Richard Roberts, President of Oral Roberts University, has requested and been given a leave of absence amidst allegations of misspending university funds. Three professors are suing ORU for wrongful termination of their jobs, alleging that they were fired because they wanted to reveal the misuse of funds. Roberts’ wife, Lindsay, is also under scrutiny for lavish spending of school funds plus spending time with a male student after stated hours for curfew. There are , apparently, photographs of her smoking with this same student in the president’s home. She is also accused of spending more than $50,000 in university funds and having $800 a month cell phone bills along with her daughters. This too supposedly with university funds.
It’s quite a story. I was reminded of Oral Roberts’ locking himself in a tower and declaring that God would kill him if he didn’t raise one million dollars. I recall that he eventually got the money from a man who owned a dog racing track. Oh yes, “Something GOOD is going to happen to you!” Oh well, I digress.
I am continually amazed at ministers who get in trouble with excess spending, either them or their spouses seem to take special liberties with money that doesn’t belong to them. The ORU story sounds like what politicians do with tax dollars when they fly to the Bahamas for a leadership conference. Here we are waiting to find out what will happen with another minister who has problems with money. I’m not overly interested in the outcome but won’t be surprised if there are real problems. The behavior and allegations are suspicious enough to make me wonder if there isn’t some truth to them. If nothing else, an investigation should definitely uncover some very poor judgment.
What should prove very interesting is how the university responds to the Roberts family during and after this investigation. If there is validity to the charges, ORU will be faced with what to do with a president who bears the name of the institution. Regardless of whether they are true or not, these allegations create a bad perception of the school and those who support it financially may whether their money is going toward a shopping spree for the president’ s wife. There will be an accounting and explanation forthcoming for sure.
This whole incident is a shame. It’s a shame for the university, the family, and the community of faith. I also wonder how the students are responding to all this bad press. What bothers me more on a personal level is that there are many ministers who labor in obscurity, minding their own business and keeping their reputations intact the best way they know how. These servants don’t get credit for living the right way and setting good examples. It can be a dangerous world for ministers, and there are any number of temptations and land mines out there to avoid. Any time a prominent religious leader comes under scrutiny, it adds to the perception that Christians are a both of hypocrites and that the church is always asking for money. It remains to be seen if the Roberts are cleared of wrongdoing.
I won’t hold my breath though. I would be surprised if Roberts keeps his presidency. And the situation with Lindsey is such that this too might not have a happy ending. What I gain from the mess at ORU is that Christians and ministers in particular should do whatever they can to avoid the appearance of evil. It doesn’t look like Roberts was particularly concerned about doing this. I would imagine there is a lot of pressure on university officials to handle this quickly and vindicate their president. Those professors who lost their jobs during this time frame will have interesting stories to tell also.
Religious leaders should observe this situation not so much with a judgmental eye but with an appreciation of their position before a watching public. Jesus instructed his followers to pray “deliver us from evil.” The position of power and prestige should lend itself to this kind of simple request. No one is exempt from temptation, but staying away from questionable conditions will go a long way toward keeping us out the kind of trouble Roberts is in.