What’s up with Pentecostal Pooh-Bah Oral Roberts having been a member of the United Methodist Church? George Frink writes in to ask. (GetReligion Capo Mattingly notes that the NYT omitted this interesting biographical fact, and pokes the UMC for failing thus far to acknowledge the demise of its most famous contemporary son.)
Here’s the best I can do at the drop of a hat. First, it’s worth bearing in mind that Pentecostalism arose out of the Methodist tradition–by way of the Holiness reform effort. There are deep affinities there, including convictions about sanctification, but let others more knowledgeable discourse on that. Second, Roberts went to seminary at Southern Methodist University, so even though he didn’t join the UMC until 1968, he had personal religious roots in the denomination.
Finally, there’s the particular Methodist church Roberts joined: Tulsa’s Boston Avenue MC. It’s the big downtown Methodist enterprise, housed in an extraordinary 1929 Art Deco pile that doubtless suited Roberts’ famous edifice complex to a T. (From 1978 to 1982, it was pastored by Lawrence Lacour, who came to the job from teaching worship and homiletics at ORU.)
From the look of it, Boston Avenue is a prime manifestation of The Tulsa Establishment, and if I had to guess I’d say that it represented the ecclesiastical ne plus ultra for a poor Pentecostal kid from Pontotoc County, Ok. In other words, Roberts’ joining the Methodists was not about some hidden streak of liberal Protestantism but the aspiration to status that, it seems, drove him to where he got to be. Not his Rosebud, perhaps, but revealing enough.