A Twitter friend of mine posted a link this morning to pastor / televangelist Ed Young’s response to an investigative story about him by a Dallas TV station. My Twitter friend, a pastor, no doubt empathizes with Young and sees him as the victim of mud-slinging.
That was the first I’d heard of the controversy, so I had to go and look at the original story before I could judge the response. I discovered that a key source for the TV station’s report was Trinity Foundation in Dallas and its irascible founder, Ole Anthony.
I’ve never met Ole Anthony, but I was a contributor for many years to The Wittenburg Door, before and after the religious satire magazine was donated to, and run by, Trinity Foundation. (The magazine is currently in limbo.) So I do have some limited familiarity with Trinity, an eclectic sort of ministry which is involved both in helping the homeless and in being a watchdog of televangelists and their abuses.
The TV report accused Young of flying around on a private jet, living in a mansion and — the critical part, to me — leveraging his success as a pastor into private for-profit ventures.
I’ve never been a fan of Richard Roberts, and while I shouldn’t take joy in the recent scandals, I have had a little bit of satisfaction in his resignation, knowing that ORU would no longer be run by Richard Roberts.
You know the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for?”
Well, there are, it turns out, a few people who I would like to see running ORU even less than I wanted to see Richard Roberts running ORU. Here, friends and neighbors, is one of them:
Statement from George Pearsons – Chairman, ORU Board of Regents
We are pleased to report that Dr. Pat Robertson, president and chancellor of Regent University and long-time friend of Oral Roberts University, has contacted members of the board of regents and has expressed interest in exploring options for the future of ORU with Regent University. Dr. Robertson is sending a team on Monday to Tulsa to meet with ORU Regents and administrative representatives.
My old college friend Peter Smith, at his Louisville Courier-Journal blog, pooh-poohs the notion that the recent Richard Roberts scandal has devalued our ORU degrees:
Initial reaction: Yikes! A devalued ORU degree? Gulp. I have one of those myself.
Second reaction: The Roberts family did something to raise questions about the value of an ORU degree? Who’d have predicted it?
Third reaction: Don’t worry, kids. That stock’s been falling for a long time.
I had to laugh at this:
If nothing else, in this era of resume inflation, this is proof that my resume is accurate, because who would put that on a resume if it wasn’t true?
Meanwhile, 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera ties in the scandal to “the corrupt leaders at the top of America’s Religious Right,” which I find pretty funny. For all the disdain that I have always had for Richard, and have for televangelism in general, the Robertses were always pretty apolitical. I was shocked, in fact, when part of the Richard Roberts scandal had to do with Richard’s support for a local candidate there in Tulsa. This is a broad and irresponsible over-generalization, but it’s my impression that the charismatic or pentecostal televangelists (with the obvious exception of Pat Robertson) are less concerned with politics than televangelists from an evangelical background (like the late Jerry Falwell).
The blogger at 10,000 Monkeys also quotes Carlton Pearson, noting that he is “a former ORU board member,” as if he were an insider, calling his remarks “candid”; actually, Pearson has been a pariah in those circles ever since he renounced belief in Hell and started preaching universal salvation — the idea that God will ultimately save and forgive everyone, whether or not each person has made any sort of decision in his earthly life. MSNBC recently did a fascinating documentary about Carlton Pearson and his whole story, from being one of ORU’s favorite sons to losing everything.
I just got this e-mail from Oral Roberts University’s alumni office:
Today, a letter was sent from Richard Roberts to the Board of Regents of Oral Roberts University tendering his resignation as President of Oral Roberts University effective today, November 23, 2007.
The Board of Regents will meet Monday and Tuesday, November 26 and 27, 2007 to determine action in the search process for a new president.
Executive Regent Billy Joe Daugherty will continue to assume administrative responsibilities of the Office of the President, working together with Chancellor Oral Roberts, until the Regents meeting.
In his letter of resignation to the Board, Richard Roberts said, “I love ORU with all my heart. I love the students, faculty, staff and administration and I want to see God’s best for all of them.”
We needed a local opinion column for today’s paper, and I updated and tweaked my blog post about televangelism for use as a column. I got a great e-mail this afternoon from a much more recent ORU grad who had found the column online. He agreed with it, and — sadly enough — offered his own confirmation of at least some minor aspects of the allegations against the Roberts family from things he’d seen or heard about as a student.
This was a reconnection of sorts — even though we were 20 years apart at ORU, he’d worked on the campus newspaper during his tenure, and during that time he had run across some of my old “Speed Bumps” humor columns, as well as the 1984 April Fool’s issue which I supervised. The campus paper sometimes does profiles of successful alumni, and he took it upon himself to interview me. I found out from his e-mail today that when he tried to reprint some of my old material to accompany the interview, standards had changed — a few jokes I had gotten away with in 1983 and 1984 were no longer allowed in 2003 and 2004.
Meanwhile, I also swapped e-mail this week with Bill Meenk, the old campus chaplain with whom I reconnected back in May. That led to Bill reading the column as well. He praised it, although he also offered his positive experience as the second surgery patient at the City of Faith, and his belief in the holistic, prayer-plus-medicine approach which it was supposed to have represented.
The Wittenburg Door’s regular newsletter has links to a PDF of a document filed in court about the Richard and Lindsay Roberts scandal. Supposedly, it’s based on an internal analysis of potentially scandalous situations prepared by someone within the ministry. If even 10 percent of these accusations are true, the ministry is guilty of some serious mismanagement.
My friend and ORU classmate Peter Smith, now a religion reporter in Louisville, has posted on the Richard Roberts controversy. Go read his remarks.
As for me, I watched Richard and Lindsay Tuesday night on “Larry King Live.” Right now, it’s really a case of one person’s word against another, and Larry King’s non-confrontational interviewing style didn’t really shed a lot of new light on the matter, other than Richard and Lindsay denying everything. Oral Roberts called in to support his son and daughter-in-law. At one point, you could hear a muffled voice in the background who was either prompting Oral with some talking point or perhaps just repeating the question for him.
I think I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.
During the time that I was a student at ORU, the Oral Roberts TV ministry offered a particular leather-bound Bible as a premium for people who donated a particular amount to the ministry. The Bible included a section with photos of the Oral Roberts ministry. I guess it takes a peculiar kind of hubris to think that your own activities are worthy of being bound into, and distributed with, the words of holy scripture, but let’s put that aside for a second.
I did not own this Bible — being a college student, I couldn’t have afforded to give quite that much to the ministry — but I recall looking through someone else’s copy one day. One of the photos in the ministry section of the Bible was of the groundbreaking for the City of Faith hospital. The City of Faith, which never turned out as planned, was supposed to be a sort of evangelical Mayo Clinic — a research hospital combining top-flight medicine and science with a holistic, prayerful outlook.
Anyway, the groundbreaking took place on a beautiful, sunny day, and there was bright blue sky at the top of the picture. Through that bright blue sky, I detected a faint vertical line. I followed the line down through the photo and realized it ended up right next to Richard Roberts.
As an alumnus of Oral Roberts University, I will have more to say about this story later this evening, when I’m at home and have the time to compose my thoughts. For now, I’ll say that — whether the current allegations are true or not — I’ve never cared for or had much respect for Richard Roberts, even when I was a wide-eyed ORU student who had a more innocent view of televangelism.
When I was a student at Oral Roberts University, I went to Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center one Sunday morning to hear Carlton Pearson preach. The sermon is still vivid in my mind, 25 years later. It had to do with Carlton’s childhood as a bed-wetter, and the fact that his grandmother was the only member of the family who would have any physical contact with him after he’d wet the bed. He used his grandmother’s unconditional love as a metaphor for God’s unconditional love of us, and it was powerful and beautiful and brought tears to your eyes.
At the time, Carlton was one of ORU’s favorite alumni — a former member of the singing group which appeared on Oral Roberts’ television program. He was second in the pecking order to Billy Joe Daugherty, another ORU alum, whose church met in the Mabee Center arena on the ORU campus and counted Richard and Lindsey Roberts among its members. (That was before Oral himself had left the United Methodist church.)