List of Christian evangelists involved in scandals
Aimee Semple McPherson, 1920s–40s
One of the most famous evangelist scandals 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" 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 in 1993.
Billy James Hargis, early 1970s
Hargis was a prolific author and radio evangelist. Hargis formed American Christian College in 1971 in order to teach fundamentalist Christian principles. However, a sex scandal erupted at the College, involving claims that Hargis had had sex with male and female students. Hargis was forced out of American Christian College's presidency as a result. Further scandals erupted when members of Hargis' youth choir, the "All American Kids", accused Hargis of sexual misconduct as well. The college eventually closed down in the mid-1970s. Hargis denied the allegations publicly.
Marjoe Gortner, early 1970s
Gortner rose to fame in the late 1940s as a child preacher, but he had simply been trained to do this by his parents and he had no personal faith. He was able to perform "miracles" and received large amounts of money in donations. After suffering a crisis of conscience, he invited a film crew to accompany him on a final preaching tour. The resulting film, Marjoe, mixes footage of revival meetings with Gortner's explanations of how evangelists manipulate their audiences. It won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, but was never screened in the Southern United States due to fears that it would cause outrage in the Bible Belt.
Jim and Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, 1986 and 1991
In 1986, 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 three 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 magician and skeptic James Randiand Steve Shaw debunked his methods by showing that instead of receiving information about audience members from supernaturalsources, he received it through an in-ear receiver.
Morris Cerullo, 1990s
A number of incidents involving California-based televangelist Morris Cerullo caused outrage in the United Kingdom during the 1990s. Cerullo's claims of faith healing were the focus of particular concern. At a London crusade in 1992, he pronounced a child cancer sufferer to be healed, yet the girl died two months later. Multiple complaints were upheld against satellite television channels transmitting Cerullo's claims of faith-healing, and a panel of doctors concluded that Cerullo's claims of miraculous healing powers could not be substantiated. Cerullo also produced fund-raising material, which was condemned as unethical by a number of religious leaders, as it implied that giving money to his organisation would result in family members becoming Christians.
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 Christianity. In 1991,Cornerstone magazine launched an investigation into Warnke's life and testimony. It investigated Warnke's life, from interviews with over one hundred personal friends and acquaintances, to his ministry's tax receipts. Its 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, 1993.
W. V. Grant, 1996 and 2003
Grant is an evangelist who was imprisoned for tax evasion in 1996. After restarting his ministry upon release, a TV investigation found that claims of healing he made at a 2003 revival in Atlanta were false.
Roy Clements, 1999
Clements was a prominent figure within British evangelical christianity. In 1999, he revealed he was in a homosexual relationship with another man, resigned his pastorship, and separated from his wife. He had written a number of well-received books which were withdrawn from sale when the news broke.
John Paulk, 2000
John Paulk (no relation to Earl 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 gay rights activist 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.
Paul Crouch, 2004
Paul Crouch is the founder and president of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, or TBN, the world's largest evangelical Christian television network, as well as the former host of TBN's flagship variety show, Praise the Lord. In September 2004, the Los Angeles Times published a series of articles raising questions about the fundraising practices and financial transparency of TBN, as well as the allegations of a former ministry employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford, that he had a homosexual affair with Crouch during the 1990s. The Times spoke with several sources that claimed that other evangelists such as Benny Hinn, Jack Hayford, and Paul's son Matthew were aware that an affair had taken place. TBN denied the allegations, claiming that Ford's claims were part of an extortion scheme and that the Times was a "left-wing and anti-Christian newspaper" for publishing the articles. In 2005, Ford submitted to and passed a lie detector test on the ION Televisionprogram Lie Detector (TV series).
Douglas Goodman, 2004
Douglas Goodman, an evangelical preacher, and his wife Erica were pastors of Victory Christian Centre in London, England. The church was one of the largest in the United Kingdom. He came into notoriety when he was jailed for three and a half years for the sexual assault of four 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. Douglas has upon his release resumed full pastoral ministry alongside his wife.
Kent Hovind, 2006
Kent Hovind is an American Baptist minister and 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 who also has a reputation as a tax protestor 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 ten-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 President George W. Bush. In 2006 it was alleged that Haggard had been regularly visiting a male prostitute who also provided him with 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. In January 2009, Haggard admitted to a second homosexual relationship with a male church member on CNN-TV and other national media, and when asked, would not directly answer a question about his other possible homosexual relationships.
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 December 7, 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.
Gilbert Deya, 2006
Kenyan-born Deya moved to the United Kingdom in the 1990s and started a number of churches. He claims to have supernatural powers that allow him to make infertile women become pregnant and give birth. However, police investigations in the UK and Kenya concluded that Deya and his wife were stealing Kenyan babies. Deya was arrested in London during December 2006 and as of January 2010 he is currently fighting extradition to Kenya.
Richard Roberts, 2007
In October 2007, televangelist Richard Roberts (son of the late tevevangelist 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.
Earl Paulk, 2007
Earl Paulk (no relation to John Paulk) was the founder and head pastor of Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, Georgia from 1960 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, conservative 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.
Thomas Wesley Weeks, III, 2007
Weeks married fellow evanglist Juanita Bynum in 2002, but they separated in May 2007. In August 2007, Weeks physically assaulted Bynum in a hotel parking lot and was convicted of the crime in March 2008. The couple divorced in June 2008 and Weeks remarried in October 2009.
Michael Reid, 2008
Bishop Michael Reid (born 1944) is a Christian evangelist in Essex, England and founder of Michael Reid Ministries who resigned from the role of pastor at Peniel Church in April 2008, after admitting to an eight-year extra-marital sexual relationship. The scandal was widely reported online and in UK newspapers. He has since re-developed an itinerant evangelistic ministry and has been speaking at a number of churches in the UK and overseas.
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
Canadian Todd Bentley rose to prominence as the evangelist at the Lakeland Revival in Florida, which began in April 2008. Bentley claimed that tens of thousands of people were healed at the revival, but a June 2008 investigation by ABC Nightline could not find a single confirmed case. Bentley took a short break after the program was broadcast, but returned to leading the meetings. However, in August 2008 he stepped down permanently when it was revealed he was separating from his wife, Shonnah, and was in a relationship with Jessa Hasbrook, a member of his staff.
Tony Alamo, 2008
On September 20, 2008, FBI agents raided Tony Alamo Christian Ministries headquarters as part of a child pornographyinvestigation. This investigation involved allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse and allegations of polygamy and underage marriage. According to Terry Purvis, mayor of Fouke, Arkansas, his office has received complaints from former ministry members about allegations of child abuse, sexual abuse and polygamy 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. In late July 2009, Alamo (who had a previous conviction for tax evasion in the 1990s) was convicted on ten counts of transporting minors across state lines for sexual purposes, sexual assault and other crimes. On November 13, 2009, he was sentenced to the maximum punishment of 175 years in prison.
In 2007, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) opened a probe into the finances of six televangelists who preach a "prosperity gospel". The probe investigates reports of lavish lifestyles by televangelists including: fleets of Rolls Royces, palatial mansions, private jets and other expensive items. These luxuries are purportedly paid for by television viewers who donate due to the ministry's requests for tithes. 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 L. 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 ex-wife Paula White of the multiracial Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa.