These are typical complaints against the TV and radio faith healing of ORAL ROBERTS ORAL ROBERTS but the Oklahoma evangelist claims the world’s largest weekly audience. Here’s a close-up of today’s most controversial preacher
One recent Sunday afternoon, after watching a thirty-minute television program on CHCH Hamilton, officials of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto threw up their hands in horror.
The show featured Rev. Oral Roberts, an Oklahoma preacher who resembles Cary Grant and who advertises himself as "America's Healing Evangelist.” In the first half of the program Roberts was seen delivering a rousing sermon to twelve thousand people seated in a tent. In the second half, in an atmosphere laden with emotion and hysteria, Roberts laid hands in turn on a long line of people suffering from such disorders as cancer, schizophrenia, blindness and chronic arthritis. He later claimed that many of these were healed.
DOCTORS DECLARE “His ‘cures’ don’t cure” MANY FELLOW MINISTERS DEPLORE “Circus publicity” SOCIAL WORKERS DEMAND “Ban his programs” A CBC OFFICIAL ADMITS “They make your flesh creep”
After a hurried caucus, the mental hygienists wrote the C BC in Ottawa, demanding that the show be removed from the air. "In our opinion,” (hey said, “this is a very dangerous presentation because of its hysterical nature which could be harmful to citizens susceptible to extreme appeals.”
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ORAL ROBERTS continued
This was only one of many criticisms that have been launched against Roberts in recent months. Dr. W. Lí. Mann, secretary of the Diocesan Council for Social Service, Toronto, who is both a clergyman and a sociologist, accused Roberts of claiming medical cures without offering medical proof; of taking “love offerings” at every campaign instead of living off a regular salary; and of using undignified publicity methods. “Roberts is always tempting God —asking for signs and miracles while the TV cameras grind,” says Mann. "In the Bible, God was not put on the spot and asked to produce. I he miracle was granted.” Dr. (). Lí. A. Stephens, a devoutly religious Toronto physician, after examining several people who had been "cured" by Roberts, could find no "cures” or temporary improvements that couldn't be explained by psychological shock or straight hysteria.
Jack Gould, the TV critic of the New York l imes, challenged the ethics of "selling air time to healers who claim magic results, unsupported by the slightest shred of rational evidence." The Christian Century, a nomlenominational magazine published in Chicago, editorialized that Roberts’ religious activities were "insipid” and "a travesty on Christian teaching. His stream of publicity is equal to anything put out by a circus press agent." (Roberts employs the services of a New York advertising agency and a Chicago public relations firm.) Rev. E. Crossley Hunter. Toronto, observed that Roberts' type of faith healing had long been abandoned by the church because “it attracts hysterical and emotionally unbalanced people.”
The deep concern of the Canadian Mental Health officials was not lessened when they learned that Roberts’ Canadian audience extended far beyond Hamilton and environs. Every Sunday he is heard on radio stations in Vancouver. Trail. Calgary. Camrose. Regina. St. Thomas, Toronto. Saint John and St. John's. He's hoping to add other Canadian radio and TV outlets to his network in the near future. Furthermore, he's already held tent meetings in Calgary and Toronto. Other Canadian cities are included in his future itinerary.
But Roberts’ Canadian listeners and viewers are a mere drop in the bucket. Perhaps the greatest Roberts miracle is his personal rise to prominence. Eight years ago. he was an obscure preacher in a small cattle town in Oklahoma. Today, it is probable that he has the largest weekly audience ever commanded by a single human being. In the United States he appears on almost eight hundred TV and radio stations every Sunday. Roberts hopes to boost this total to a thousand before the year is over. "If Jesus Christ were on earth todas I’m sure he’d use radio and TV." he says.
Roberts gains an additional audience by barnstorming around the U. S. holding tenday revival campaigns. The tent in which they are held, reputed to be the largest in the world, seats 20.000 people, uses 18.000 square yards of canvas, 38 miles of rope and covers one and a half times the area of a football field. Roberts' ultimate aim is “every creature every nation saved.” His 1956 goal is more modest: to win a million souls. By the end of July he had already gathered in 561,823 errants. Roberts carries on his endless round of soul-saving and healing with a frightening intensity. “There’s an urgency in me that burns me up." he says. “It screams in my ear nighi and clay, now! now! how!”
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To handle the administrative details of his ministry, Roberts' approach is more practical and less emotional. He has set up Healing Waters. Incorporated, which is housed in a streamlined threestory building in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here, a stalf of almost three hundred are busily engaged answering the 175,000 letters received monthly. Almost sixty percent of them contain money which makes up a large part of Roberts’ annual budget of three and a half million dollars.
He publishes a monthly magazine, Abundant Living (circulation: one million) and mails out mountains of Oral Roberts tracts, books, comics, records and badges. Roberts’ executives, who are always in a hurry, have the choice of three private planes for travel. The largest carries six passengers and is the type used by President Eisenhower for his shorter trips. At present, a landing strip is being built on Roberts’ 250-acre farm not far from Tulsa. “The old idea that religious people should be poor is a lot of nonsense,” says Roberts.
There are millions of people who applaud Roberts’ ideas and his jet-age brand of evangelism. "When he gets into the pulpit 1 don’t see Brother Roberts—1 invariably see Jesus,” says Lee Braxton, a wealthy North Carolina banker. Canadian station managers say that most viewers seem to approve of Roberts. He commands a large air audience. CHUB in Nanaimo, for example, reports a rating of 24.7 locally and 12.1 for the Vancouver area. This is considered outstanding for Sunday morning. Roberts evidently appeals to a wide range of age groups. Hugh T. Trueman, manager of radio station CFBC, Saint John, says that his two sons, aged six and nine, get up early every Sunday morning to listen to Roberts. They carefully follow the evangelist’s instructions and place their hands on the radio for healing. Asked by their father if they were ill, the oldest boy replied, “No, but you can never tell when you might be.”
Roberts' organized support comes from the so-called “full gospel” churches, whose adherents fervently believe in faith healing. T here are some fifty varieties. including such groups as the Pentecostal Holiness (Roberts' own church), the Four-Square Gospel (Aimee Semple McPherson’s church), (he Assemblies of God. the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, the Pentecostal FireBaptized Holiness Church and so on. These churches have about four million adherents in the United Stales and about 150.000 in Canada. The full-gospel movement originated in the southern United States at the turn of the century when groups of people got together to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves. After intense prayer, the congregations were frequently whipped up to a high state of emotional fervor and broke into unintelligible sounds which were hailed as the voices of apostolic tongues. T he idea of faith healing soon became popular and spread throughout the world.
“They make your flesh creep“ but can the CBC ban Roberts’ TV shows?
It's likely that Oral Roberts will increase his Canadian TV and radio audience in the future without interference from the CBC. It has scrutinized his shows on at least tw'o occasions but has taken no action to ban him. The first time occurred shortly after he began appearing on Hamilton TV. CBC officials ordered him to delete the tensecond plea for funds which came at the end of each program. Roberts complied but evidently he still gets the idea across that he needs funds for Canadian money continues to flow to Tulsa. Nobody knows how much. The second CBC scrutiny resulted from the protest by the Canadian Mental Health Association. A committee, which included government psychiatrists, reviewed the films of several shows. A high CBC official remarked. “They make your flesh creep." but the committee was more diplomatic in its report, it stated that while "this may not be the type of program to be released over T V stations, from a legal point of view it would be most difficult to prohibit it." Roberts stays within the law by not diagnosing the patient’s disease; he lets the patient do that. Nor does he proclaim over the air that he has cured disease. "It’s God who heals." he says. There is nothing in present CBC regulations to curb Roberts.
Recently I went to Detroit to meet the man who is the centre of this spirited controversy. I interviewed Roberts and his staff and attended several of the healing sessions he conducted before an audience of fifteen thousand in the big tent. I first saw the evangelist in person at a press conference at 9.30 one morning in the Statler Hotel before the opening of his campaign that night. It was attended by about a dozen people. Roberts strode in wearing a well-fitting dark-brown suit, a dark striped tie and a white handkerchief jutting from his breast pocket. He is more handsome than he appears in his pictures or on TV. (A woman on his staff told me. "He’s every woman’s ideal. He’s tall, strong, has good teeth and is wholesome—he looks well scrubbed, as if he's just stepped out of a bath.") Roberts walked over to a knot of newspapermen and asked how the Detroit Tiger baseball team was getting on. "I've always wanted to see them play—perhaps I'll get a chance to while I'm here." Roberts makes it a point not to appear sanctimonious or stuffy off the platform. A member of his staff explained to me, "We try to act and look like ordinary people—not ministers. We want to be accepted by people. not set apart. Oral sets the pace for us."
Roberts sat dowm in an easy chair and began talking. "I’ve come to Detroit because I’ve got a mission here. I represent a strong idea. My idea is that God is good. He doesn't want to make you sick or send you to hell. Christ was sent down on earth to deliver people. He spent two thirds of his time healing people of physical ailments. 1 was once sick and God made me well. When I recovered. I began to preach. Get this straight. I'm not a faith healer. A faith healer is a person who pretends to be able to heal. This is false. Only God can heal. But if I can get people to really believe and then to use that faith, then wonderful things begin to happen to them. That’s why I place so much emphasis on winning souls. We're after the seventy-five million unchurched people in the United States. W'e have more conversions than any other group."
“I emphasize love . . . not Hell”
This claim is backed by statistics compiled by the Associated Press. Billy Graham is probably the only other evangelist in the same league as Roberts. Early in 1956. both men were in Virginia—Roberts in Danville, and Graham in Richmond. Roberts preached for ten days to a total of 178.500 people and claimed 7.050 converts; Graham preached for twenty-one days to an audience of 210.000 and claimed 1.275 converts. Thus. Roberts “saved" thirty-nine souls per thousand attendants compared to Graham's six. Or. on a daily basis. Roberts rescued 705 souls to Graham's mere sixty. However. Roberts, who knows Graham only slightly, doesn't regard him as a competitor. "I can't do his work and he can't do mine," he says. “Graham is pricking the conscience of mankind w'ith hell-fire and brimstone w'hilc I'm emphasizing goodness and love. I don t touch Hell."
One of the newsmen asked Roberts his attitude toward orthodox medicine. "I want you all to know I believe in medicine." replied Roberts. "I have a family doctor in Tulsa and I go to him twice a year for checkups. Once I had a throat infection and I took sulpha pills. Thank God for them. But there are certain conditions that only faith can help.
I asked Roberts if it were not true thaï he was "curing” many people who were obviously suffering from hysterical illnesses, such as hysterical deafness. Such ailment can be treated by hypnosis or psychotherapy by a psychiatrist who would not claim a miracle. "What’s the difference whether such a patient is cured by medicine or prayer as long as he’s cured?” replied Roberts. "I've never talked to a psychiatrist but what I don't like about them is their rejection of God. In that respect they're worse than ordinary doctors.”
He earns $125,000 a year, one report said, but Roberts exploded, “That’s ridiculous! Much too high!’’
At 10.30 a.m. I got into a taxi with Roberts to go to station WXYZ.-IV where Roberts was to be interviewed. We were accompanied by Helen leaf, a member of Roberts' public relations firm, and Rev. Keith Hume, a cherubic young man in his early thirties who is the evangelist’s personal aide. I asked Roberts if he had ever healed himself. He said he had—on at least two occasions. “One night.” he said, “I developed a terrific pain in my side and couldn't sleep. Finally, at 3 a.m. 1 put my hand on my side and prayed. It went away." On another occasion, he developed a serious abscess in one of his teeth. His dentist advised seeing a specialist. Roberts prayed for himself and the infection vanished. “But I can tell you this.” he said thoughtfully. "It’s harder to pray for myself than for anybody else.”
As we sat in the TV station’s reception room I brought up the question of money, mentioning that a recent article in a U. S. publication had placed Roberts’ annual income at $125,000. He exploded. "That’s ridiculous! Much too high! I've never told anyone how much 1 make. Do Roman Catholic bishops reveal what they take in? What I make is my own business!” The article had estimated that Roberts received $25,000 a year as chairman of Healing Waters, Inc., collected some $40.()()() in "love offerings” at his revival meetings and grossed another $60,000 in royalties on his books. In addition, he owned a house and a farm on the outskirts of Tulsa. For transportation he had at his disposal a Cadillac. an Oldsmobile and the choice of three planes—all of which belonged to the corporation.
Roberts and his staff gave me an entirely different picture of his personal income. It did not, they said, exceed $35,000 a year and was probably less. They said he received no salary as chairman of Healing Waters, Inc. However, they refused my request for a copy ot their annual financial statement. It's true that he occupies a fine, well-furnished house but his aides said it cost only $30.-
000 since his brother was the contractor. As for his 250-acre farm—on which he pastures a few dozen cattle—they point out this is not a large tract of land by Oklahoma standards. His enemies. Roberts said, were always accusing him of using evangelism and healing as ;i moneymaking racket. "If people are against you. they’re against you,” he said. "1 hey have a chemical reaction to you. Whether
1 slept in the streets or in a palace they’d still be against me. You must realize that Christ was crucified."
So far as I could ascertain Roberts is a man of simple and unsophisticated tastes. He lives modestly but well. He wears ninety-dollar ready-made suits, prefers ordinary food such as beans, sorghum molasses, steak and chicken. He avoids the theatre, concerts, circuses and movies, and once told a reporter that "Hollywood and all its work is unclean. Apart from his wife, his name has never been linked with another woman. He’s so cautious in this regard that he won't enter his own headquarters building after regular hours without the company of another man in case one of his female stenographers might be working overtime. For recreation, he likes strumming his guitar, reading magazines, riding his Palomino horse or playing golf. Some of his favorite jokes are about this sport. Soon after I met Roberts he told me the story of Peter and Paul in heaven. They decided to shoot eighteen holes. I hey both teed off, both scored holes-in-one. Peter said. “Okay, let's cut out the miracles and play golf!"
In the studio, as Roberts and his interviewer sat chatting while the cameras and microphones were being lined up. his public relations employee Helen l eaf came over to me. "Oral is scared,” she said. "He told me he's afraid of you. If a person is gentle and kind himself, he s afraid of what might be said about him." During the five days I spent in Detroit I discovered that Roberts and his stall were ultra-sensitive to criticism. One stall member told me that it was almost impossible to get medical evidence to support Roberts' healing miracles. "The doctors dare not give us signed testimonials. Most of them are members of the American Medical Association and they are afraid of testimonials. You can't blame them—they’ve got to live.
Roberts believes he's been roughly handled by the press. His most shattering experience with newspapermen occurred early this year when he was touring Australia. His arrival was heralded with such headlines as "Salvation Circus Comes to Town" and "At Best A Big Blabbermouth." He finally brought his campaign to an abrupt end in Melbourne where the audience heckled him with shouts of "fake" and "charlatan"; guy ropes of the tent were cut; fires were started and, according to Roberts' staff, unfriendly reporters tried to pour beer in his pitcher of drinking water.
Over a lunch of fried sole. Roberts expounded his theory of demon possession. "Some sick people and criminals are possessed by demons." he said. "The 'andean' demons are the worst type: they compel sex criminals to attack a child or a sadist to hack a person to pieces. |m even beginning to think that certain kinds of cancer are caused by demons." How does he know when demons are present in a person? "1 can smell them." he said. "They give out a foul odor." He spelled out the word slowly, for emphasis, f-o-u-1. "And 1 can also feel them by pressure on my arm." According to Roberts no demon-possessed person has ever been helped by a psychiatrist. His own method of calling them out. however, is effective. When a demon leaves a person, it is homeless and wanders around free looking for someone else to enter. For this reason, when about to perform an exorcism, Roberts warns his audience to keep their heads bowed. "Otherwise 1 can take no responsibility for what happens.” Once, according to Roberts, an irreverent man of forty mocked at his warning. "Do you know,” says Roberts, "the demons knocked this man completely out of his chair. The ushers found him writhing and twisting and biting his tongue. It took me five minutes to get him delivered. This has happened several times!”
His goal’s a million souls
After lunch, Roberts adjourned to his hotel room to spend the afternoon alone working on his sermon. Using a pencil, he constructs his sermons point by point. A clock stands a few feet away. "The ticking seems to keep time as a spiritual transformation takes place," he says. "The spirit of the Ford keeps building up in me. By the time I'm finished, my mind is coiled up like a spring, 1 know exactly what I’m going to say and I’m feeling like a lion.” Roberts has a sense of artistry about his sermons. “1 love preaching,” he told me, "and 1 try to write and preach every sermon as though it was going to be my last. My desire is to die while doing this work.” Once he has finished his composition, he leaves his notes behind in the hotel room. He carefully avoids discussing politics or current events in his sermons. “I’m out to save a million souls a year," he explains, "Don't you think I've already got my hands full?”
At six, Roberts usually dines in silence with Keith Hume. When the evening meeting is over he hurries back to the hotel to change his clothes which are usually wringing wet with perspiration. "I'm all played out," Roberts says. "1 just want to be by myself." He has a bowl of soup and then tries to sleep. If he can’t, he’ll kneel in prayer until exhaustion overtakes him.
At 7.30 that night 1 attended one of the meetings which have such a physically devastating effect on Roberts. About twelve thousand people were seated in the tent. For the most part, they were not very well dressed. "We don t get the soup-and-fish crowd” Roberts had told me earlier. Many of the people had
visible physical deformities: some came in wheelchairs. There were several dozen mothers holding mentally defective children. T spoke to one of them, a pretty red-headed woman in her twenties. She pointed to her four-year-old daughter. "She just doesn’t seem to understand anything. I asked my doctor if it would be safe to have another child. He said to go ahead. My second child—a boy— was born six months ago. He’s got water on the brain. The doctors say they can't do a thing. Perhaps Brother Roberts can help." Glancing through the audience. row by row, 1 was struck by the number of weary, defeated, cheerless faces.
The meeting opened promptly at 7.30 with a swingy. catchy gospel revival tune. Rev. Robert DeWeese. the campaign manager, appeared on the stage and began talking about the collection. DeWeese is a handsome man in his late forties who is an ex-Californian swimming champion and a licensed pilot. "Just because there are a lot of people here doesn’t mean there will be a large offering." he said. "Those whom God has blessed with money should give it to help
us pray for those who haven't got any.” He also announced that Roberts’ books and magazines were on sale. The organ then played while a corps of ushers went through the audience with giant paper cups. "Oral only allows me five minutes from the time the collection starts until all the money is in." DeWeese told me. Collections at evening meetings vary from two thousand to four thousand dollars. At one meeting per campaign, the collection or "love offering" goes to Roberts. Once the campaign budget— usualh around twenty-five thousand dollars—has been met, the surplus goes to the local “full gospel” sponsoring churches.
At eight o’clock, with a flourishing wave of his hand, DeWeese announced Roberts as “God's man for this hour.” The crowd leaped to their feet, singing, waving their hands, shouting praises. The organ played Roberts’ theme song, Where The Healing Waters Flow, fortissimo. Roberts quickly walked on stage wearing a dark-blue suit and joined in the singing. This done, he asked, “Do you love Jesus tonight?”
“Amen!” came the response.
“With all your heart?”
"Amen!” this time, in louder volume.
"Then put up both hands,” said Roberts, “and tell Him you love Him.” The crowd raised their arms over their heads and quivered their hands. This gesture is typical of revival meetings and has been described by some observers as "the Pentecostal salute.” As to its symbolic meaning, it has been suggested that the individual is presenting God with a conducting rod through which He can enter. “Now,” said Roberts, “before you sit down turn around and shake hands with three people near you and say, 'Neighbor, Jesus is coming soon.’ ” The audience followed the instruction. On the platform, a number of the sponsoring ministers had tears in their eyes. There were to be many tears shed by many people that night before the meeting was over.
Roberts began speaking. He told a homey joke about a game of football between the elephants and ants. An elephant stepped on an ant and killed him. Asked for an explanation for his act, the elephant said, “I was only trying to trip him!” The crowd roared. His sermon was entitled The Master Key To Healing. "Christ was against disease, fear, sin and demons” he said. He repeated it. Then he asked the crowd:
“What was Christ against?” They replied. “Say it again!” he shouted. They did— with a deafening roar. “Jesus was not against any human being hut against all that destroys and kills human beings. Jesus was a healer—he was cither healing, about to heal or had just come from healing.” A deformed eight-year-old girl in the front row broke out crying. Roberts continued: “There’s a realm
where sickness invades where only faith can heal. You believe and get healed or you don’t believe and don’t get healed.” Roberts is a persuasive preacher. When he tells a Bible story he rushes around the stage acting out the characters and the action. Once, when he reached the incident in the story of Sampson and Delilah where the pillars of the temple began to crumble, a minister on the platform leaped up, shrieking, “The tent is falling! The tent is falling!”
The evangelist now went on to tell the audience about some of his remarkable successes in healing the sick. At Danville, Tom Shelton, age thirty-seven, was able to throw away the brace and canes he had used for twelve years. A woman in Kansas felt her goitre vanish as she watched an Oral Roberts TV show. Roberts later told me that since the purpose of his effort is to win souls, he continues until he “feels” that there are a lot of sinners ready to make a decision. “If I didn't know the precise moment to quit I wouldn't be very good at my business,” he said. Unobtrusively, his sermon ended and the altar call began. In a low, confidential tone he said, "Now listen neighbors, if you will do exactly as I say 1 can help you. If you don’t there’s nothing I can do for you. I want every man, every woman, every boy and every girl who believes in my prayers, wants my prayers, to raise your right hand . . . ”
Roberts’ task was now to get as many people as possible who raised their hands to walk down the aisles to the space at the front of the platform below him and proclaim that they have been saved. He did this by steps—pleading, urging, encouraging, wheedling, coaxing. "Now stand up!" he commanded. "Please stand up! If you don't stand up I can't help you! Oh thank God they’re standing up!" He proceeded to the next phase. "Stay standing. Don't sit down again. Now come forward! Come forward right now! This is God’s night to set you free! Don't be ashamed!” He was shouting, almost sobbing. "Oh thank God, they’re coming! They're coming!” The organ pealed forth in a mighty refrain and almost a thousand people from all over the tent streamed down the sawdust-covered aisles.
As the sinners assembled, others were on their feet moaning, singing and shouting praises. Several of the sponsoring clergymen were weeping copiously. “They’re witnessing a miracle," a campaign official told me. “Many of them preach all year in Detroit and only save a handful of souls. They’re overwhelmed with joy!" Members of Roberts' staff were concerning themselves with hard statistics.
"How many do you think?”
“Eight hundred maybe?”
“No . . . closer to a thousand.” “Better than Danville.”
"It looks good for the first night.” Roberts interviewed a few sinners chosen at random. He asked a man of fifty, "How do you know you’re saved?" He replied, "1 feel it. 1 feel a tickling and a peace and a joy." He put the same question to a sixteen-year-old youth from Sarnia, Ont., who answered casually, “I think maybe I'm saved.” Roberts commented, "Well, you Canadians are not as emotional as we Americans.”
The sinners were led away to a smaller tent located some twenty-five yards away. There they heard from local clergymen who urged them to go to church regularly. A woman in her forties became hysterical. She shrieked, her body jerked and her arms were flailing. "It's good to see one of our sisters so happy." observed the presiding pastor. A few seconds later she fell unconscious and was carried outside for fresh air.
“A girl began screaming”
In the meantime, Roberts adjourned to the invalid tent which is reserved for the most serious cases of illness. At least half of the two hundred people assembled there were in wheelchairs or on stretchers. There was a hushed silence as Roberts passed from person to person, laying his hands on their heads, whispering prayers. A mother was sobbing over her child who had a huge cancerous growth on his face. After Roberts touched her, a girl began screaming. "O l ord! O Lord!” and rose from her wheelchair. She walked a few steps and then fell. 1 later asked Roberts if he felt he was helping these apparently fatally stricken people who had been given up by the medical profession. "1 place no limits on the power of God.” he told me.
I repeated my question in more explicit form. "We don't keep medical records,” he said. “Why should we? We're not doctors. But at the very least we restore hope to these people.”
Roberts now returned to the main tent, removed his jacket and sat down on a chair on the platform beside the microphone. The big attraction of the Oral Roberts meetings was about to begin— the public healing session. A long line of sick people had formed a column on the ramp to Roberts’ left. 1 was seated beside the exit ramp on the evangelist's right, only a few feet away. This was one of three healing sessions 1 attended in addition to watching several of them on television.
" 'Heal this woman!' Roberts shrieked, and said her goitre was gone, but I could see no change"
A minister in his sixties who said that he had been saved at a previous Roberts campaign, complained of multiple sclerosis. "It's better some days than others,” he said. Roberts grabbed him by the hands and told the audience to touch their chairs as “a point of contact" and pray with him. He climaxed his prayer by shouting, "Heal!” Roberts then asked the man to move his hands and legs up and down. He did—and the crowd gasped in wonderment. I was not satisfied that meant any improvement in his condition. Without any help, he had stood waiting in line and then walked up to Roberts.
A woman in her forties said she had goitre. Roberts turned her to the audience, pulled her head back, sharply rapped her neck and shrieked, "Heal this woman. Father!” He then turned her around and said. "l ook, there’s loose tle>h where the goitre was. It’s gone now!” As she brushed by me I could see no change in the appearance of her neck.
A Japanese youth appeared before Roberts with his mother. His head was bowed. "Norman always keeps his head down and looks at the ground." his mother explained. "He’s shy and afraid of people. He thinks everyone is picking on him." Roberts picked up Norman's face by the chin, praying, "1 know this boy loves God and wants to be normal. It's coming! It's coming! Thank you Jesus!" He lowered his voice and asked, "How do you feel Norman?" Norman mumbled a reply. Roberts yanked his head up by the chin and ordered, "l ook up Norman. How do you feel?" Norman replied, falteringlv. "It's frightening. Roberts repeated. "You're not frightened now Norman . . . you're not frightened now. How do you feel?" The youth's head was down and he remained silent. "I'm going to keep fighting for you, said Roberts, as cries went up from the audience. He resumed his placing. frequently shouting, "Heal!" A few minutes later Norman timidly walked away, his eyes still glued to the ground. Norman's age and symptoms strongly suggest that he was suffering from a mental illness, schizophrenia. He apparently received no help from Roberts; more likely, the experience was deeply disturbing. I asked Roberts about this case when I saw him the next day. "He was helped by my prayer at first." he said, "but he lapsed back. To be helped, a person's faith mustn’t waiver."
To an old man who said he had I B. Roberts ordered. "Breathe deeply three times. 1 he man did and reported no pain. "Have you ever breathed so deeply before?" the evangelist asked. “Never b |,T," the man answered. “Thank you JCSUS!" The crowd was impressed. However, there was no medical evidence that the man ever had TB. Furthermore, even if he was afflicted with the disease. being able to breathe deeply without pain is no evidence that the disease has completely vanished.
A girl in her late twenties, obviously tense and neurotic, explained that she had a pain in her wrist due to a bone injury. She also told Roberts that she had mental depressions. T cry about anything. I cry and cry and don't know why.” Roberts prayed. “Jesus of Nazareth. heal this woman!” After it “'as till over the girl said she felt better >■./ ''h Jesus. I love you,” she cried. “WÍFcn 1 was a little girl I used to stay inside and pray instead of going outside and playing.”
An attractive blonde told Roberts she had epilepsy. "Everyone put your heads down.” Roberts said gravely, "because there are epileptic demons in her llesh and when they come out I won't be responsible for what happens." He then shouted to the demons. "Come out in the name of Jesus Christ! I think they're out! I think they're out! They’ve been there for seventeen years.” T he girl sighed. "At last I feel peace.”
A crying mother told Roberts that her five-year-old son was hard of hearing. Roberts stood behind the child and whispered a question to him. The child answered. "There!” said Roberts. "Isn't your hearing better now?" "Nope!" said the boy. Roberts asked him if he should pray some more for him. T he boy shrugged. "If you want to—I don’t care.”
Perhaps the case that made the greatest impression on the audience was that of a young man in his late twenties from Grand Rapids. Michigan. Leaning on crutches, he explained that lie had been stricken with polio several months before. Roberts prayed and then repeated, "Strength is coming back into your legs. Make them go up and down! Make them go!" T he man did and later walked down the ramp without his crutches into the arms of his wife. G. IT. Montgomery, editor of Roberts' magazine, snapped a pieture of the embrace. "Pictures of great joy are especially good for our use," he told me.
The meetings provide a veritable gold mine of testimonials. Every person who goes through the healing line has his picture taken. They are then asked to write to Roberts if their health improves. "We never know who's going to come up with a good testimony, ' Rev. Hart Armstrong told me. T hese testimonials are then widely circulated, much to the enhancement of Roberts' reputation as a healer. Every person who is given a card to go through the healing line automatically signs an agreement to allow Roberts "to use my name, picture and statements made or testimonials given by me in any manner . . This includes radio, television, newspaper. magazine, books, films, records and tracts. The same card also makes it clear that Roberts guarantees no cures.
The tent meetings also provide Roberts with the raw material for his TV shows. During each ten-day campaign, a battery of T V cameras shoot sixty-seven thousand feet of film. T his mass of celluloid is carefully edited down to fifteen thousand feet or enough film for four twentynine-minute T V shows. Dr. W. E. Mann, as well as others, have criticized Roberts for his system of condensing. Dramatic and successful "cures” are retained, he says: "failures" are left on the cuttingroom floor.
What is the average citizen to make of Roberts’ somewhat flamboyant claims of healing disease by non-medical methods? Perhaps the more basic question is. "Are there any illnesses that can be cured solely by spiritual healing that cannot be healed by medical methods?”
When is a miracle a miracle?
T he British Medical Association recently completed an extensive investigation into faith healing at the request of the Church of England. In the main, it turned in a decision against faith healing. “The miraculous cures claimed by faith healing,” said the report, in part, "are not outside the knowledge of any experienced physician or psychiatrist. Many of the cures by faith were psychological or emotional disturbances which can be cured by suggestion.
"Alleviation of symptoms such as the alleviation of pain in organic illness may be mistaken for a cure. A toothache may he alleviated by plugging the socket with an analgesic, by Christian Science, by hypnotic suggestion or even by diverting attention. But the decay remains to pursue its course. In some eases the symptoms disappear for a time and the patient appears to have recovered. Often this is reported as ‘a miracle' hut equal publicity is not given to the eventual return of the symptoms.
"Medical men not infrequently encounter illness which should prove fatal but which appears to resolve unexpectedly. There are reports of cancer behaving this way. These cures are at present inexplicable and it is natural that any factor operating at the time, such as spiritual healing, is given credit for the cure. But the same might be said for a course of diet or the carrying of good-luck charms.”
“When barriers of fear, hate and guilt are melted by love, amazing healing processes are liberated”
Dr. Smiley Blanton, the distinguished New York psychiatrist who is director of the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, takes a more sympathetic view of healing by faith. He studied a number of cases at the religious shrine at l ourdes, France, which receives two million visitors each year. There sick bodies are lowered into an icy mountain pool. Careful medical testimony supports the claim that a few people out ot every million seem to receive remarkable benefits from the immersion. "The basis ol these cures," says Dr. Blanton, "lies in some little understood psychological area. There is a tremendous speed-up ot the healing process due to emotion aroused in the patient by transference to an allpowerful. all-loving Virgin Mother. One indispensable factor in these cures seems to be an abandonment of all hope ot medical or material aid. We know that in the mind there are powerful barriers of fear and guilt and hate. When these are melted away by the power of love and self-surrender, amazing healing processes are liberated.” It was Charles Steinmetz, the great scientist, who. when once asked what he considered the most important line of research for his colleagues to follow in the future, replied. "Prayer; find out about prayer."
However, there are two important differences between Lourdes and Oral Roberts. Lourdes rarely claims a cure; Roberts proclaims miraculous healings every day of the year. The Lourdes cures are carefully documented by competent physicians who have examined the patient before and after his immersion in the water. Roberts dispenses with medical testimony.
After Roberts visited Toronto in 1952, Dr. (). 1£. A. Stephens, a local physician who is also devoutly religious, examined several people who had been “cured" by the evangelist. All of the cures, the doctor concluded, could be explained b\ sugtion or hysteria. There were two highly publicized miracles. One was a cancer victim: he died within three weeks. Another was a cripple, who went back to his crutches within a month.
Roberts’ reputation has not been enhanced by other practitioners now active in the faith-healing field. Anatole Defosses. of Montreal, for example, makes an estimated S 100.000 a year by fostering the belief that he can cure disease because he's the seventh son of a seventh son. Canadian courts have convicted him three times for practicing medicine without a license. A few years ago. Mary Taylor. nineteen, a diabetic from birth, came under the influence of Pastor Rufus W. Holmes, a traveling evangelist, when he visited Barrie, Ont. She told her friends. "If 1 have enough faith. I can stop taking insulin." She stopped—and died in a diabetic coma some sixty hours later. In Winnipeg. Rev. A. C. Valdez, an itinerant Pentecostal healer, whipped his audience into a religious frenzy night after night. Two of his most ardent followers were Gavin McCullough, a fifty-five-year-old accountant, and his wife. They were convinced that God was about to establish His Kingdom in Winnipeg. A few days after Valdez folded his tent and left town, they murdered their seven - year - old daughter because "she had the devil in her” and “was mocking God." A few months ago. Jack C oe. an Assembly of God evangelist, was arrested in Miami. Florida. He had ordered a mother to remove the braces from her three-year-old son who was a polio victim. Medical evidence showed that, as a result, irreparable bone damage was done to the child’s foot.
These flamboyant practices are condemned by other religious groups who believe in spiritual healing. The Christian Scientists have long claimed that drugs and doctors are not necessary to heal bodily ailments: that healing comes from the natural result of quietly understanding and obeying God’s spiritual laws. Several Anglican churches across Canada conduct regular healing services. Perhaps the best known is the Church of Apostles in Toronto. The spiritual healing sessions conducted by it-, pastor, forty-three-yearold Graham Lesser, are a far cry from Roberts' emotionally charged meetings. Quietly and without fanfare. Lesser prepares his flock for several weeks, building up their faith and trying to create a positive attitude toward life and religion. He doesn’t report—or seek—sudden, miraculous cures.
I he Roman Catholic Church believes in miracles and encourages its adherents to pray for them, but cautions against “tempting God and trying to force His hand." Dr. P. P. W. Ziemann. secretarytreasurer of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, says, "Our ministers pray with and for the sick and have seen improvement. We do not deny the possibility of healing but we do not want to place undue emphasis on it." This, approximately. is the attitude of many orthodox Christian denominations as well as that of the Jewish faith.
Everyone’s job is winning souls
Roberts denounces such lukewarm views. In his opinion, any sick person can be cured of anything—providing he has enough faith. To spread this message as widely as possible he flies back to Healing Waters, Inc., in Tulsa, immediately after every campaign to personally direct operations. Most of his three hundred employees belong to full-gospel churches and are expected not to drink, smoke, blaspheme or live frivolously. At X a.m., before work begins, a religious service is held. The personnel manager. Miss Higgins, reads urgent requests for prayers that have been phoned in. “Mrs. I.amonte phoned to sav that her husband has just undergone a serious operation . . .” At ten. Roberts meets with his stall if he's not too busy, to explain the progress of his evangelical work. He constantly emphasizes that all of them—whether they lick stamps or sweep floors—are engaged in one main task, winning souls. Not long ago a supervisor found a stenographer in the wrong department and asked her what she was doing there. She promptly replied, “I'm winning souls.”
In addition to his regular staff Roberts engages the services of the C. L. Miller Co., a large New York advertising agency whose other accounts include candy and corn products. The agency spends on his behalf some two million dollars each year on radio and TV time and other media. The Jos. W. Hicks Organization, of Chicago. advises him on public relations. Hicks’ other clients include companies selling insurance, chemicals, minerals and power lawnmowers. It was Hicks who suggested that Roberts arrive at his revival meetings dressed in a cowboy outfit, riding a Palomino horse while the organ played Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'. "You can bill yourself as The Cowboy Evangelist.'" Hicks explained enthusiastically. Roberts turned down the idea, explaining, ' Em not a cowboy."
There was nothing in Roberts' early background to suggest that he would one day become the head of a multi-milliondollar evangelical enterprise requiring the services of dozens of administrative, advertising and publicity executives. He was born in the town of Ada, Oklahoma, in 1918, the youngest of five children. His father was an impoverished Pentecostal Holiness preacher. As an adolescent, he was embarrassed by the lack of presentable clothing. More painful was the fact that he was a hopeless stutterer. "Ed often go by myself, look out at the hills and wonder if I'd ever amount to anything,” he says. "To this day I have the greatest compassion for stutterers. I want to heal them so badly 1 don't know what to do." When he was seventeen he contracted tuberculosis. His parents took him to a faith healer, who, Roberts claims, cured him instantly of both his TB and his speech impediment. He became so fluent that when he met Evelyn l.utman, a teacher from Texas whom he later married. he proposed to her in the following words:
"Evelyn, my huge, happy, hilarious heart is throbbing tumultuously, tremendously, triumphantly with a lingering, lasting, long-lived love for you. As I gaze into your bewildering, beauteous, bounteous. beaming eyes. I am literally, lonesomely lost in a dazzling, daring, delightful dream in which your fair, felicitous, fancy-filled face is ever present like a colossal, comprehensive constellation. Will you be my sweet, smiling, soulful, satisfied spouse?” Roberts comments. "You can see how wonderfully healed I was.”
His cure decided him on a religious career and he was ordained as a Pentecostal Holiness preacher. His first sermon was delivered in a schoolhouse and the total collection was eighty-three cents. During the next twelve years he was to serve as pastor in various communities in the southern states. Finally. Roberts says, in 1948. as he lay praying on the Hoor of his study in Enid. Oklahoma. God spoke to him, "clear and crisply like a military commander,” saying. "Erom this hour on you will heal the sick and cast out devils.” Thus started his career as a healing evangelist.
Roberts is bustling with plans for the future. His current “World Outreach Program" includes just about every living man, woman and child. To save the children. for example, he is printing millions of copies of an eighteen-page colored comic book entitled Ehe Miracle Touch. Ehe first half is devoted to Jesus healing the sick in Jerusalem; the second hall is devoted to Roberts healing the sick in Virginia, lie's out to convert the Jews. Another goal is to rescue the souls ol the American Indians. "The Indians love me,” says Roberts. "My name is a household word on the reservations. Don’t ask me how—that's just how God works.”
Roberts, as a public figure, is uniformly cheerful, buoyant and optimistic. But offstage he sometimes soberly reflects on his failures. "I can’t always heal, he says. "Sometimes Em tired. Or maybe the people I’m working with aren't mentally or spiritually prepared.” To revive his spirits Roberts says he thinks about Babe Ruth’s batting record. "Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter in history,” says Roberts. "He hit 714 home runs. But what’s not so well known is that he struck out 1,330 times. That’s what helps me keep my balance — God's law of averages." ★