Hail to thee, alma mater

I have distanced myself from televangelism, but it helped pay for my college education

John I. Carney
8 min readMar 21, 2021

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Oral Roberts and me, spring 1983.

Sometimes, in blog entries or social media posts, I will refer to my alma mater as Famous Televangelist University. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, but maybe cowardly, way of distancing myself from stereotypes.

But when Oral Roberts University won a historic upset in the first round of this weekend’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I had to post about it — even then, I made the disclaimer that I sometimes have mixed feelings about the school.

The fact of the matter is that I had a good experience at ORU. I think I got a good education there, and the shortcomings in my education, and what I’ve done with it since, are much more my own fault than the school’s. Yes, there are drawbacks to some types of faith-based schools. My dorm director at ORU once said in a devotion that Christian college was sometimes the hardest place to be an authentic Christian, because the herd mentality and peer pressure sometimes lead you to behave in certain ways that you haven’t actually internalized. At some — but not all — Christian schools, there’s a sort of lockstep mentality that makes it difficult for those whose theology (or politics) don’t line up perfectly with the bulk of the school’s student body.

But I think I thrived at ORU. I wasn’t always in lockstep, but I think that was a good thing. I think I learned to assess my own beliefs and not automatically accept what was fed to me.

I’ve told this story before, but the first semester of my freshman year, we had a campus chapel speaker who used the unfortunate metaphor of a vending machine — if we put money into a machine, we reach down and expect the product to come out. The metaphor reflected excesses in the prosperity gospel and faith teachings that put more emphasis on the Christian’s wants and expectations than on God’s will.

That night, in our wing devotions, our wing chaplain stood up and uttered the words, “Contrary to what you might have heard, God is not a Coke machine.” That was a powerful example to me; it meant a lot for someone to give me permission to question, and disagree with, school-approved messages. I never became an outspoken rebel — for better or worse, that’s…

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike