Oral Roberts University: Saved by the Bail Out

An early Oral Roberts sighting

I first discovered Oral Roberts when I was a young boy growing up Jewish in the Bronx, New York of the 1950s. Actually, like Columbus “finding” America, I found Roberts quite by accident.

One day while standing (pre-remote control) in front of my parents’ 16″ black and white television and switching channels hoping to tune into another Million Dollar Movie repeat showing of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” I encountered Mr. Roberts. He was, I believe delivering what appeared to be a very heart-felt sermon to a nicely dressed audience.

I knew from sermons; after all I faithfully attended Hebrew School four days a weeks after a full day at public school, and I was a regular at Saturday morning services at the synagogue where the Rabbi regularly sermonized.

I had even seen Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the stern, humorless and powerful New York City-based Catholic, deliver messages in his always somber voice to the faithful on television.

Roberts was different: He stalked the stage; he raised his voice; he had the crowd in the palm of his hands … and he appeared to indicate that he could heal the sick, mend the wounded, deflict the afflicited.

It seemed to me that all you had to do to grab a piece of the healing was to place your hands on the television set and let the power of Mr. Roberts do the rest.

That was then.

Now, Oral Roberts University, the Tulsa, Oklahoma institution named after the pioneering televangelist, needs some healing of its own. And that’s where Mart Green, a young multi-millionaire comes in.

Bringing in the bucks

Green, 46, recently gave $70 million “of his family’s fortune to rescue Oral Roberts University, the evangelical Christian school engulfed in a spending scandal and burdened with tens of millions of dollars in debt,” the Associated POress reported on February 5.

Green’s donation comes with one very huge caveat. According to AP, “In return for the donation, Green becomes chairman of the university’s new board of trustees, and hopes to restore the public’s trust in the 5,700-student institution.”

Earlier this month, The Tulsa World reported that the University had “revised articles of incorporation and bylaws”:

The new documents usher in shared governance — with defined roles for the board, the president and the faculty — required by the Green family ….

The revised bylaws give ORU’s new governing board the ultimate authority over the college and state that the president serves at the pleasure of the board.

Previously, the president essentially had power over the board …

Both Oral Roberts and his son Richard — who became president of the school in 1993 — “along with their wives, were ORU’s spiritual regents, who had ultimate authority within ORU’s old board of regents, according to the old bylaws,” The Tulsa World reported.

“They were considered ORU’s ‘spiritual prophets, seers, pastors, leaders and ministers.'”

Teachings of the chairman and vice chairman of the spiritual regents ‘represent(ed) the teachings’ of Jesus as applied to modern times ‘and must be followed’ by leaders and staff. ORU ‘is essentially and fundamentally a religious organization,’ the old bylaws stated.

The new articles of incorporation provide a way to change the name and purpose of the university: by a unanimous vote of the full board three years in a row at its annual meeting. ORU’s stated purpose, the same as it was described in the 1991 version of ORU’s articles of incorporation, includes education of the ‘whole person,’ including mind, spirit and body.

Green’s fortune comes “in part” from Hobby Lobby, the company his father, David, “founded in his living room with a $600 loan and built into a $1.8 billion craft supply giant with nearly 400 stores in the U.S. The money also comes from Mardel, the Christian bookstore and office supply chain that Mart Green started when he was 19.”

Sick of scandals

J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine is sick of the many scandals that have enveloped evangelical churches/enterprises/institutions around the country. In a column a while back he warned “all ministries to clean up their acts before we have a Christian version of the Enron tragedy.”

Grady claimed to be “having flashbacks to 1987,” the year that “the ugly PTL scandal — which added new phrases to our national vocabulary such as `air conditioned dog house’ and ‘gold-plated faucets.'” It was also around the time that the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart’s dalliances with prostitutes made national headlines.

“It was déjà vu all over again when one of the country’s top Pentecostal colleges was accused of serious ethical and financial wrongdoing,” Grady wrote in his “Fire in My Bones” column late last year.

“In a lawsuit filed by three professors from Oral Roberts University (ORU), school officials, including its president, Richard Roberts [the son of Oral Roberts], were accused of misusing donor funds and violating IRS tax codes.”

A few weeks later, Grady was relieved that Richard Roberts has stepped down as ORU president: “I’m very grateful that Richard Roberts was willing to do that, because it would have been a very ugly situation had he dug in his heels and stayed there,” Grady told OneNewsOne, a news service of the American Family Association.

“Because there are too many questions … too many doubts about his leadership, especially the fact that the school has been in such serious debt for so long.” ORU reportedly has a debt load of $50 million dollars.

Green’s green

Green, who “had no connection to the school and hadn’t met either Roberts or his father, Oral,” is “an evangelical Christian and member of the Assemblies of God.” He said that he “decided to step in for the sake of the alumni, faculty and students.”

“When Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart had their situations, a lot of people suffered,” Green said. “When the Catholic priests had their situation, a lot of people suffered. If ORU goes down it affects all the Christian colleges.”

According to the AP, “One of his first tasks will be finding a new president for the university, which is saddled with about $45 million in debt and more than $60 million in deferred maintenance costs.”

Green didn’t finish college; “he dropped out of now-defunct Tomlinson College in Cleveland, Tenn., to go into business,” AP reported. “He is a fast talker who friends say still gets butterflies in his stomach when he speaks in public.”

He did not set foot in a movie theater until 2001, when he saw Jim Carrey’s The Majestic, about the magic of an old movie theater. He now owns a movie company, which has produced films about missionaries in Ecuador and AIDS in Africa.

“This is a man who has a new dream every Thursday,” Rob Hoskins, president and chief executive of Book of Hope International, a Florida-based organization that distributes Scripture around the world, told the AP.

AP also pointed out that “Forbes magazine lists David Green’s net worth at $1.8 billion, making him one of the 400 richest Americans. Because of the gift to Oral Roberts University, the Green family ranked 27th out of 50 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of Americans who gave the most in 2007.”

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

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  1. Ron Moore said on February 9th, 2008 at 5:30am #

    I was so glad to hear that Mr. Green listens to the Spirit and not the money. It really helps to know that the Lord has some that doesn’t give in to money.
    As you can see by our site we are missionaries to Ecuador and we have a board and all gifts to this ministry goes to Ecuador. Many of our board says we need to take a salary but as long as we help people in Ecuador the Lord will help us.

    Thanks for your efforts for ORU. God Bless you Mr. Green

    Ron & Yolanda Moore

    http://www.john812.org