California 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 in Tulsa, Okla., that bears his name, died Tuesday. He was 91.
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.
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.
He also laid the foundation for the “prosperity gospel,” the doctrine that has come to dominate televangelism. It holds 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.
“In conservative Protestant culture, he’s second only to Billy Graham,” said Grant Wacker, a professor at Duke University’s divinity school. “Jerry Falwell is important, too, but I think in the long run we’ll see that Oral Roberts had more impact.”