Climate Of Faith Still Stands At ORU
Saturday, November 24th 2007, 3:46 pm
By: News On 6
TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Back in 1963, when evangelist Oral Roberts built a university on Tulsa's southern outskirts and put his name on it, he believed he was taking orders from God. At the center of campus he built a 200-foot steel and glass prayer tower that looks like a spaceship and is topped with a flickering gas flame representing the Holy Spirit.
Roberts' vision was to educate â€œthe whole manâ€ in mind, body and spirit. That meant a world-class faculty, mandatory chapel attendance, body-fat measurements and citations for public displays of affection.
Times have changed at Oral Roberts University.
The once rigid dress code has been loosened so much that, as one student puts it, aside from the lack of guys wearing earrings the campus could be Oklahoma State. The prayer tower is showing rust. Students still sign an honor code pledging not to lie, steal, curse, drink or smoke -but they also hold hands during chapel.
Oral Roberts, now 89, recently returned from semi-retirement to try to quell a scandal that has shaken the flagship university of charismatic Christianity, but on Friday the scandal caused the downfall of his heir. Roberts' son, Richard Roberts, resigned Friday as president of the school, facing accusations that he misspent school funds to support a lavish lifestyle and ordered an accountant to help hide improper and illegal financial wrongdoing.
To ORU's 5,300 deeply religious students, the events of recent weeks have brought an unexpected test, one that caused them to choose between questioning or defending the administration, worry about tainted diplomas and search for spiritual answers.
â€œI'm sure there is corruption everywhere,â€ said freshman Ben Conners, one of a number of people interviewed before the resignation. â€œBut if you're holding students to such a high standard, making them sign an honor code and live by these strict principles, I expect the administration to be living an even stricter set of principles. To see something like this, it feels empty, like an elaborate masquerade party.â€
At a university that is hardly a den of dissent, the reaction to the scandal has been striking. Before Richard Roberts stepped down, tenured faculty gave him a no-confidence vote and his hand-picked provost said he would resign if Roberts were reinstated.
â€œThere was a time when the wagons would circle and we'd protect our own,â€ said the Rev. Carlton Pearson, a former member of the ORU board of regents who is now a United Church of Christ minister. â€œBut we don't know what our own is anymore. People are asking questions and questioning answers, and we're not used to it.â€
Albert Thompson, a government major from Fairfax County, Va., said he chose ORU to become not just a public servant, but a better person. Thompson, a senior, initially was angry about the allegations. But like other students, he separates the university administration from his university experience.
â€œHe's just a human being,â€ Thompson said of Richard Roberts. â€œIf that individual man fails, that doesn't affect my faith in Christianity. It affects my faith in Richard.â€
â€œIn Scripture, we all fall short,â€ said Vincent Narciso, a senior from Seattle studying international relations. â€œWe're all capable of screwing up. To me, it's not devastating to see someone fall. It's arrogant to think it wouldn't happen to any of us.â€
Requests for interviews with university officials were denied by an ORU spokesman.
To outsiders, Oral Roberts may seem a relic, a man who drew scorn for saying in 1987 that God would â€œcall me homeâ€ if he didn't raise $8 million in three months (he raised more than $9 million). But in the 1950s and 1960s, Roberts had brought spirit-filled Christianity into the mainstream. He took his revivals to a new frontier for religion: television.
â€œHere was this Pentecostal preacher who speaks in tongues, was brought up in poverty like many of us, and he builds this place that looks like it landed the night before from another planet,â€ Pearson said. â€œI can't tell you the pride.â€
Most ORU students grow up in charismatic or Pentecostal churches. For some, the liberal arts school is the only education their parents will pay for, at a cost of almost $30,000 a year. The rules are an endless source of curiosity. Curfew for female students is midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. weekends, and a half hour later for men. A violation can result in a $50 fine, which helped birth the ORU saying: â€œThe wages of sin is $50.â€
â€œI already had these boundaries in my life, so codifying it wasn't a problem,â€ said Emmanuel Earls, 22, who graduated last year with a theology degree. â€œSigning a document creates a level of accountability.â€
Many students speak of going to school on holy ground, of pureness, of a place that sends Christians out into the world as a force for good. Still others speak of miracles.
â€œOne student came into my office and said 'I heard the voice of God in my hut in Liberia and God told me I would be the leader of my nation some day and that I should go and be trained at a place called Oral Roberts University,' which he had never heard of,â€ said Tim Brooker, who taught government.
Brooker is one of three former professors who sued the university last month. He accused the school of forcing him to quit after he warned Richard Roberts that requiring students to work on a Tulsa mayoral candidate's campaign jeopardized the school's tax-exempt status.
Brooker traces the scandal to a distortion of the â€œSeed-Faithâ€ theology pioneered by Oral Roberts, which holds that those who give to God will get things in return.
â€œInstead of focusing on what can we do for God, we've been focusing on what can I get from God,â€ Brooker said.
Oral Roberts' teachings influenced a whole new generation of ``prosperity gospel'' preachers, six of whom are the target of a financial inquiry led by the ranking Republican on the Senate finance committee. Three of those under scrutiny - Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar - sit on the ORU board of regents.
Brooker said students are shaken that supposedly infallible men are being questioned, and not by outsiders but other Christians. Others are trying to keep perspective.
â€œThe school is based on more than one person,â€ said sophomore Christina Tolomeo of Bentonville, Ark. â€œIt's God's university, not one person's university. Whatever happens, I'm just trusting God and not making any assumptions.â€
Daniel King, a 2002 theology graduate, has traveled the globe continuing Oral Roberts' legacy as a healing evangelist. He said he has witnessed healings at Richard Roberts crusades and believes Christianity without miracles is powerless.
Oral Roberts felt God used him as instrument to heal, and claimed Jesus had commissioned him to find a cure for cancer. Roberts also felt called to build the City of Faith, an enormous hospital complex that was to marry prayer and medicine, anchored by a 60-story tower. The project's collapse in the late 1980s is one reason ORU is a staggering $52.5 million in debt.
â€œORU is no stranger to controversy,â€ King said. â€œIt's gone through this before. The faculty is outstanding. The students are very sharp. Regardless of what happens, it will come out strong.â€
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