Some years ago, as evangelist Oral Roberts tells it, God came to him in a vision in the desert and told him to build a hospital that would bring "healing to the people."
Today, after more than four years of financial struggling and bitter controversy, Roberts dedicated his City of Faith Hospital here, complete with the 60-foot-tall, cast-bronze praying hands the Almighty had ordered.
Friends, politicians, doctors, preachers, souvenir-hawkers, the evangelist's son and heir apparent, Richard, singer Barbara Mandrell and about 10,000 others flocked to the Mabee Center on Oral Roberts University campus to help dedicate the hospital. It is part of a three-building, $250 million medical center, which will open for patients Monday.
The project, including the 30-story hospital, a diagnostic clinic--at 60 stories, the tallest building in Tulsa--and a 20-story research center, built just south of the ORU campus, marks a victory for the controversial Methodist minister, who ran into bitter opposition from area hospital leaders, a sharply divided community and ridicule from skeptics after he announced his plan in September, 1977.
The Tulsa Hospital Council, an umbrella organization representing the area's medical facilities, protested Roberts' planned 777-bed facility, saying that metropolitan Tulsa had more than 1,000 extra hospital beds already and didn't need more. The council sued unsuccessfully, but, after months of negotiations, Roberts scaled back his plan, to open with 294 beds and expand to 777 as he can demonstrate need.
In the end, many of his opponents fell into line, and some of them appeared at the podium with him today. Even the weather cooperated: after record rains Saturday, the black clouds began clearing for the ceremonies today. To standing ovations, the 63-year-old Roberts told the throng how a faith healer had cured him, simultaneously, of tuberculosis and stuttering in his youth, and how he had determined then that medicine and prayer should somehow be combined.
"It's time we tied prayer and medicine together and turned them loose on the human race," he shouted to applause.
Roberts says God appeared to him in 1977 in a southwestern desert, while he was grieving over the death of his daughter, Rebecca, in a plane crash, and ordered him to build the hospital. In a 22-page booklet entitled "I Will Rain on Your Desert," Roberts details those conversations.
According to the booklet, God told Roberts to open the City of Faith debt-free.
"Debt-free, Lord?" Roberts queried.
"He said 'Yes! I am concerned about the cost of medical care.' "
This commandment led Roberts on an intensive search for funds. On television and through letters he appealed for money and it came in, by the millions.
In March, 1979, Roberts wrote to followers reminding them of his previously available alabaster boxes of oil, which could provide a "powerful point of contact" to promote healing. He suggested in a postcript that the anointing oil would "work even better" if used with a prayer cloth imprinted with his handprint, offered in an earlier letter.
For those who wonder why a faith healer--if former--would feel the need to build a medical center, Roberts has several answers. God heals in various ways, including through doctors, he says. And Roberts quotes the Gospel of Luke the physician: "They that are sick need a physician."