Thursday, January 04, 2007

January 4

On 4 January 1987, speaking in hushed tones to his "Expect a Miracle" television audience, Oral Roberts announced that he needed money. More precisely, Oral Roberts explained that God had instructed him to raise $8 million for a medical missionary program by March 1 of that year; failing that, he explained dramatically, God would "call me home." Roberts begged his supporters not to let Satan win, and he suggested that in exchange for helping him seed the bed of his missionary work, contributors would receive a "hundredfold return" on their investment. He also suggested that viewers who did not donate would suffer greatly in the coming year.

Panicked by their fear that the charismatic, neo-Pentacostal televangelist might in fact surrender his mortal coil, Roberts' viewers squandered more than $9 million of their own money over the next several months, more than satisying the Lord's apparent thirst for cash. Over $1.3 million of the fund was offered by the owner of a dog track.

His financial goals met, Roberts was spared God's wrath for the time being. His medical program, however, sank like a poorly-constructed ark. Within a year, Roberts announced the closure of his City of Faith Medical Center; by early 1989, Roberts had canceled his university's free medical tuition and scholarship programs. Students who transferred to another medical school were forced to repay their debts immediately, at 18 percent interest. Eventually, the students were left with no choice but to leave, as Oral Roberts Medical School closed for good in September 1989. For a man who actually claimed to have raised the dead, the collapse of his own medical school must have seemed a bitter rebuke. Unshaken in his faith, however, Oral Roberts has continued his pharisaic gibbering and will celebrate his 88th birthday on January 24.