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Evangelist Oral Roberts dies at 91

TULSA, Okla. — Oral Roberts, who helped pioneer TV evangelism in the 1950s and used the power of the new medium — and his message of God's healing power — to build a multimillion-dollar ministry and a university that bears his name, died Tuesday. He was 91.

Mr. Roberts died of complications from pneumonia in Newport Beach, Calif., according to his spokesman, A. Larry Ross. The evangelist was hospitalized after a fall on Saturday.

Mr. Roberts rose from humble tent revivals to become one of the nation's most famous and influential preachers. Along with Billy Graham, he pioneered religious TV, and he played a major role in bringing American Pentecostalism into the mainstream.

Nearly 60 years ago, Mr. Roberts brought his "faith miracle healing" revival to St. Petersburg, amid much controversy.

In 1950, a committee of city church pastors urged City Manager Ross E. Windom not to issue Mr. Roberts a permit to set up his traveling tent, which fit 4,000 people, in the area of Fourth Street and 94th Avenue. "We don't want to see St. Petersburg become a happy hunting ground for religious exploitation," the committee stated.

Windom denied the permit, but Mr. Roberts showed up anyway. The city took no action and the revival lasted 16 days and drew about 40,000 people.

Four years later, another event again lasted 16 days and drew an estimated 100,000 people.

He also laid the foundation for the "prosperity gospel," the doctrine that God rewards the faithful with material success. Its critics say it is used by preachers to enrich themselves at the expense of their followers.

Mr. Roberts overcame tuberculosis at age 17, when his brother carried him to a revival where an evangelist was praying for the sick. Mr. Roberts said he was healed of the illness.

He said it was then that he heard God tell him he should build a university based on the Lord's authority, a promise fulfilled in 1963 with the founding of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.

He gave up a pastorate in Enid in 1947 to pursue a strain of evangelism in which he called for prayer to heal the whole person, a philosophy that led many to call him a "faith healer," a label he rejected with the comment: "God heals — I don't."

Times staff contributed to this report.

Evangelist Oral Roberts dies at 91 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 11:26pm]
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