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Berkowitz: Oral Roberts Uni Under New Management

Oral Roberts University Under New Management

By Bill Berkowitz

Enmeshed in scandal, the university founded by, and named for televangelist Oral Roberts, is bailed out by Hobby Lobby's Mart Green

Before there was a Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen, Oral Roberts was televangelism. He, along with a few other pioneers brought the tent revival into the age of mass communications; Roberts was broadcast on numerous television stations across the country. He stalked the stage, raised his voice, and had the audience in the palm of his hands. He appeared to indicate that he had special powers; he could heal the sick, mend the wounded, comfort the afflicted.

Oral Roberts had wealth, power, prestige and an all-American family. He amassed a fortune and later established a university in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which he named Oral Roberts University (ORU - website).

Now, ORU needs some financial and spiritual healing.

That's where Mart Green, a young multi-millionaire, comes in.

Green, 46, recently gave ORU more than $60 million "of his family's fortune to rescue" the university, "the evangelical Christian school engulfed in a spending scandal [involving Oral Roberts' son Richard and his wife Lindsay] and burdened with tens of millions of dollars in debt," the Associated Press reported on February 5.

Referring to the financial and sexual scandals of the late 1980s that ensnared Swaggart and Bakker, J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, wrote in his "Fire in My Bones" column late last year that "It was déjà vu all over again when one of the country's top Pentecostal colleges was accused of serious ethical and financial wrongdoing."

"In a lawsuit filed by three professors from Oral Roberts University (ORU), school officials, including its president, Richard Roberts [the son of Oral Roberts], were accused of misusing donor funds and violating IRS tax codes."

After Richard Roberts stepped down as ORU president, Grady told OneNewsOne, a news service of the American Family Association, that he was "grateful" that he did that "because it would have been a very ugly situation had he dug in his heels and stayed there."

According to the AP, "One of his [Mart Green] first tasks will be finding a new president for the university, which is saddled with about $45 million in debt and more than $60 million in deferred maintenance costs."

Green's bountiful donation comes with one very large caveat. According to AP, "In return for the donation, Green becomes chairman of the university's new board of trustees, and hopes to restore the public's trust in the 5,700-student institution."

Green's bountiful donation comes with one very large caveat. According to AP, "In return for the donation, Green becomes chairman of the university's new board of trustees, and hopes to restore the public's trust in the 5,700-student institution."

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on February 14 that the new governing board of ORU "has decided to use about half of the $62 million donated by ... Green ... to pay down the institution's long-term debt.... The remaining $32-million will pay for campus renovations, technology upgrades, financial aid, marketing, and operations costs."

Changing of the guardians

Earlier this month, the Tulsa World reported that the University had revised its articles of incorporation and bylaws. "The new documents usher in shared governance -- with defined roles for the board, the president and the faculty -- required by the Green family .... The revised bylaws give ORU's new governing board the ultimate authority over the college and states that the president serves at the pleasure of the board."

Previously, the president essentially had power over the board.

Both Oral Roberts and his son Richard -- who became president of the school in 1993 -- "along with their wives, were ORU's spiritual regents, who had ultimate authority within ORU's old board of regents, according to the old bylaws," the Tulsa World reported.

"They were considered ORU's 'spiritual prophets, seers, pastors, leaders and ministers.' Teachings of the chairman and vice chairman of the spiritual regents 'represent(ed) the teachings' of Jesus as applied to modern times 'and must be followed' by leaders and staff. ORU 'is essentially and fundamentally a religious organization,' the old bylaws stated.

"The new articles of incorporation provide a way to change the name and purpose of the university: by a unanimous vote of the full board three years in a row at its annual meeting. ORU's stated purpose, the same as it was described in the 1991 version of ORU's articles of incorporation, includes education of the 'whole person,' including mind, spirit and body."

Green's green

Green's fortune comes "in part" from Hobby Lobby (website), the company his father, David, "founded in his living room with a $600 loan and built into a $1.8 billion craft supply giant with nearly 400 stores in the U.S. The money also comes from Mardel (website), the Christian bookstore and office supply chain that Mart Green started when he was 19."

AP also pointed out that "Forbes magazine lists David Green's net worth at $1.8 billion, making him one of the 400 richest Americans. Because of the gift to Oral Roberts University, the Green family ranked 27th out of 50 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list of Americans who gave the most in 2007."

Green, who "had no connection to the school and hadn't met either Roberts or his father, Oral," is "an evangelical Christian and member of the Assemblies of God." He said that he "decided to step in for the sake of the alumni, faculty and students."

"When ... Bakker and ... Swaggart had their situations, a lot of people suffered," Green said. "When the Catholic priests had their situation, a lot of people suffered. If ORU goes down it affects all the Christian colleges."

Green didn't finish college; "he dropped out of now-defunct Tomlinson College in Cleveland, Tenn., to go into business," AP reported. "He is a fast talker who friends say still gets butterflies in his stomach when he speaks in public."

"He did not set foot in a movie theater until 2001, when he saw Jim Carrey's 'The Majestic,' about the magic of an old movie theater. He now owns a movie company -- Every Triber Entertainment (website) -- which has produced films about missionaries in Ecuador and AIDS in Africa. His first film, "End of the Spear," which debuted in 2006, was about four missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956 by the Waodani (sometimes spelled Huaorani) people.

"This is a man who has a new dream every Thursday," Rob Hoskins, president and chief executive of Book of Hope International, a Florida-based organization that distributes Scripture around the world, told the AP.

The rest of the Green story

What else do we know about Mart Green (and his father David) other than he is a generous philanthropist -- he is listed as number 27 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list of top donors for 2007 -- an innovative entrepreneur, and is interested in making Christian-themed films?

According to a "diary" posted by dogemperor at Daily Kos (July 23, 2007), "Hobby Lobby is a de facto funding front for one of the most infamous of dominionist denominations."

SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and democracy describes dominionism as "a trend in Protestant Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism that suggests political participation in civic society should extend to attempts to take over and dominate the political process."

According to dogemperor, Hobby Lobby "has two divisions that deal with dominionist concerns": Mardel, and Bearing Fruit Communications -- "an advertising and production company which deals heavily in promotion of dominionist media."

"This is in addition to the other parts of a rather substantial empire:

  • Hobby Lobby Creative Centers (the main craft store chain)
  • Hemispheres (a home decor design company)
  • Crafts Etc.! (an online and wholesale retailer of craft supplies)
  • H. L. Construction (a construction company responsible for building Hobby Lobby stores)
  • Hong Kong Connection (an import/export company dealing in Chinese goods)
  • Greco Frame and Supply

On his blog Mainstream Baptist Dr. Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, pointed out that "Hobby Lobby and [David Barton's] Wallbuilders (website) have published full page ads in newspapers around the country celebrating their understanding of America as a 'Christian Nation.'

"They publish a variety of quotes from civil leaders invoking religious beliefs as evidence that our nation has some special relationship with God. Some of the quotes are lifted entirely out of context and made to serve a purpose opposite the author's expressed written intention."

SourceWatch cites an April 11, 2005 essay by journalist Frederick Clarkson which asserts that "Barton is perhaps the leading proponent of the notion that the U.S. was once, and should again be a 'Christian Nation.' He wants to sell you on that idea. He has books and tapes to sell too. The problem is that his slick products and presentations don't stand up to scrutiny."

Dogemperor also notes that "Mardel Bookstores explicitly sell dominionist curricula packages including Bob Jones University's package. (BJU's curriculum, among several others, has been ruled as educationally insufficient by the University of California at Berkeley and students solely educated on BJU will not receive high school credit for courses in biology or history.)"

According to Dogemperor, Hobby Lobby funds a "behavior modification" operation called Harbor House for "at risk" youth; "a neopente mission group that explicitly targets kids in Roman Catholic countries .... they apparently started out in the 70's in Beirut where a lot of 'Christian Zionist' groups linked with the Assemblies of God were illegally setting up shop to beam 'messianic Jewish' programming down to Israel as an end-run against Israeli laws prohibiting missionary activity aimed at Jewish people."

The operator of Book of Hope, Bob Hoskins, is also president of Life Publishers International, "a publishing front company of the Assemblies of God," and the "primary publisher for Paul Yonggi Cho ....[who has] links to ... genocide[e] ... in Guatemala)." Book of Hope "has actively worked with Teen Challenge (a second Assemblies of God front group targeting teens set up 'stealth evangelism' programs promoted falsely as anti-drug groups...'"

"Life Publishing International," writes Dogemperer, "publishes a specific Assemblies-authored Bible version promoted to youth ... based on the 'Life In The Spirit Study Bible,' an official Assemblies study bible ...

"Reportedly Book of Hope receives some of the largest funding out of the groups funded explicitly by Hobby Lobby."

Last October, after the ORU financial scandal became public Richard and Lindsay Roberts denied the charges on Larry King Live. However, a week after their appearance, Richard Roberts resigned.

In mid-February, World magazine reported that "until recently the university's finances were largely secret and intertwined with those of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA). Now, motivated by the promise of a $70 million donation, the university's financial affairs are separate from those of the OREA and open to donor inspection. The school wants to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a well-known Christian ministry accountability group."




Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.

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