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Archive for Sunday, October 14, 2007

Son of televangelist fights ‘personal character attack’

October 14, 2007

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Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., boards a plane in Tulsa. Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, were headed to appear on The Larry King Live show Tuesday.

Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., boards a plane in Tulsa. Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, were headed to appear on The Larry King Live show Tuesday.

— As the jet rolls to a stop, Richard Roberts does his best Elvis, breaking out a few bars of "It's Now or Never."

The 58-year-old televangelist is ready for his close-up.

In two hours, the Oral Roberts University president will appear on Larry King Live with his wife, Lindsay, to deny lurid allegations in a lawsuit that has engulfed the 60-year-old evangelical ministry in scandal.

If he is fazed, he does not show it on the limo ride into the city. Much like his father, he is in TV mode: silver-brown hair poofed to near-perfection, cool, collected.

The only moment of panic comes when Lindsay realizes she forgot to wear her wedding ring, a major faux pas for a TV preacher's wife.

On the show, the couple emphatically deny accusations of lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodels and a senior trip to the Bahamas for one daughter on the ministry's dime.

Oral, who is 89, calls in to say he has been blind-sided by allegations that the 5,700-student university he founded in 1963 was being exploited by his son and daughter-in-law.

Later, on the ride back, Richard assesses how he did.

"This was a God thing tonight," he says. "It just felt right."

Lindsay takes a call from her youngest daughter, Chloe, who tells mom the camera shot her at a flattering angle.

In the spotlight

That morning, Roberts invited a reporter from The Associated Press on the jet trip to New York, along with a reporter from a local newspaper and a photographer. The AP made arrangements to pay for the cost of transporting its reporter.

During a several-hour flight on the university's leased jet, Richard Roberts describes growing up in the towering shadow of his father, considered by many the godfather of modern-day televangelism.

Years ago, Oral Roberts grabbed headlines when he told of raising people from the dead, seeing a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus and offering donors replicas of an angel he said visited him.

Today, the spotlight belongs to his son. It's not the kind of fame Richard Roberts first dreamed of.

"I wanted to be an athlete and a nightclub singer," he says. "I had a contract to sing at a Vegas lounge."

Richard's background

He was the rebel son, a performer in a high school rock band. Instead of enrolling at ORU after graduation, he went to Kansas University.

His second semester, he was in the hospital, diagnosed with a colon problem that required surgery.

There, he says, he made a bargain with God: "Heal me, and I'll serve you."

He quickly forgot his promise and continued at KU. One day, he was taking a nap in his dorm when he says he heard a voice telling him he was in the wrong place.

"It was the first time in my life I heard the voice of God, like the voice was inside my head," he recalls.

Two weeks before his 20th birthday, he got saved. He joined his father's ministry in 1969.

Prosperity followed, along with the scrutiny. Today, as president of ORU, he makes $228,000 a year. He wears a Rolex. He bought Lindsay a red Mercedes as a Christmas gift a few years ago.

But he bristles at the lawsuit's allegations of reckless spending, saying he tithes at least 15 percent or more of his income and that personal expenses come out of his pocket.

Lindsay, 51, says she shops at Target, Stein Mart and TJ Maxx. Later, as if to prove the point of frugality, she shows a compact of makeup she bought on a home shopping show 10 years ago.

Allegations

The lawsuit, filed by three former professors who say they were wrongfully dismissed, alleges that the university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an "evangelistic function of the president."

It also says the Roberts' university-owned home has been remodeled 11 times in the past 14 years and that Lindsay Roberts frequently had cell-phone bills of more than $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. to "underage males who had been provided phones at university expense."

Richard Roberts says the Bahamas trip was a university recruiting effort that his daughter and others accompanied him on; the remodeling was needed because of black mold and hail damage and the text messages were sent from phones loaned by Richard and Lindsay Roberts to friends of their three daughters and students who visited the Roberts' home.

One of the allegations in the lawsuit has Lindsay Roberts dropping $39,000 at one Chico's store in less than a year. She says she shops there, but what she spends is "nowhere near" that figure.

'Personal character attack'

He says the lawsuit amounts to "a personal character attack" on his family.

"There are people in the world who are against ministries," he says. "I think people are not hoping there's a Christian university in Tulsa.

"There are people out there who hate the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think there's a lot of hate and jealousy," he explains.

The professors' suit also accuses Roberts of illegal involvement in a local political campaign.

Richard Roberts, according to the suit, asked a professor in 2005 to use his students and university resources to aid County Commissioner Randi Miller's bid for Tulsa mayor.

Such involvement would violate state and federal law because of the university's nonprofit status. Up to 50 students are alleged to have worked on the campaign.

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