Televangelists and television preachers have the ability to become hugely successful and influential individuals, but some have lost their way while on the road to fame and fortune. Many of the most prominent figures in the industry have fallen from grace and have been outed as the biggest hypocrites imaginable. Read on to find out some of the most scandalous stories about these famed preachers.
Jim Bakker was one of the most prominent evangelist preachers of his day, serving as one of the members of Jerry Falwells’ Moral Majority and co-hosting the PTL Club with his wife at the prime of his career. However, his crystal clear image shattered when allegations were brought on against him for paying off a former church employee named Jessica Hahn after she claimed that he forced himself on her. Additionally, it was found that he was pocketing large sums of money from donations that was donated by followers.
Tilton was one of the most prominent names in televangelism throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. He was the host of Success-N-Life, a show which was once called “the fastest growing television ministry in America,” bringing Tilton in about $80 million per year. Tilton was later sued for fraud after it was discovered that he would collect the money sent in by viewers that was intended to go towards helping their prayers being answered, when it was found out that the prayer requests were being thrown out, except for the money.
Peter Popoff had a nationally broadcast show that involved calling out seemingly random members of the audience and using his “divine powers” and connection to God to predict what their ailments were and then claimed to “heal” them with his touch. It was later revealed that he was actually using an earpiece to get information that was previously provided about them. He also claimed to provide “miracle water” to people, which turned out to have just been water purchased at the wholesale retailer Costco.
Jimmy Swaggart led a televised evangelical telecast throughout the 1980’s that was broadcast on over 3000 channels per week. He created and led an empire that came tumbling down when he was caught with an escort in 1988. His public and tearful apology salvaged his career for a while, however he was caught once again several years later in 1991. After the second time, he stepped down as the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries leader. His reign of the religious media ended for good when lawsuits and an internal Revenue Service lien came after those two scandals.
Marcus Lamb was the founder and president of the Daystar Television Network, that is the second largest Christian television network in the entire world that has 90 TV stations via cable and satellite. His wife was also helped lead the network alongside him. In 2010, Lamb made a public confession in front of his television audience that he was having an extramarital affair. He also added that he was confessing to this because he was being blackmailed with a $7.5 million extortion threat.
Eddie L. Long
Eddie L. Long was the senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church from 1987 until 2017. He was first questioned about whether or not he was pocketing some money due to the tax-exempt nature of the church. However, he was not found guilty of any wrongdoing in this case. In 2010, a complaint was filed against him by two young men who claimed that Long had enticed them into sexual encounters and offered them money, goods, and travel in exchange.
George Alan Rekers
The Miami New Times reported in 2010 that George Alan Rekers was seen with a young man working as a “rent boy” at the Miami International Airport after vacationing together. Considering that Rekers was one of the most vocal advocates of conversion therapy meant to “convert” homosexuals into heterosexuals, this news was rather scandalous. Rekers claimed that no inappropriate behavior actually took place during the trip, but he resigned from the board of NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality) regardless.
Tony Alamo and his wife Susan Alamo founded the Alamo Christian Foundation, which is essentially a Christian cult. In 2008, the FBI raided the foundation’s headquarters as a part of an investigation about allegations of child abuse and polygamy since the establishment of the foundation. Tony Alamo was later arrested in 2009 after being convicted for child abuse, ten counts of transporting minors across state lines and once he was sentenced, received the highest possible punishment of 175 years in prison.
Todd Bentley was a prominent evangelist at the Lakeland Revival located in Florida, and claimed that people could come to the revival to be healed. It was advertised that tens of thousands had been healed at the revival, but upon investigation done by ABC’s Nightline, it was found that there was not even one confirmed case. After it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair with a revival staff member, Jessa Hasbrook, and that he was leaving his wife, Bentley stepped down as leader of the revival indefinitely.
Joe Barron was one of the forty ministers of the giant Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. The church is one of the biggest churches in the U.S., boasting over 26,000 members. In May 2008, Barron was arrested for soliciting a minor. He drove to Bryan, Texas from Dallas in order to meet with a 13-year-old girl who he met online. However, once he arrived, it turned out that the “girl” was actually an law enforcement official who was undercover. Barron was then arrested.
Michael Reid is the founder of the Michael Reid Ministries and a practicing Christian evangelist in Essex, England. In April 2008, scandal erupted and was widely spread online and in newspapers across the United Kingdom when Reid admitted that he had an eight year long extramarital affair. Due to this, Reid stepped down as the leader and pastor of the Peniel Church. Recently, Reid has been rebuilding his reputation by speaking at churches in England and abroad and redeveloping an itinerant ministry.
Thomas Wesley Weeks, III
Preacher Thomas Wesley Weeks, III married Juanita Bynum, who was a nationally known televangelist and considered by many to be a “prophetess.” They had a highly publicized wedding in 2002 and seemed to have the perfect marriage, but were separated by May 2007. Later that year, Weeks assaulted Bynum in the parking lot of a hotel in Atlanta, and was convicted of the crime in 2008. They were officially divorced in June 2008. Thomas Wesley Weeks was remarried to another woman by October 2009.
Coy Privette is a pastor but also a politician, having served in North Carolina. He was the president of the Christian Action League and was a prominent voice for conservative activism, particularly in North Carolina moral battles. However, in July 2007 he was charged with six different counts of aiding and abetting prostitution, which led him to step down as the president of North Carolina’s Christian Action League as well as the Board of Directors of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Paulk founded the Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Georgia, and also served as the head pastor of the church beginning from the 1960’s throughout the 1990’s. In the 90’s. several women who were members of the congregations came forward to say that they had engaged in relations with the pastor. Additionally, in 2007, Donnie Earl Paulk, who serves as the senior pastor of the church now, had a court-ordered DNA test that revealed that he was in fact Earl’s son and not nephew, meaning Paulk had relations with his sister-in-law.
Richard Roberts is a televangelist and the son of the former televangelist Oral Roberts. In October 2007, when Richard was serving as the president of Oral Roberts University, it was found in a lawsuit that he was using university funds in order to fund his own political and personal uses and was also accused of improperly using university resources. After these allegations were made against him, Roberts was forced to step down as president of the university in November 2007.
Gilbert Deya immigrated from Kenya to the United Kingdom in the 90’s and began to acquire several churches. He became known for claiming to have supernatural abilities that helped infertile women suddenly have the ability to have children. Several police investigations in both the U.K. and Kenya were conducted and it was found that Deya and his wife were actually kidnapping babies from Kenya. Deya was arrested in December 2006 in London and in 2011 it was decided that he would be extradited to Kenya.
Lonnie Latham was the senior pastor at the South Tulsa Baptist Church that is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He served as the senior pastor from 2002 until January 2006, when he had to resign as pastor, and he also stepped down from the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. Latham also had to step down from his role as the recording secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. All of this was due to the fact that he was arrested for lewdness.
Paul Barnes founded the evangelical church Grace Chapel that is located in Douglas County, Colorado. He founded it in his basement, and was the leader of the church for twenty eight years. He also served as the senior minister of the church before he voluntarily stepped down in December 2006. He confessed to some homosexual behavior directly to the board of the church. He has said that: “I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy. I can’t tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.”
Ted Haggard was both president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2006, Haggard was allegedly visiting a male escort who would provide him with hard drugs, and soon after Haggard admitted to the allegations. He then stepped down from his role as pastor and president of the NAE. He later admitted to a second homosexual relationship with a male church member. His story was a very high-profile one at the time.
Kent Hovind is a Baptist minister as well as a Young Earth creationist, who has become known for his creationist seminars. He has a self-formulated “Hovind Theory,” that claims that humans and dinosaurs coexisted. He has been criticized not only by members of the science community, but as well as other creationists. Hovind also garnered a reputation for protesting taxes and has falsely declared for bankruptcy, and in 2006 was convinced of 58 different federal tax charges, and is serving ten years in prison for his crimes.
Evangelical preacher Douglas Goodman, as well as his wife Erica, were both pastors at the Victory Christian Centre in London, England, which was one of the biggest churches in all of the United Kingdom. Goodman was arrested and put in prison for three and a half years after being charged with assaulting members of the congregation in 2004. The Victory Christian Centre was closed down, but Erica Goodman went on to open a new church, called Victory to Victory. After he was released, Goodman joined his wife and returned to pastoral ministry.
John Paulk, who is not related to Earl Paulk, was both the chairman of the board for the Exodus International North America group, and the leader of the Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out conference. Paulk was photographed at a gay bar in Washington, D.C. although he claimed to shed his homosexuality, which he chronicled in his book Not Afraid to Change. After being questioned about being at the bar, he initially denied it despite the evidence. He later admitted to being at the bar, but claimed he was not there with intent to meet anyone.
Roy Celements was a well-respected member of the British evangelical community when in 1999, it was discovered that he was engaging in an extramarital affair with another man. He subsequently had to resign from his pastorship, and additionally was separated from his wife. Once the news came out, the books he wrote that were in publication and well-received were no longer being sold. After being a leading figure in the community, he stepped away from his pastoral ministry duties altogether.
Walter Vinson “W.V.” Grant was a prominent televangelist who had a ministry based in Dallas, Texas. He claimed to have healing powers, and similar to Peter Popoff, his “healing powers” began to be questioned. Magician and illusionist James Randi pointed out that Grant was reading out information previously provided to him about members of the audience. In 1996, Grant was also arrested for tax evasion. Once released, Grant restarted his ministry, but in 2003 it was found that his claims of healing were proven false once again.
Mike Warnke is a Christian evangelist and also a comedian. He was highly successful in the 1980’s and 1990’s, particularly with his books and recordings regarding his area of expertise, Satanism. He claimed that he had once been a Satanist high priest as well as being highly involved in the Satanist cult. After much investigation and many interviews with his friends and acquaintances, it was found that his claims were actually false, but revealed details of his several marriages, affairs, and subsequent divorces.
Morris Cerullo is a televangelist that hosts the show Victory Today. He caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom in the 1990’s. His claims of healing audience members had come under question. For example, he claimed to heal a young girl suffering with cancer, but she passed away two months later. Another example is a woman who stopped taking her medication for her epilepsy after he claimed he healed her, and she subsequently passed away. His fund raising was also found to be unethical, claiming that money given to his organization would go towards converting people towards Christianity.
Marjoe Gortner became a famed preacher when he was only a child, after being trained by his parents to preach, despite the fact that he did not have any personal belief in faith at all. He had to perform what they called “miracles” in exchange for large sums of money. However, he did not last too long after he grew up and had a conscious crisis. He decided to film a documentary on his final tour. The film revealed how evangelists take advantage of their follows, and actually won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1972.
Billy James Hargis
Billy James Hargis was a well-known radio evangelist as well as a author. In 1971, Hargis founded the American Christian College that was meant to teach Christian fundamentalist ideals. Not much long after, a scandal was exposed, with many claims against Hargis. It was alleged that Hargis had engaged in relations with both female and male students at the College. He was forced to step down as president of the school. Once similar allegations were made about Hargis and his youth choir, the school was shut down.
Lonnie Frisbee was a Pentecostal evangelist who claimed to be a “seeing prophet” in the 60’s and 70’s. He was a successful evangelist and minister even though he had a “hippie” look about him. He was a prominent figure in the Jesus Movement and helped with the rise of the Calvary Chapel, as well as the Vineyard Movement. However, Frisbee was secretly homosexual, and once he was discovered, both of the churches turned him away. He passed away from AIDS in 1993.
Aimee Semple McPherson
Aimee Semple McPherson was one of the most well-known evangelists with one of the best known scandals as well. After it was discovered that she had an extramarital affair, McPherson faked her death in order to have a cover. Once it was discovered that she was alive, she attempted to say that she was kidnapped, however this could not be proved to be true. Additionally, her daughter Roberta Semple Salter sued her mother for slander and as a result was cut out of the will. Semple McPherson passed away after an accidental overdose.
Creflo Dollar is a televangelist and pastor who founded the non-denominational World Changers Church, located in College Park, Georgia. He is also the head of the Creflo Dollar Ministerial Association, Arrow Records, and Creflo Dollar Ministries. In June 2012, according to the Fayette County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office, Dollar was arrested for violence against his daughter after he reportedly choked her. Dollar subsequently completed an anger management course and the charges were eventually dropped in 2013. He has denied these allegations completely.
Mark Driscoll is an evangelist pastor who was the lead pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill Church, located in Seattle, Washington. He was named “one of the nation’s most prominent and celebrated pastors” by Forbes magazine. Driscoll has been surrounded by many scandals throughout his years in the industry, including criticizing Ted Haggard’s wife after Haggard was found with a male escort, his “controversial and vulgar” rant against feminism and homosexuality, as well as claims that his book had been plagiarized entirely.
Henry Lyons was once the vice president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. between the years 1981 and 1994, and later served as president of the organization. However, in 1998, Lyons was found to have been guilty of racketeering and also two counts of grand theft. He was later charged for money laundering, conspiracy, tax evasion, fraud, and extortion. He was later sentence to five years in prison for misappropriating $4 million from the National Baptist Convention. After being released on probation, he resumed his role as pastor but this time as the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida.
Bob Coy founded the Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is one of the largest growing churches in the United States. Coy was the senior pastor of the church until April 2014 when controversy caught up to him. Coy confessed to having an addiction to pornography and also admitted to having several extramarital affairs. In addition to stepping down from his role as pastor, his teachings that were broadcast on TV, radio, and other digital media have all been taken off the air.
Gaston Smith served as the pastor for the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City, an impoverished neighborhood of Miami, Florida. He was a highly-regarded member of the community before it was discovered that he was stealing money from the very same people living in the low-income area he was promising to help save. He was accused of stealing $10,000 of the county funds that were meant to help the needy. He was sentenced to five years in prison but due to his clean record was able to reduce it to five years on probation.
Joyce Meyer is a speaker, author, and the president of the Joyce Meyer Ministries and considers herself a Charismatic Christian. Her ministry is located in Genton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. She incorporates humor into her talks and even makes light of typical church behavior. She has been ranked as the 17th most influential evangelical in America by Time magazine. However, her luxurious lifestyle that includes private jets and multiple homes has been criticized by many, saying that it is not appropriate and some have even questioned where the money is coming from.
Kenneth Copeland is a televangelist, one of the leaders of the Charismatic Movement, public speaker, musician and author. Copeland is very commonly associated with what is called prosperity gospel, which has been widely criticized by many denominations of the religion. Copeland has been a part of several controversies, which includes promoting anti-vaccination messages prior to a measles outbreak in Tarrant County. However, the Copeland Ministries have denied that there was a correlation and even offered free immunizations through the church.
Randy White is a co-founder of the Without Walls International Church, which is a large, charismatic, non-denominational church in the state of Florida. For two years, White has received the church of the year award, as well as the “Keys to the City,” of Tampa, Florida. His ministry brings in millions of dollar per year, and he is constantly scrutinized for mismanaging church funds, especially because he has several million dollar houses around the U.S., which includes one inside of Trump Tower.
Paul Crouch and his wife, Jan Crouch, founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), which is the largest evangelical Christian television network in the world. He also hosted the flagship show of the network, Praise the Lord. The LA Times published articles that began to question the fundraising methods of the network, and also exposed a potential same-sex affair that Crouch had with ministry employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford. TBN denied all of the claims, and said that they were just a ploy for an extortion scheme. The duo’s lavish life were exposed for spending all their revenue from donations, TV rights and investments.
Yet another man of God is Nigerian minister Temitope Balogun Joshua, commonly referred to as T.B. Joshua. His miraculous product “New Anointing Water” had the power to heal every single kind of maladies – including the “demonic possession” joker card. With a single sip of this drink, T.B. Joshua’s commercials guarantee that this water will assist one to “breakthrough thought the medium of anointing water.” As it turned out, these advertised testimonials lacked accuracy, remained unproved and thence, were completely baseless.
Oral Roberts had quite a different idea as to which is the most appropriate way to raise money for his ministry – he locked himself in a tower and tearfully announced that, if his ministry didn’t get $8 million in donations by a specific date, God would “call him home.” Eventually, Roberts managed to get the funds that he practically demanded. The plea reportedly resulted in $9.1 million in donations, meaning he’s gotten more than he asked for, and Roberts stayed healthy and alive.
American radio and television evangelist, and pastor of Spiritual Freedom Church in Phoenix, Arizona, Bob Larson is known for his understanding of the supernatural. Throughout his life Larson was caught in his money, ghost-writing and was even involved in a sex scandal, yet he insisted that demons have physically impersonated him. When Larson fell from grace, he started having visions of God telling him to raise $1.9 million to “revive Christian radio.” Larson often blamed the Christian media for his downfall, proclaiming that “Satanists are more to be trusted than Christians in the media.” His more recent work includes performing exorcisms via Skype.
Benny Hinn is a televangelist who is known for his touring summits called Miracle Crusades, which are meant to be faith healing and revival meetings. These are broadcast on television in a show called This Is Your Day. Hinn claims that while on his Miracle Crusades, he has been able to heal audience members of blindness, cancer, AIDS, severe physical injuries, and deafness. However, these claims have come under a lot of questioning in terms of their legitimacy in reports done by the Los Angeles Times, NBC’s Dateline, and CBC’s The Fifth Estate. Hinn’s house was raided by the FBI and IRS for claims of fraud.
Many married couples worry about going to counselling – but those who attended sessions with Terry Smith had an extra fear factor to take into consideration. The pastor of Canyon Creek Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, was convicted of shoplifting condoms from a local grocery store, which is not surprising considering the fact that a 1989 ruling by local judge Catherine Crier, stated he was having extramarital affairs with church members who came to him for marriage counselling. Guess it makes sense that Smith has been a long-time director of Bob Larson’s.
Troy Cecil Snowdon
Radio evangelist Troy Cecil Snowdon raised money by claiming that he ran a chicken farm that required donations. As it turned out, people were donating money to ‘sponsor’ chickens that didn’t actuall exist. When the FBI found out about the scam, they decided not to cut him any slack and prosecuted Brother Snowdon for mail fraud, wire fraud – and on a completely different topic, they prosecuted Snowdon for violations of the Mann Act, too (transporting women across state lines for purposes of prostitution).