Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

The Itinerant Evangelist is an almost peculiarly American institution. At least the ones that made any money at it. St. John the Evangelist allegedly wrote the Book of Revelation while in stir. The apostles had no property and shared amongst themselves. John Wesley and Martin Luther didn't intend to be schismatics. But that's just the way it worked out.

No, the Oral Robertses of this world could only have sprung from the this side of the pond where not only your sins will find you out but they will find you out in Olathe, Kansas. And the God who made Heaven and Earth (and Olathe) will surely bend down and save you inside the tent if you will put let Him into your heart. You don't need no Pope. You don't need no fancy church. You don't need no preacher with a Ph.D wearing vestments. The words in red in the black book are all sufficient.

To what passes for his credit Roberts, unlike many of his ilk, never claimed to have healed anybody. Neither was he an out and out criminal. And although he enjoyed a lifestyle not exactly reminiscent of the early Disciples, neither was he the complete wastrel that his idiot son Richard turned out to be.

Oral Roberts is widely considered to have pretty much invented televangelism. Despite being what passes for the best of an exceedingly suspicious bunch that followed in his footsteps, Oral gave into his latent narcissism in his later life. He founded Oral Roberts University despite not being armed with an undergraduate degree. ORU bestowed unto him an honorary doctorate degree and he modestly allowed others to refer to him as "Dr. Roberts" from that day forward. Acting on the behest of a vision of a 900 foot vision of Jesus (which undoubtedly caused him to crane his head upward) he founded a medical school against the recommendation of the Oklahoma medical authorities.

To raise money for this dubious project, he holed himself up in the Prayer Tower on the campus of ORU and told the flock that God would "take him home" if 8 million bucks was not raised pronto. Amazingly enough, this worked. Alas, the medical school went bust. And this stunt pretty much precipitated the decline of Oral's earthly ministry. the keys for which he eventually turned over to the aforementioned wastrel and idiot Richard.

Back when Oral Roberts got his start, faith healing didn't seem to be so far fetched. Medical technology was fairly primitive then at least compared to what we have now. And if you think about it, when your state's economy depends on agriculture and whether Wildcat Willie can smell oil in that patch of land, well, Oral's audience in Oklahoma was well equipped to walk in faith in many different areas of endeavor.

Oral Roberts is hardly responsible for Fox News and Sarah Palin. But he ushered in this modern era in which palpable falsehoods are accepted on faith. Turn to cable TV or the Internet and you can find a world where evolution is not science, where global warming is a hoax and Barack Obama is not a citizen of this country.

Put your hand on the TV. Believe. And send us money.

Too bad Oral Roberts is not here treading the boards at the height of his powers in our present age. Too bad for him, that is.

My brother Bob and I were in Tulsa about 5 years ago to attend the funeral for my cousin Lesa. Lesa had finally lost her 9 year battle with Hodgkin's Disease.

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