In ancient Greek plays, a common plot occurrence was for the characters to find themselves in an impossible, hopeless situation, only to be rescued at the last moment by the sudden intervention of a god.
To create an effect of "descending from on high," the actor playing the god was lowered by a crane-like contraption to make his appearance on stage, and so the plot device came to be known as a "deus ex machina," or "god from the machine."
In modern movies, television and literature, any time an unsolvable problem is solved by the introduction of a character or story element from outside the already-established plot, it's referred to as a "deus ex machina."
As it was by many of the more discriminating ancient Greeks (Aristotle, for instance), the deus ex machina is frowned upon today by many critics as a "cheat," a "short-cut," the last refuge of lazy and uninventive writers.
That's when it comes to fiction, anyway.
When it happens in real life, it often results in one of those "Inspired by True Events"-movies, as do many instances when life imitates art.
That's why the ongoing ORU scandalthon of the past two months would make such great source material for a made-for-TV movie.
The university and ministry bearing Oral Roberts' name has never been a stranger to controversy or to being the subject of eyebrow-raising headlines, from the founder's credentials as a faith-healer to his claim to have seen a 900-foot Jesus telling him to build the ill-fated City of Faith center.
But the institution's most recent hyper-realistic episodes started in October when three former professors filed a lawsuit against ORU President Richard Roberts and the university, alleging that they were either wrongfully terminated or forced to resign for turning over a report documenting "substantial acts of misconduct and improprieties" in the use of ORU and Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association resources by Roberts and his family.
Also, the lawsuit also alleges that Roberts tried to use the university to set himself up as a local kingmaker by directing Dr. Tim Brooker, one of the plaintiffs, to put students to work on County Commissioner Randi Miller's mayoral campaign last year, thereby jeopardizing the university's tax-exempt status.
The university's Audit and Compliance Committee had already begun investigating the report before the lawsuit was filed, but within days of the lawsuit, the Board of Regents decided to hire an independent firm to investigate as well.
After denying the accusations and dismissing them as attempts at "blackmail and extortion," both to local news outlets and on CNN's Larry King Live, Roberts took a leave of absence as acting president, while his dad, Oral Roberts, and Billy Joe Daugherty, ORU regent and founding pastor Victory Christian Center founding Pastor, would fill his shoes as co-interim presidents.
Meanwhile, responses among students, people close to ORU and the Roberts family and the general public have been mixed. Some have simply responded with bored shrugs, as if to say, "Tell me something I don't know," while others (mostly, the students) have responded in denial of the accusations and unwavering belief in the moral uprightness of Richard Roberts.
The lawsuit and accusations have sparked a cacophony of public dialogue about the character and leadership practices of Richard Roberts, which culminated in a "no confidence" vote against him by ORU's tenured faculty.
Roberts, though, initially refused to step down, lest the action be taken as an admission of wrongdoing.
The day after Roberts' comment, ORU Provost Mark Lewandowski essentially told the Board of Regents, "Either he goes, or I go."
Through the course of all the shenanigans, it also came to public light that ORU is $52.5 million in debt and, according to word on the street, Roberts' (allegedly) profligate spending practices had at least a little something to do with the situation.
Also, the original lawsuit (which went through two revisions) sparked others--one from a former ORU accountant alleging he got canned because he wouldn't keep his mouth shut about some creative bookkeeping on the part of the university, and another by two students because the scandals have undermined the degrees for which they've worked, and limited their future career opportunities.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Richard Roberts sent a letter to the Board of Regents, tendering his immediate resignation.
While it might appear to some that the prince of the Roberts dynasty was merely taking the only available lifeboat on an already sinking ship, he said he made the decision because "God told him to."
Roberts remains as chairman and CEO of Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association (OREA).
So, with a disgraced president, an enormous burden of debt and a reputation that may or may not be salvageable, the future of ORU looked bleak.
If it had been an ancient Greek play, it would be at this point in the story that a "god" would be lowered onto the stage via crane to save the day.
If any of the Roberts clan were asked, they would likely say the "deus ex machina" in this case is God Himself, but more ostensibly, it was Mart Green, founder of Mardel Christian and Educational Supply.
Within days of Roberts' resignation, Green appeared with Board of Regent Chairman George Pearsons at a press conference at ORU, announcing a gift of $70 million.
Though not an alumnus himself, Green said, "I come before you with a humble spirit and ask that as a community of faith we move forward together acknowledging that this is God's college and we must fulfill his mission of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ."
He gave $8 million up front, but said the remaining $62 million is contingent upon reforms made through the process of a 90-day review, which are to include "internal and external transparency" and the administrative separation of ORU and OREA.
"ORU must restore its broken trust, its battered reputation and its beaten spirit. Now begins a time of healing," said Green.
"The board and Oral have agreed that significant changes need to take place. Those changes will happen and we will announce them at the appropriate time," he added.
So, with a gesture (in this case, the signing of a check), Green descended onto the stage and repaired ORU's debt and reputation.
If it were a movie, or a Greek play, the story might have ended there, but there is sure to be more to follow in the ongoing ORU saga.
In fact, within days of Green's announced donation, much less dramatically but perhaps more predictably, TV evangelist and Christian demagogue Pat Robertson also descended upon the ORU stage, with a donation of a heretofore undisclosed amount, as well as an offer to lend his expertise in running a Christian university, as well as a possible partnership with the Virginia-based Regent University, which Roberts founded.
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