Oral Roberts University vs. Bob Jones University: Two Different Responses in History to Racial Moments

There is an interesting article in Politico  that demonstrates how Oral Roberts University’s history is different than other conservative Christian universities on racial justice. In the article, Professor Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College notes that one of the gavanlizeng issues that helped to eventually form the religious right of the 1980s was the debate over religious freedom issues related to racial integration in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The story goes that when when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided in 1954 and set the course for school de-segregation, the decision was primarily enforced in the public sector. That was until  the 1971  Green vs. Connally decision, when the government began to enforce a new rule: religious organizations who did not integrate their private Christian schools would lose their tax exempt status. As Balmer notes, “The Green v. Connally ruling provided a necessary first step: It captured the attention of evangelical leaders especially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related ‘segregation academies’.”

This decision led to pushback by two conservative Christian schools who openly rejected this mandate: notably Bob Jones University and Liberty University. When Bob Jones University received the questionnaire, they defiantly replied that they would not admit black students.  Liberty University led by Jerry Falwell was also furious that the government would intervene in religious liberty matters.  They were more concerned about government overreach into religious life and the threat of liberalism than the moral issue of racial equality. Ultimately they chose religious rights over civil rights. They used their conservative beliefs and their Christianity to establish themselves on the wrong side of the tide of racial equality in America. But eventually, both schools reluctantly  complied and accepted black students, to various degrees of success, as the article shows.

The response of Oral Roberts University to this government mandate on Christian schools was quite different.  While admittedly a conservative Pentecostal Christian, Oral Roberts did not see equality as a political or cultural issue; it was a moral issue that flowed from his faith.  As I point out in my article “Healing for all Races,” despite the objection from people in the church, Roberts spent his whole ministry career advocating for blacks in America by integrating his healing meetings. He also intentionally modeled this value on television in 1968, praying hand in hand with Mahalia Jackson in prime time during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Oral Roberts prays for racial reconciliation with Mahalia Jackson on national television in 1968

But for Oral Roberts, it was through ORU that his vision was given full expression.  Although ORU was tabbed as a “School for Squares” by the local press for its conservative moral standards, the issue of racial equality was never in question at ORU. When the Washington D.C. officials called to  ask Roberts his position on accepting blacks at ORU, Roberts responded,

“Well, let me give you the bigger policy. ORU is established in three ways. First, to be international. Second to be interdenominational. And third to be interracial.”

Considering how other Christian universities responded, the official at first didn’t believe him and asked him again. Roberts replied, “Didn’t you hear what I said?  Whether we get any federal funds or not we will be international, interdenominational, and interracial.” Oral’s vision was bigger than Liberty and Bob Jones. He saw racial equality as a fundamental pillar of ORU, rather than a threat to its role as a Christian University. Oral Roberts was a conservative, but he was not a Fundamentalist like these other universities.  He was not afraid to acknowledge that racial inequality existed on the institutional level. For Roberts, this was not a conservative vs. liberal issue. Racial justice was a Christian and moral issue.

Roberts believed that ORU would be a place where students, regardless of color or background, could be truly equal and have equal opportunities to succeed. Of course, many times the university fell short of that goal. But, the university worked to actively recruit black students and implement programs to help black students because they knew American education did not provide equal opportunities.

Roberts’ empathy toward the experience of blacks in America also led him to do yearly “Black Awareness Weeks” on the campus where black students could share their experiences to build empathy in white students about justice issues. These values and ORU’s reputation led Civil Rights leader Jesse Jackson to declare at the ORU Graduation in 1978,

“ORU has the opportunity to be the first University in America to establish an educational community where people from around the world can come here and say that you will be judged totally by the content of your character rather than the color of your skin.”

Jackson encouraged ORU to accept the challenge of leadership and moral authority to become an example of racial equality. I believe ORU has done that.  Not perfectly, but as a Christian University, ORU has maintained its conservative Christian commitment while valuing racial equality. Today, the ORU campus is majority non-white, a result of the legacy of equality and justice that Roberts helped establish.

There are some conservative Christians today who are concerned about the implications of the racial moment that America faces. Oral Roberts demonstrated that being a conservative Christian should include taking up the cause of justice and equality for black Americans. While Bob Jones and Liberty used their Christianity to fight against justice for black Americans in the name of religious liberty, Roberts saw his Christianity as the source for standing up for racial justice.  I pray that conservative Christians (including myself) will learn from history and Oral Roberts’ courage to work for even greater racial equality in our world today.

Interview on the Deborah Sweetin Show

A few weeks back I was invited to be on the Deborah Sweetin Show, which airs on KGEB. It was a delight. Deborah is a very gracious host and a skilled interviewer. We talked about ORU, the healing movement, and some of the treasures in the Holy Spirit Research Center. I am grateful to Deborah and her co-host Robert for allowing me to share about the HSRC and ORU.

You can learn more about the Deborah Sweetin Show on her website: http://deborahsweetin.com

 

AG Eschatology, Oral Roberts, and Reception History: A Research Update

I have great news about my PhD journey! On April 16, 2019 I will finally be defending  my PhD dissertation on “The Origin, Development, and Future of Assemblies of God Eschatology”.  It has been nearly a year since began the process of submitting my final draft.  After several delays and snags, I will finally be sitting for my defense (called a viva in the UK) and hopefully bring this journey to a close that began over ten years ago. I welcome your prayers for me!

I am truly excited that I will soon be able to share my research after everything is finalized. I am extremely proud of the work I have done in tracing how the AG has expressed their belief in the second coming of Jesus throughout 100 years of AG literature.  This will be the first study to chart the development of official doctrinal statements and the various changes that have been made in the past century (and yes, there have been many changes!) I am also the first to create a narrative of how these beliefs were expressed  by leaders, pastors and individuals in the AG through the hundreds of articles in over 5,000 issues of the Pentecostal evangel from 1914-2014. I am also the first to chart the role of the Holy Spirit in shaping how these beliefs have been expressed.  To wrap up my study, I offer a comprehensive integration of the past and the future to re-imagine how AG doctrine can continue to develop a Spirit-focused eschatology consistent with the past but also embraces the  future for the AG.

The second area of research I am focusing on right now is Oral Roberts Studies.  For over two decades, Oral Roberts studies have fallen into the background of the Pentecostal academy.  Following David Harrell’s monumental biography of Oral in 1985, little research has been conducted on this fascinated and controversial figure in Christian history.  This past fall, forays into this neglected space were made with the publication of a special edition of Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology that honored the centennial of Oral’s birth with twelve new studies on his life and theology. I was able to contribute two pieces to that edition: one on the role of Oral Roberts’ view of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and one on a shockingly different early account of his healing testimony that I co-authored with Vinson Synan. Writing these two pieces awakened me to the vast number of topics on Oral’s life, theology and ministry that are still yet to be explored.  The door is wide open for more research and the time has come for scholars to re-engage with this central figure in Pentecostal and Charismatic history.

Following my first two studies, I have been working on two new areas of Oral’s life and impact. The first is a study of Oral’s legacy of racial healing and reconciliation. His racial views were radical for his era and have been an important factor that led to the  extremely diverse student population on the campus of ORU today.  This study will be part of another special edition coming out in the Fall issue of Spiritus focused on the theme of healing, for which I will be the guest editor.  The second is a study about poverty, Pentecostalism, and Oral’s influence on the prosperity gospel.  I will be exploring how the trauma of Oral’s poverty stricken childhood was the primary motivator for his doctrine of prosperity. It is a challenging study that will wrestle with the implications of Oral’s influence on prosperity gospel, particularly in the majority world.

A final piece of research and writing will be showcased this upcoming week at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.  The theme this year is “Reception History,” which is the methodology of exploring how Pentecostals have read, interpreted, viewed, and performed the Scriptures throughout their history. I will be presenting a paper on the Pentecostal practice of “tarrying.” Specifically I will be exploring how early Pentecostal’s received Jesus’ command to “tarry in Jerusalem” and how that command informed their expectations on the amount of time that one must seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  You can read this paper I am presenting next week here: Isgrigg SPS – How Long Shall We Tarry

In addition to presenting at this year’s conference, I am joining fellow AG scholars, Rick Wadholm and Martin Mittelstadt, to compile an edited volume focused on Reception History that will contain many of the studies  from this year’s meeting.  We are very excited to be working together on  this ground-breaking volume dedicated to articulating and demonstrating this emerging discipline within Pentecostal studies. Here is the Reception History Call for Contributions for potential authors.

This is a wonderful season in my life. I love my job as director of the Holy Spirit Research Center at Oral Roberts University. People ask me all the time, “Will you get to teach?”  The truth is I teach every day. That’s what academic librarians do! We teach students how to do academic research using the best sources available to them in ORU’s amazing library.  Every day I have conversations with students about Pentecostal history and its my job to help them to discover the wealth of materials that we have at ORU for them to explore. I get to watch the excitement they experience as they learn the ins and outs of finding information on topics they are passionate about. I also get to be the steward of the amazing collection of books, magazines, audio/video and artifact that have been entrusted to the HSRC for over 50 years.  Every day I am surrounded by the history of the Holy Spirit’s work around the globe. I am grateful to God for his leading in my life to bring me here. I am convinced that Oral was right: God is a good God!

By the way, the HSRC depends on the donation of materials related to the global Spirit-Empowered movement. We need your help! We are glad to take books, magazines, and other artifacts (old or new) from the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement to help us to continue to expand our collection. If you have something to donate, contact me.  https://oru.libguides.com/HSRC

 

A Summer Update

It is July and I haven’t mentioned much lately about the progress on my PhD. I have had several people ask about my PhD and am I done yet.  Well, the answer is yes and no.  I finished writing my dissertation back in March and my supervisor has read it and given the OK for it to be submitted.  However, I am actually trying to submit a year earlier than my acceptance letter had indicated. So, even though I am done, I am still waiting for Bangor to approve me to submit. We are trying to work through the red tape as we speak. Meanwhile, I am just sitting here waiting, thesis in hand.  So please pray with me that I can receive favor to submit as soon as possible. After that, I can proceed on with the Thesis defense process and finally move on.  (Although at times I miss working on my thesis!)

On another note, I am also please to announce that as of August 1st, I am officially the new director of the Holy Spirit Research Center. While this was a large part of my job when I came to ORU in November, I didn’t receive my official appointment until a few weeks ago. I am so excited about this opportunity. I cannot imagine a job I would enjoy more than being the director of the HSRC.  I simply love what I do and feel so privileged to be the steward of what is perhaps the largest and most comprehensive collections of resources on the Holy Spirit in the entire world.  I praise God for his grace in bring this opportunity my way and am grateful to Dr. Mark Roberts for believing in me. I stand on incredibly strong shoulders as I take over this responsibility.

Finally, I am very excited about some other writing projects I have been working on.  I have three pieces on Oral Roberts coming out later this fall in a special edition of Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology in recognition of the centennial of Oral’s birth.  The first is a bibliography of Oral’s works that is intended to provide scholars with a list of items we have at ORU that are available for Oral Roberts studies. The second is a historical piece I wrote with Vinson Synan about an early account of Oral’s healing that was published in the Oklahoma Pentecostal Holiness newspaper, in which his account is curiously different than his later recollections of his healing from tuberculosis.  The third article is a study of the role that the baptism in the Holy Spirit played in shaping the healing ministry of Oral Roberts.  I am so excited about these pieces and look forward to producing more studies of Oral and Oral Roberts University in the future.

What can I say except I feel really blessed right now. This season of my life is a good one for me and my family.  I am pleased to agree with Oral Roberts; “God truly is a good God.”

A New Season

Over eight months ago, we left a church we loved and I laid down my calling as a pastor in order to seek out what God had next for our family.  It has been a difficult 8 months and we often have been tired from the waiting, from what seemed to be open doors that inexplicably shut, and from living in scarcity.  Yet, even in the difficulty of these past months, God has been faithful and we have not only survived, but we have thrived through our transition.

I am excited to announce that this time of transition has finally came to a close.  20 years ago, in a freshman class at ORU, I heard the Lord say to me, “You are going to get a PhD”.  10 years ago, as I finished my masters degree at ORU, I started my journey toward getting my PhD believing that one day God would lead me back ORU. That day has arrived.

For the past several months I have been in talks with Dr. Mark Roberts, the new dean of the ORU Library, about joining his team.  After months of waiting and unexpected challenges, last Friday things finally came together. On Monday morning I began a new career as a Faculty Librarian at ORU.  I am so thankful to Dr. Roberts showing me favor in offering me this position.  My primary job is to help the Theological Librarian acquire new scholarly books for ORU’s new PhD program that will begin soon.  In addition, I will  support other outstanding librarians and assist Dr. Roberts with the Holy Spirit Research Center.  (In short, God gave me a job where I get to buy books and help students to do research on the Holy Spirit! How awesome is that!) This opportunity couldn’t be a better fit for me and I give God all the praise for making this happen.

In addition to this awesome development, during this transition time I have received several opportunities to share about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in several churches in the Tulsa area. I have been given opportunities to preach in Sunday services and have given several seminars on Holy Spirit in Wednesday night services, small groups and Young Adult groups and have seen God do some amazing things.  God’s people are so hungry for solid teaching as well as authentic experiences with the Holy Spirit.  Some of the talks I have given have been: Three experiences with the Holy Spirit,  the Baptism in the Holy Spirit,  Reasons you should pray in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, and the nature of Spiritual gifts. In every session, the Holy Spirit has stirred up weary believers, filled hungry hearts, and truly brought times of refreshing and renewal to believers.  Everything God has taught me through my education, writings, and ministry in the church are being used to help stir up a passion for Spirit-filled ministry in other churches. What an honor God has given to me to have these opportunities.

This is definitely a new season for the Isgrigg family.  I am so thankful to God for his goodness. And thankful to those who have prayed for us and supported us during this time.  I am especially thankful to God for a wife who was courageous enough to step out in faith and who has been my rock though it all.  I still have one more goal to achieve, that is to finish my PhD.  I am nearing the end and it is just in time. I am truly excited about my new season and what God has for me to do.

ORU’s 50th Anniversary: Don’t Overlook Howard Ervin

20151028_192759This past week Oral Roberts University celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was a wonderful celebration full of chapels, banquets, reunions and launching of new initiatives for the University. One celebration I thought was particularly meaningful was the “Lifetime Global Achievement Awards” given out to individuals who had made a significant impact on the history of ORU and have lived out the University’s mission of taking the healing gospel into every person’s world. The individuals honored had shown “outstanding excellence or deep impact” in the areas of intellectual advancement, spiritual vibrancy, physical discipline, social adeptness, professional excellence, global focus, and university support and healing initiative.

The list of honorees listed in Commemorative Edition of Excellence Magazine included University legends such as the Cardone Family, Ralph Fagan, Carl Hamilton and even “Miss Pansey” Wallace who served in the dining hall for 40 years.  Ministers  and pastors such as Terry Law, Myles Monroe, Larry Stockstill and Billy Joe & Sharon Daughtery received awards.  Athletic legends such as Bernis Duke, Madeline Manning Mims, Andretti Bain, and Ken Tricky were also recognized. Doctors, singers, entertainers, authors, politicians and business men were also honored.  Some of the honorees where recognized posthhumously. I was particularly happy to see that several of my friends I admire such as Missionary to Kenya, Dr. Bill Kuert and Author Clifton Taulbert were honored as well.

Dr. Bill Kuert, Lifetime Global Achievement Award Recipient.

Dr. Bill Kuert, Lifetime Global Achievement Award Recipient.

In total, 50 outstanding recipients of this Global Achievement Award were chosen.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was to select these 50 individuals out of the thousands of alumni and faculty that they could have chosen for this honor.  I have no complaints with anyone on this list.  It is a fine list that represents Oral Roberts University well.  I would just like to offer an addendum to this list.  A 51st candidate for the Global Achievement Award:  Dr. Howard M. Ervin.

No one exemplifies the characteristics of “intellectual advancement, spiritual vibrancy, professional excellence” or has “significantly impacted the history of Oral Roberts University and the world” more than Dr. Howard M. Ervin.

Ervin Oct 1966 -4Howard Ervin, ThD served on the faculty of ORU as professor of Old Testament and Pneumatology from 1966-2006. He was first introduced to ORU in 1964 when he was invited by Oral Roberts to speak at Oral Roberts Partner Seminars on the Holy Spirit.  Oral was impressed with Ervin’s academic credentials (being a ThD from Princeton) and his testimony of being filled with the Spirit as a Baptist Pastor.  In 1966, Dr. R. O. Corvin asked Ervin to join the founding faculty of the school of theology. Over the next several decades, Ervin led thousands of people into the baptism in the Holy Spirit through Oral Robert’s Partners Seminars and Full Gospel Businessman meetings.  At these seminars, Oral would get them saved and Ervin would bring them into the baptism in the Spirit.  Oral Roberts looked to Howard Ervin to provide him with the biblical theological underpinning he needed for his message of healing and Spirit empowerment.

Howard Ervin Speaking at Oral Roberts Partners Seminar in 1965.

Howard Ervin Speaking at Oral Roberts Partner’s Seminar in 1965.

ervin emeritas

Ervin receiving the honor of Professor Emeritus at the age of 92.

After R. O. Corvin left ORU, Howard Ervin stepped in and served as the chair and help build the department of Theology from 1969-1978. He also served with Dr. James Buskirk (also a Global Achievement recipient) in founding the graduate school of theology in 1976. He taught his course on Pnuematology (the theology of the Holy Spirit) every year of his 40 years at ORU.  He was the anchor of the theology department.  He recieved numerous outstanding faculty awards and was awared professor emeritus of the School of Theology in 2007.

these are not drunken front coverHoward Ervin was a leading scholar of the Pentecostal theology of Holy Spirit in the academic world.  In 1968, Ervin wrote the first academic, exegetical and theological defense of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with his work These Are Not Druken As Ye Suppose.  In 1984, Ervin wrote a highly popular scholarly rebuttal to Evangelical scholar James Dunn’s polemic against Pentecostalism called Conversion, Initiation, and Baptism in the Holy Spirit. This work became a popular apologetic for Pentecostal scholars for the next two decades.  In 1987, Ervin revised and republished his previous work on the Holy Spirit with the new title Spirt-Baptism: A Biblical Investigation.  In 2002, Ervin published his final book called Healing: Sign of the Kingdom.  With six books published on Pneumatology over a span of 34 years, Ervin is the most published member in the history of ORU’s theological faculty.

Howard Ervin had a significant impact on the Charismatic Renewal in 1960’s-1970’s. Ervin regularly spoke in Charismatic Catholic conferences on the Holy Spirit.  He was instrumental in many people from mainline churches coming into the Charismatic Renewal.  From 1979-1987, Ervin was a participant in the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogues.  Ervin had the ability to cross demoninational and liturgical lines to bring people into the fullness of the Spirit. Ervin was convinced that “The Spirit’s number one agenda is the healing of the Church.”  Ervin believed that the Charismatic Renewal was the vehicle God wanted to use to bring unity to the Church.

Ervin Oct 1966 -3

Dr. Howard M. Ervin joins the faculty of ORU in 1966.

As I look at the many wonderful people who occupy list of Lifetime Global Achievement recipients, I believe Howard M. Ervin is certainly worthy to be counted with this company.  He had a significat impact on Oral Roberts.  He had a significant impact on Oral Roberts University. He had a significant impact on Pentecostal and Charismatic scholarship. He had a significant impact bringing the message of healing and Spirit-empowerment to many denominations.  And as far as I know, he is the only person who has had a biography published about his life and impact on Oral Roberts University and the Pentecostal and Charismatic community.

In the past 50 years, many students, alumni and faculty have made a significant impact on ORU’s history. Howard Ervin exemplifies everything that ORU has stood for these past 50 years.  He was an outstanding academic, he trained countless ministers to go to “every man’s world,” he had a global impact on the body of Christ, and he advanced the message of Spirit-empowered life to thousands.   Though his name didn’t make the list, I believe that Howard M. Ervin is certainly worthy of an ORU 50th Anniversary Lifetime Global Achievement Award.

Read more on the Life and Legacy of Howard M. Ervin

Daniel D. Isgrigg is a graduate of Oral Roberts Unviersity (B.A. 00, M.A. 07) and the author of the theological tribute to Howard M. Ervin called Pilgrimage Into Pentecost (2008).