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AFTERWORD “I’m asking you to extend my life. We’re at a point where God could call Oral Roberts home in March.” Oral Roberts, referring to himself, seeking $4,500,000 in donations from his followers HE MONTH OF March is upon us, and if Oral Roberts doesn’t croak immediately he’s missing the chance of a lifetime. How. many Doubting Thomases are unable to commit themselves one way or the other and are going through life saying, “Lord, give me a sign!” The hell with raising $4 million. I join Mike Royko, Molly lying, and other deep theological thinkers in pointing out that Oral Roberts now has a chance to convert millions, simply by dropping dead! We’ve been assured that Oral’s not terminally ill not physically, anyway, though I admit to worrying a little about that 900-foot high Jesus he saw a while back. And we’ve been assured that he’s not going to pull some cheap stunt like putting a bullet in his ear at a live-TV news conference. \(Thus making some heir-apparent, Richard I keep wanting to call him Anal swears that Oral is on the level and doesn’t have any tricks up his sleeve. Which leaves only two ways to go: He can just utter something apocalyptic like, “Git ready, Lord! Here ah come!” and keel over like a dyspeptic whooping crane, plop! Or he can ride the lightning, as deathrow prisoners used to call it before we got humane. Some people would prefer the former, especially if it included angel trumpets and a golden chariot, come for to carry him home. But I’m a big fan of Sigfried & Roy and of David Copperfield, and if those guys can make elephants and airplanes and even the Statue of Liberty Bill Helmer writes often on theological issues for the Observer. He lives in Chicago. disappear ; I’m not buying any two-bit vanishing act. On the third day Oral would be back, sure as the dickens, hitting us up for money again. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s got to be a genuine, no-bullshit, God-sent bolt of lightning KA-Wham! \(And if In other words, we’ve got to have a corpse and a professional post-mortem examination and dental records. The works. And I want to see the autopsy report. Meanwhile, let’s give Oral credit: holding oneself hostage could just well be the best fund-raising gimmick since Millions of Doubting Thomases are watching and waiting for a sign. telethons. He may have got the idea from Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles, but that’s okay; he improved on the movie version by having God’s finger on the trigger instead of his own, reminding us that Everybody has His price. In this case, $4,500,000. Every other TV evangelist in the country must be kicking himself for not thinking of it first. Or kicking herself, in the case of Tammy Bakker. Tammy’s the other half of the Jim and Tammy Bakker team and she has now had to settle for a variation. She shocked their 88,000member PTL Club “People That Love” by pulling a no-show on her own telecast, leaving frantic fill-in hosts to report that she is deathly ill “as sick as she has ever been” and would viewers please get those cards and letters coming, with $100 each, to hasten her recovery, as well as the completion of the Old Jerusalem section of Heritage U.S.A., the Bakker’s North Carolina theme park. Tammy’s illness, vaguely described as pneumonia, has required her leavetaking and she is now recuperating at the Bakker’s second home in California. I just hope that the air of mystery surrounding her affliction and the lack of medical specifics does not lead The National Enquirer to conclude, as it did even before Liberace died, that Tammy has AIDS. I don’t have any first-hand knowledge on this, so I want to be the first to deny any such rumor; and I think that if all of us deny it to enough people often enough. . . . OH HELL. I’m sorry, to be striking a sour note. Blame for that goes to “Sixty Minutes,” which was muttering away in the background the Sunday this was being written. Personally, I treasure Oral Roberts as a colorful national resource; similarly Tammy Bakker, who did not want her chihuahua Chi-Chi buried after it O.D.’d on lima beans, in the hope that God would raise it from the dead. These folks serve the important function of helping discredit the genuinely dangerous Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons. Indeed, my heart lept with joy and laughter when Billy James Hargis, of Christian Anti-Communist Crusade fame, was caught porking both male or female students at his Tulsa church college. And when Daddy Herbert W. Armstrong had to come back from retirement to defrock his horny son, Garner Ted that was choice. -But the third segment of the CBS program attracted my attention with the sound of some preacher screaming and ranting like an English-speaking Hitler. Good timing, I thought, and punched on the VCR. The man seems to be -a newcomer to the spectrum of mad evangelists and I missed where he’s headquartered. But his name is Carl Stevens, founder and pastor of a church or program or both called The Bible Speaks, and who uses the term “God’s Man” in every reference to himself. He is hoarsely shrieking at his unseen detractors, “DON’T YOU SAY A SENTENCE, NOT A SENTENCE, NOT A LINE! DON’T PRESUME OR YOU’LL DIE!” A former follower then is telling Diane Sawyer of this man’s success at raising money from the witless through the sale of their homes and other property, how he sexually prevails on women he enthralls, and how he calls down death upon his critics in the forms of cancers of the throat and larynx. So forgive me for losing my spirit of charity. Hang on, Oral Roberts. We need you. Thank God For Oral Roberts By Bill Helmer THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23