This is a list of scandals
related to American Christian evangelists
. (Roman Catholic clergy and high-profile leaders from New Religious Movements, are not within the scope of this list.)
List of Christian Evangelists
Aimee Semple McPherson, 1920s-40s
Prior to recent events, the most famous evangelist scandal involved Canadian-born Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920s, who allegedly had an extramarital relationship and faked her own death as a cover. She later claimed that she had been kidnapped, but a grand jury could neither prove that a kidnapping occurred, nor that she had faked it. Roberta Semple Salter
, her daughter from her first marriage, became estranged from Semple McPherson and successfully sued her mother's attorney for slander during the 1930s. As a result of this she was cut out of her mother's will. Aimee Semple McPherson died in 1944
from an accidental overdose of barbiturates
Lonnie Frisbee, 1970s - 1980s
Lonnie Frisbee was an American closeted gay Pentecostal evangelist and self-described "seeing prophet" and mystic in the late 1960s and 1970s who despite his "hippie" appearance had notable success as a minister and evangelist. Frisbee was a key figure in the Jesus Movement
and was involved in the rise of two worldwide denominations (Calvary Chapel
and the Vineyard Movement
). Both churches later disowned him because of his active homosexuality removing him first from leadership positions then, ultimately, firing him. He eventually died from AIDS
Oral Roberts, 1977 and 1986
In 1977 Roberts claimed to have a vision from a 900-foot-tall Jesus who told him to build City of Faith Medical and Research Center
and the hospital would be a success. In 1980, Roberts said he had a vision which encouraged him to continue the construction of his City of Faith Medical and Research Center, which opened in 1981. At the time, it was among the largest health facilities of its kind in the world and sought to merge prayer and medicine in the healing process. The City of Faith was in operation for only eight years before closing in late 1989. In 1983 Roberts said Jesus had appeared to him in person and commissioned him to find a cure for cancer
In 1986, during a fund raising drive, televangelist Oral Roberts announced to his television audience that unless he raised $8 million by that March, God would "call him home" (a euphemism for death). Some of his listeners feared that he was referring to suicide, given the passionate pleas and tears that accompanied his statement. (He raised $9.1 million. Later that year, he announced that God had raised the dead through his ministry.)
Jim & Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, 1986 and 1991
, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart began on-screen attacks against fellow televangelists Marvin Gorman and Jim Bakker. He uncovered Gorman's affair with a member of Gorman's congregation, and also helped expose Bakker's infidelity (which was arranged by a colleague while on an out-of-state trip). These exposures received widespread media coverage. Gorman retaliated in kind by hiring a private investigator to uncover Swaggart's own adulterous indiscretions with a prostitute. Swaggart was subsequently forced to step down from his pulpit for a year and made a tearful televised apology in February 1988
to his congregation, saying "I have sinned against you, my Lord, and I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgiveness.
Swaggart was caught again by California police five years later in 1991 with another prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, who was riding with him in his car when he was stopped for driving on the wrong side of the road. When asked why she was with Swaggart, she replied, "He asked me for sex. I mean, that's why he stopped me. That's what I do. I'm a prostitute.
Peter Popoff, 1987
A self-proclaimed prophet and faith healer in the 1980s, Popoff's ministry went bankrupt in 1987 after James Randi
and Steve Shaw debunked
his methods by showing that instead of receiving information about audience members from supernatural
sources, he received it through an in-ear receiver.
Mike Warnke, 1991
Warnke was a popular Christian evangelist and comedian during the 1970s and 1980s. He claimed in his autobiography, The Satan Seller
(1973), that he had once been deeply involved in a satanic cult and was a satanic priest before converting to Christ. In 1991, Cornerstone magazine
launched an investigation into Warnke's life and testimony. They investigated Warnke's life, from interviews with over 100 personal friends and acquaintances, to his ministry's tax receipts. Their investigation turned up damaging evidence of fraud and deceit. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke's multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces. Most critically, however, the investigation showed how Warnke could not possibly have done the many things he claimed to have done throughout his nine-month tenure as a Satanist, much less become a drug-addicted dealer or become a Satanic high priest.
Robert Tilton, 1991
Tilton is an American televangelist who achieved notoriety in the 1980s and early 1990s through his paid television program Success-N-Life
. At its peak it aired in all 235 American TV markets. In 1991
, Diane Sawyer
and ABC News
conducted an investigation of Tilton. The investigation, broadcast on ABC's Primetime Live on November 21
, 1991, found that Tilton's ministry threw away prayer requests without reading them, keeping only the money or valuables sent to them by viewers, garnering his ministry an estimated $80 million USD
a year. In the original investigation, one of Tilton's former prayer hotline operators claimed that the ministry cared little for desperate followers who called for prayer, saying that Tilton had a computer installed in July 1989
to make sure that the phone operators were off the line in seven minutes. Tilton sued ABC for libel in 1992, but the case was dismissed in 1993
, and Tilton's show was off the air by October 30
Frank Houston, 2000
Frank Houston was a Pentecostal Christian pastor in the Assemblies of God in New Zealand and Australia. In 2000 he was advised to resign his ministerial credentials by his own son, Brian Houston
, the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia (and pastor of Hillsong Church
), after Houston Sr. confessed that he had engaged in paedophile sexual activities with a teenage boy while ministering in New Zealand some thirty years earlier.
John Paulk, 2000
John Paulk is a former leader of Focus on the Family
's Love Won Out conference and former chairman of the board for Exodus International North America
. His claimed shedding of homosexuality is also the subject of his autobiography Not Afraid to Change
. In September 2000, Paulk was found and photographed in a Washington, D.C. gay bar, and accused by opponents of flirting with male patrons at the bar. Later questioned by Wayne Besen
, Paulk denied being in the bar despite photographic proof to the contrary. Initially, FoF’s Dr. James Dobson
sided with Paulk and supported his claims. Subsequently, Paulk, who himself had written about his habit of lying while he openly lived as a homosexual, confessed to being in the bar, but claimed he entered the establishment for reasons other than sexual pursuits. Paulk retained his Board seat for Exodus, however he did so while on probation. Paulk did not run again for chairman of the board of Exodus when his term expired.
Douglas Goodman, 2004
Douglas Goodman, an evangelical preacher, and his wife Erica were Pastors of Victory Christian Centre in London. He came into notoriety when he was jailed for three and a half years for the sexual assault of 4 members of his congregation in 2004. VCC was closed by the Charity Commission but his wife Erica started a new church Victory to Victory in Wembley. The church was one of the largest in the United Kingdom.
Kent Hovind, 2006
Kent Hovind is an American Young Earth creationist
. He is most famous for creation science seminars, in which he argues for Young Earth creationism, using his self-formulated "Hovind Theory". He has been criticized by both the mainstream scientific community and other creationists. In 2006, Hovind had been charged with falsely declaring bankruptcy, making threats against federal officials, filing false complaints, failing to get necessary building permits, and various tax-related charges. He was convicted of 58 federal tax offenses and related charges, for which he is currently serving a 10-year sentence.
Ted Haggard, 2006
Ted Haggard was the Pastor of the New Life Church
in Colorado Springs, Colorado
and was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals
(NAE) from 2003 until November 2006. Haggard's position allowed him occasional access to George W. Bush
. In 2006 it was alleged that Haggard had been regularly visiting a male prostitute who also provided him with crystal methamphetamine
. Haggard admitted his wrongdoing and resigned as pastor of New Life church and as president of the NAE. The high-profile case was significant also because it immediately preceded the 2006 mid-term elections
and may have even affected national voting patterns.
Paul Barnes, 2006
Paul Barnes is the founder and former senior minister of the evangelical church Grace Chapel in Douglas County, Colorado. He confessed his homosexual activity to the church board, and his resignation was accepted on 7 December 2006. He started the church in his basement and watched it reach a membership of 2,100 in his 28 years of leadership. This scandal was notable because it was similar to Ted Haggard's (above), it occurred in the same state (Colorado) and around the same time (late 2006).
Lonnie Latham, 2006
In 2006, Latham, the senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church and a member of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention
Executive Committee, was arrested for “offering to engage in an act of lewdness” with a male undercover police officer.
Richard Roberts, 2007
In October 2007
, televangelist Richard Roberts (son of Oral Roberts
), was president of Oral Roberts University until his forced resignation on November 23, 2007. Roberts was named as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging improper use of university funds for political and personal purposes and improper use of university resources.
Bishop Earl Paulk, 2007
Earl Paulk (no relation to John Paulk
) was the founder and head Pastor of Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Georgia
until the 1990s. A number of women from the congregation came forward during the 1990s claiming that Paulk had sexual relations with them. Some of these claims have subsequently been proven correct. Moreover, Donnie Earl Paulk, the current senior pastor of the church and nephew of Earl Paulk, had a court-ordered DNA test in 2007 which showed that he was Earl's son, not his nephew, which means that Earl and his sister-in-law had had a sexual relationship which led to Donnie's birth.
Coy Privette, 2007
Privette is a Baptist pastor
activist, and politician in the U.S. state
of North Carolina
. Privette was president of the Christian Action League and a prominent figure in North Carolina moral battles. In 2007, Privette resigned as president of North Carolina's Christian Action League and from the Board of Directors of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, following revelations on July 19 that he had been charged with six counts of aiding and abetting prostitution.
Phil Driscoll, 2007
Famed Grammy winning Christian trumpeter, singer and evangelist was convicted on federal income tax charges on June 8, 2006. Driscoll was found guilty on one count of conspiracy to avoid paying income taxes and two additional counts of income tax evasion. He was also found not guilty on one count of income tax evasion. He served one year and a day in a minimum security prison, which began on March 13, 2007.
Joe Barron, 2008
Joe Barron, one of the 40 ministers at Prestonwood Baptist Church
, one of the largest churches in the United States with 26,000 members, was arrested on May 15, 2008 for solicitation of a minor after driving from the Dallas area to Bryan, Texas
, in order to allegedly engage in sexual relations with what he thought to be a 13 year-old girl he had met online. The "girl" turned out to be an undercover law enforcement official.
Todd Bentley, 2008
In August 2008, Todd Bentley, best known as the controversial key figure of the Lakeland revival
"has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors" of Fresh Fire Ministries, "and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life." This was after the ministry revealed he had an "unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff".The announcement came one week after Bentley's ministry announced he and his wife were separating.
Michael Guglielmucci, 2008
Claimed to be having cancer while he was the youth pastor for Planetshakers
Church in Melbourne
and moved to Sydney
to begin receiving cancer "treatment". He then began to attend Hillsong Church
and was later invited to sing in the worship team at Hillsong Church
for events like Hillsong Conference
. He also released a hit song, "Healer" while still at Planetshakers
and was asked by Hillsong
to perform it live & release it on their latest album This Is Our God
in March of 2008, detailing his struggles with cancer, when in fact he never had the disease.
Tony Alamo, 2008
On September 20
, 2008, FBI
agents raided Tony Alamo Christian Ministries headquarters as part of a child pornography
investigation.. This investigation involved allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse and allegations of polygamy and underage marriage. According to Terry Purvis, mayor of Fouke
, his office has received complaints from former ministry members about allegations of child abuse
, sexual abuse
since the ministry established itself in the area, and in turn, Purvis turned over information about the allegations to the FBI. Investigators at the scene plan to conduct a search of ministry headquarters and the home of Alamo and interview children present on the compound.
, Senator Chuck Grassley
) opened a probe into the finances of six televangelists who preach a "prosperity gospel
". The probe follows years of reports of high living and lavish lifestyles by televangelists including fleets of Rolls Royces, huge palatial mansions, private jets and other excesses paid for with monies from, more often than not, poor television viewers who donate due to the ministries incessant pleading for tithings. The six under investigation are Kenneth Copeland
and Gloria Copeland
of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas; Creflo Dollar
and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga; Benny Hinn
of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas; Eddie Long
of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga; Joyce Meyer
and David Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo; Randy White and Paula White
of the multiracial Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa .
Despite their respective scandals and temporarily diminished viewership, televangelism has resurged, such as in the case of the scandalized PTL Club
company that was taken over by Jerry Falwell
and brought into a state of financial responsibility.