Oral Roberts, United Methodist

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2archchurch150.jpgWhat’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.

s_towerdetail.jpgFinally, 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.

  • Tracy

    I believe you are mistaken about Oral Roberts attending SMU.

  • sherkat

    Gee, I thought I was the only one who knew about that! Yes, Oral courted the UMC for a good bit, and vice-versa! His seminary degree, as I recall, was at Phillips (Disciples, not UMC). But, Oral was quite ecclectic. His original B(Whatever) was from OK. Baptist, who would frown on glossalalia. Both First UMC and Boston Ave. UMC in Tulsa were huge conservative congregations in the 1970s, and services regularly included people thowing up their hands and yelling at the gods–if not outright speaking in tongues. The ministers sought to harness that “charismatic” (as they called it back then) impulse, and bringing Oral into the fold seemed a perfect outlet. Only, Oral doesn’t answer to any man, and so the hoped for merger (Tulsa Methodist University and Megachurch?) never happened.

  • Mark Silk

    Well, this is what the Tulsa World had to say about his education in its obit today (http://bit.ly/7scKOK: “Ordained by the Pentecostal Holiness Church, Roberts preached for several years in various churches in Oklahoma. He studied at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and Phillips University in Enid. He went to seminary at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.” If they’re wrong, I’m wrong.