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The healer

December 15, 2009 |  5:45 pm

 

1957_0920_roberts

Sept. 20. 1957,
Los Angeles

Tent revivals are nothing new in Los Angeles--they have been going on for a century. But by any standards, Oral Roberts' crusades were sensational events.

The televangelist staged his first Southern California revival from Sept. 28 to Oct. 14, 1951, at Atlantic Boulevard and Anaheim-Telegraph Road in Anaheim, overlapping a crusade by Billy Graham (Sept. 16-Oct. 6) at the Hollywood Bowl. By 1955, Roberts was conducting his "healing meetings" before thousands of people in a 200-foot by 360-foot tent erected next to the Santa Ana Freeway at La Palma.

He credited his success to fellow evangelist Billy Graham--and the increasing power of broadcasting. By 1957, Roberts was heard over 350 radio stations and seen on 135 TV stations, including Channel 13 in Los Angeles, which aired his show on Sundays at 9:30 p.m.

Roberts staged his 1957 revival from Sept. 20 to Sept. 29 at Firestone and Lakewood boulevards in Downey,  culminating in an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 30.

In an interview with Times religion editor Dan L. Thrapp, Roberts described threats he had received during a 1954 revival tour of Australia. Saying that he barely escaped being assassinated, Roberts blamed the Australian press, which he said dared him to heal someone from a "diagnosed, specific illness."

"I never accept such challenges, " he said.

 

1955_0910_roberts

Roberts' revivals were emotional and full of fiery rhetoric, always concluding with sick people forming a "healing line" to receive Roberts' prayers.

"Los Angeles has rarely seen the like of this newest show of the sawdust circuit," Thrapp wrote in 1951. "Roberts has been called 'the loudest and flashiest revivalist to appear since the advent of Billy Graham' and with his emphasis on faith healing, he has an attraction few of his profession can equal."

"When evangelist Roberts takes over, the show is strictly old-time religion," Thrapp wrote. "He is a tall man and he paces the platform relentlessly during his sermon, carrying the microphone with him and setting it down with a crash to emphasize a point."

Thrapp sketched this portrait of Roberts:

"The angels that help us, they are spiritual beings, guardians of the family of mankind!" he announces.

"Thank the Lord!" the voices well up from the throng.

"You are born with your own personal angel! You have your own angel! I have my angel!" he shouts.

"That's right," come the voices.

"God is not like a button on your coat which you can have or do without!" the evangelist cries.

"Thank God," say the voices.

"...and the city was filled with chariots of fire and horses of fire and they drew a circle of steel around Elisha and he was not afraid," Roberts relates.

"Amen," moan the voices.

"You either believe the Bible or you don't--it's true or it isn't, and if it isn't we're all lost!" he cries.

"Praise God! Hallelujah!" agree the voices.

The sick and infirm file up to the ramp to his platform. Roberts sits on a chair with the microphone ready, and places his "healing hand," the right hand, on the afflicted spot.

"When I feel the power in the hand, I know it can drive the evil out," he says.

They come in a long line--a mother with a Mongoloid child, a tuberculosis sufferer, a cripple on crutches, an 86-year-old man, a woman with arthritis, a father with a daughter who was born with no hip sockets.

It is not for a reporter to say whether Mr. Roberts' healing is effective.

In some cases, it seemed to do no good.

But the faces of those who believed and who considered themselves cured were beautiful to watch.

From time to time, Mr. Roberts halted the line and bellowed to thousands:

"Who is the healer?"

"God!" they shouted.

And he asked them again and again to pray with him. Everyone prayed. And the line moved slowly past the evangelist.

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