He Talked to a 900-Foot Jesus

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on December 21, 2009

In the end, the man who once claimed he raised a baby from the dead could not perform the same feat for himself. Evangelical giant Oral Roberts, who pioneered the use of television to spread his brand of Christian fundamentalism, died last week (December 15). He was 91.

In his long career as a religion peddler, Roberts claimed to talk directly to God and Jesus. In 1963, he built his Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma after he said God instructed him to do so.

In 1977, Roberts had a “vision” of a 900-foot Jesus who told him there was an urgent need to erect the City of Faith Medical and Research Center. Roberts raised the funds for the hospital, though it didn’t stay open long.

In 1983, God again contacted Roberts to tell him that he wanted him to find a cure for cancer. No such cure has been reported.

In 1987, Roberts reported that God was threatening to “call him home” unless his followers forked up millions so he could maintain his fundamentalist empire. Though he was criticized heavily for using that tactic, the faithful came through and donated what he needed.

That same year, Roberts claimed to have raised the dead, specifically a baby who “expired” during a service. “I’ve had to stop a sermon, go back and raise a dead person,” he told a crowd at his university. His son, Richard Roberts, claimed that 50 or 60 people had been brought back from the dead by various and sundry Christian ministers.

Of course, Roberts eventually had to explain that the “dead baby” actually only appeared to be dead. There was no official declaration of death. “The mother thought it was dead, I thought it was dead, the crowd thought it was dead,” he said. It was probably just comatose from boredom.

To his credit, Roberts integrated many of his early evangelical meetings, allowing blacks and whites to sit together in the same tent. That didn’t go well with segregationists in the South.

Throughout his life, Roberts kept saying that the end of the world was imminent. He never specified the day and time. “I believe the coming of Christ is so near,” he once said, “that if we Christians knew how near it is, that we would all be rejoicing tonight, and, if the sinners knew how near it is, they would all be frightened tonight.”

That was 1957.

The preacher named Oral was forever condemning sex that was not missionary position, especially gay sex. Declaring that there’s only “one organ made to bring forth life — it’s the male organ,” Roberts said, “it’s not to be put into the mouth of the man, or the mouth of the man or the woman on the male organ! It is the male organ penetrating the vagina of the woman — the male and the female!”

“Everybody knows,” he said, “when the sexual arousal reaches a certain point, the person goes insane!”

Like preachers who claim they talk to a giant Jesus?

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for an American Library Association award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com

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