A few years ago Oral Roberts made national headlines when he confessed to having seen a 900-foot-tall Jesus in the heavens urging the faithful to donate to the “City of Faith,” as he called the medical school he was building at his university. Those who believed him, his “partners,” were asked to send monthly donations to complete the building of a high-rise, several-hundred-bed teaching hospital at the Tulsa campus of this electronic evangelist. A sufficient number of partners volunteered their checks to open this hospital in connection with Oral Roberts University’s School of Medicine.
Now the Reverend Roberts is back in the news, and again he is asking for partners. He says he needs hundreds of thousands of the faithful to donate 10 dollars or more each month for the next 12 months to save the City of Faith from having to close. The hospital has proven a financial drain of major proportions. In an attempt to cut expenses at his university—and possibly to save it from bankruptcy—the Reverend Roberts last year closed ORU’s College of Dentistry, and he has just announced that he is giving the ORU College of Law, with its 10-million-dollar library, to the Christian Broadcast Network University in Virginia.
Yet the medical school at Oral Roberts University has more than financial problems. It also is facing a loss of accreditation because it has an average daily bed occupancy of only about 250, which gives it fewer patients than the American Medical Association’s accreditation division feels are needed for the proper training of the number of medical students attending the institution. In an attempt to get more patients to fill its beds—and thus meet the requirements of accreditation—the Reverend Roberts several months ago announced that the City of Faith would accept charity patients. Naturally this brings even greater financial pressure on the institution.
What has happened to the Reverend Roberts and his medical school, the City of Faith, brings to mind a story often told in classes on higher education administration. It seems that a university president died and—as any professor telling the story would say—naturally went to hell, where he was greeted by Satan himself “We’re glad you’re here,” said Lucifer. “We’ve been saving a position for you. We’re going to make you president of the University of Hell.”
The president was astonished. “But back on earth I was a university president,” he said. “What’s so hellish about this position?”
“I guess no one’s told you yet,” said Old Scratch with a fiendish grin. “Our university has two medical schools.”
In many circles in America it is fashionable to chuckle when Oral Roberts reports to the media that he has had a vision of some kind or that he is in financial plight and needs partners. These same people find humor in what they see as the gullibility of that segment of the public which supports the endeavors of Oral Roberts. Many of these elitist chic think it ironic and amusing that a fundamentalist preacher, who began his ministry in a tent as a faith healer, would build and try to maintain a center for training medical doctors. Oral Roberts jokes, much in the vain of Aggie and/or Polish jokes, make the cocktail circuit and elicit knowing smiles of superiority.
Yet whatever the sins of the electronic ministry of Oral Roberts and the self-aggrandizement that drives him to name his university for himself, he is performing one of the fundamental tasks assigned by the founder of the Christian religion: ministering to the needs of the indigent ill. These people, unable to show proof of insurance or ability to pay cash, would not be admitted to most public or private hospitals in America. In fact, in many hospitals, both privately owned and religious, indigent patients routinely are referred to one or another of the welfare agencies maintained by the state or Federal government where they supposedly can get help.
Recently I had a conversation with a minister of the gospel who asked me if I tithed. I responded that I did, but that I did not give it to the church. Rather, said I, my tithe went to the Federal government.
“But the tithe, by definition, belongs to God!” said the minister in shocked tones. “You can’t give your tithe to anyone else.”
My rebuttal was that the purpose of giving, as I recall my reading of the Bible, was to aid the sick, the poor, and the needy, not to build imposing structures furnished with gold, stained glass, and mahogany, much less to buy silk suits, luxury automobiles, and trips to the Holy Lands. Today those looking for true irony will find it in reflecting that in this nation of some 150 million professing Christians, the transient, the sick, the poverty stricken do not find help in most churches. On occasion they will be given a meal or a small amount of money at the temple door, but most often they are turned away with a suggestion that they go to the nearest public welfare agency, just as indigent patients at most religious hospitals would die in the lobby before being admitted for free care.
In this age of the New Deal/Great Society, the government has become the vehicle for providing aid to dependent children, food for the hungry, housing for those of low income, medical care for the ill and the aged, and subsistence income for those in their retirement years. More than half the budget of the Federal government now is earmarked for humanitarian, philanthropic, and eelemosynary purposes.
Therefore, as I told the minister with whom I was discussing the subject of tithing, if my tax bracket is more than two-tenths of my total income, then I am giving a tithe and more of my worldly goods for the welfare of my fellow man as demanded by the founder of the Christian religion. Unfortunately, not all that 10 percent filters down to the poor, for government bureaucrats eat up too large a portion of it as they gorge themselves at the public trough.
Meanwhile, too many of our Christian denominations are using the income they receive from their collections to help finance the World Council of Churches and its revolutionary ideology of redistributing the wealth around the globe.
Ministers like the one chiding me about my failure to tithe to the church, who feel that too many of their parishioners are in the same boat that I occupy, might find a greater willingness to donate when the plate is passed if they returned to the basic Christian principle of taking care of the lame, the halt, the blind, and the hungry at the church door—as the Reverend Roberts is doing at his City of Faith. If such were the case, then there would be no need for Federal and state governments to be in the business of welfare.
Indeed, if our American religious communities rededicated themselves to the principles of Christian charity, then we might have, as the justices of the Supreme Court are demanding, a true separation of church and state.