of my good fortunes in life to know this man and to be able to call him my friend. Well done, Oral.