We’ve been following the Richard and Lindsay Roberts/Oral Roberts University story since it first broke, not because we get pleasure from scandal, but because once again – as it was with Paula White – we feel like we have a bit of a vested interest in ORU.
You see, some years back, our former pastor, Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) was closely connected to Oral Roberts and ORU, Oral’s namesake university.
Prominently displayed in one of the main walkways at Living Word Church (another pseudonym) are photos of Living Word’s beautiful facilities when they were under construction. Oral Roberts was already pretty elderly back then, but he was at the church for its dedication service. He preached the inaugural sermon in the new sanctuary.
Pastor Smith is also fond of telling a story about having lunch with Oral and receiving encouragement from him to forge ahead with that building project.
Around that same time, Pastor Smith’s older son Timmy also had a brief college career at ORU. I’m not sure how long Timmy Smith attended the Tulsa university – whether it was just for one school year or perhaps three semesters – but another of Pastor Smith’s favorite stories involves how Timmy joined the full-time staff at Living Word.
After one of his college breaks, Timmy supposedly had a defining moment with his dad, when, in the church parking lot, Timmy wept in his father’s car and told Pastor Smith that he had “heard from the Lord” that it was time for him to become an active part of his father’s ministry. Even though he was only 19 and knew that the “textbook” thing to do would be to complete his education first, he also knew that God was telling him to leave ORU and dedicate himself to Living Word Church.
That’s the official story of how God led Timmy Smith to become, at age 19, the youth pastor at Living Word.
(Never mind that Timmy Smith is still somewhat notorious on the internet for co-authoring a spoof song about the university…a song that, right before “God spoke to him,” was very likely about to get him into trouble…a song that ultimately played a part in getting its co-author expelled. That little detail is intriguingly absent from the sweet saga of a young man hearing God’s voice.)
After Timmy Smith left ORU, it seemed like Pastor Smith conveniently transferred his hero-worship of Oral Roberts to up-and-coming Charismatic luminary T.D. Jakes. But, like I said, the photos of Oral in a hard hat at the groundbreaking ceremony, the photos of Oral preaching at the grand opening, are still on display in the hallway at Living Word Church. And only a couple of years ago, the Smiths made a big deal about being invited to the Roberts’ home in Newport Beach for lunch, where they videotaped themselves interviewing Oral. This video soon was for sale in the church bookstore.
So, those of us who have spent time at Living Word Church have been trained by Pastor Smith to view Oral as something of a “spiritual father.” And as Oral became a figurehead and turned over the reigns of his empire to his son Richard, we viewed Richard and his wife Lindsay in something of this same capacity.
So, although we ourselves have never contributed directly to the college, we feel as though what the Robertses may have done does affect us directly.
Of course, we have no way of knowing whether or not any of the allegations about the Robertses and their free-spending ways are true. But there’s something about the details revealed within the lawsuit that has a ring of authenticity.
Like Paula White’s financial excesses, and on a smaller scale, those of the Smiths, we see such a theme within these “Word of Faith” ministries: a theme of viewing the ministry – whether it’s a pseudo-megachurch like Living Word, or a Christian university like ORU – as the celebrity minister’s own private property. These “pastors” seem to have become utterly unable to distinguish between themselves as individuals and the tax-exempt ministries that bear their names.
They also feel unquestioningly entitled to the best of everything, whether it’s cars, clothes, homes, vacations, or slave labor provided by starstruck ministry volunteers.
Even if, technically, it’s legal for Richard Roberts to use the university’s jet to fly his family around on luxury vacations (the FACT of these trips has never been disputed, only whether or not the Roberts family reimbursed the ministry for these vacations, which they’re claiming they did), we think their bizarre insensitivity toward appearances speaks volumes about how well their ministry lines up with what the Bible says.
In the same way, even if it’s legal for the Smiths to send out letters on church stationery, using the church’s postage meter, to command church members to give Smith family members monetary gifts during special birthday offerings, it shows a serious lack of good judgment and a total insensitivity to how things look.
We’ve been wondering, as more and more of these celebrity ministers (and pseudo-celebrity wannabes like Pastor Smith) display their greed for money and luxury, just where this entitlement mentality comes from.
The rationale for this entitlement mentality can be found NOWHERE within Scripture. In the Bible, Jesus clearly commands leaders to have the attitude of servants. Christians are warned again and again not to be lovers of money, not to love the world or the things in the world, not to set our sights on the “stuff” of the here and now but instead to value the eternal.
While Jesus also tells us that God will provide for our daily needs if we are truly seeking God’s kingdom, the Bible is crystal-clear about how the Gospel turns regular human priorities upside down. Suddenly, though we may be poor in material goods, we are actually rich in Christ. Though we lose our life, we’ll actually find it. Though we are weak, in Christ we are made strong.
THIS is the message that the world needs to hear. THIS is the “Good News” of Jesus Christ – that though we are all sinners, utterly helpless to stand before the judgment seat of a righteous and holy God, Jesus has made a way for us to be saved from the eternal damnation that we all deserve. Once we give up on ourselves and the things of this earth and trust in Christ and what He has done for us, all our priorities will shift. Everything that used to have power over us – whether sin, or poverty, or illness, or death itself – no longer matters in the face of being made eternally right with God.
Whether ORU wins or loses the lawsuit brought forth by the fired professors, whether the university’s tax-exempt status is jeopardized by the Robertses’ undisputed enjoyment of a rich man’s lifestyle, whether even smaller ministries such as Pastor Smith’s eventually crumble because of nepotism and an over-emphasis on money, the fact remains that it is both incredible and grievous that so many supposed “men of God” have been able to find such a huge audience for their unbiblical and pseudo-biblical teachings that do nothing but distract from the Gospel of Christ.
As the church, we need to stand up and proclaim the real Gospel of salvation and stand against this paltry imitation. We need to examine our own hearts for traces of the greed that lurks within us to make us so susceptible to the “seed faith” message of people like the Robertses and the Smiths.
And then we need to quit sending in our “seed” (donations) to places where the leaders focus too much on the things of this world. We need, instead, to focus on storing up treasure where neither moth nor rust can destroy.