“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” That’s Matthew 6:24, and probably the harshest thing the Bible has to say about the rich. Though Jesus told his disciples that it’d be easier to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle than to get a rich person into heaven, that hasn’t stopped some of America’s most high-profile evangelicals from trying.
Televangelists of the 20th Century are often mocked for their ludicrously plush lifestyles, supported by massive donations from their followers. Private jets and multi million-dollar mansions aren’t all that uncommon among the Evangelical set, even though their own sacred text argues against such luxuries.
Here are the top 12 ludicrously wealthy pastors.
12. Al Sharpton – $5 million
Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1994, Sharpton has since built an empire that includes a popular radio show, Keepin’ It Real, and a hosting gig on MSNBC. One of America’s most high-profile ministers, 61-year-old Sharpton is also known for his work in the civil rights movement, and has courted a fair share of controversy. With a net worth of $5 million, Sharpton ran afoul of the tax man in 2014 when reports revealed that owed millions in back taxes.
11. Joyce Meyer – $10 million
A world-renowned minister, Joyce Meyer became a born-again Christian in 1976 and has built up quite the savings account ever since. Worth a whopping $10 million, Meyer’s media empire includes television, radio and numerous books. Known for her off-the-cuff demeanor and charismatic, entertaining messages, Meyer’s seat of power is a multi-million headquarters located in St. Louis, Missouri, and yes, she has her own private jet.
10. Jesse Jackson – $10 million
Well-known for his political connections and media appearances, Baptist minister, civil rights activist and former politician Jesse Jackson is one of America’s most recognizable pastors. A promising athlete before enrolling in Chicago Theological Seminary, Jackson has focused much of his career on civil rights, and even ran for president in 1984 and 1988. He also served as a “shadow” Senator from 1991 to 1997, and even had his own CNN show called “Both Sides of Jesse Jackson.” His success and influence have earned him a net worth of $10 million.
9. Kirk Cameron – $20 million
Kirk Cameron first came to prominence as an actor, starring as Mike Seaver on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains from 1985 to 1992. Though he continues to act in mostly faith-based films, the 45-year-old is best known for his highly-public and often controversial Evangelical Christian persona. He co-founded his The Way of the Master ministry in the 1990s alongside New Zealand evangelist Ray Comfort, and has built an empire that is worth more than $20 million.
8. Rick Warren – $25 million
An old joke in conservative circles holds that Christians are sure to have at least two books in their possession: The Bible (duh) and a copy of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. There’s a kernel of truth to that joke, as the New York Times best-seller has contributed to Warren’s $25 million net worth. Warren’s Saddleback Church is one of the U.S.’s biggest megachurches, and the 62-year-old is well-known and connected in Evangelical circles. Warren claims that his income is primarily derived from his books, and he has given 90 percent of his wealth back to his church in an effort to dedicate his accumulated wealth to his ministry.
7. Billy Graham – $25 million
Arguably the most well-known and influential Evangelical of the 20th century, Billy Graham has accumulated more than $25 million in over six decades on ministry. Something of a rockstar in Evangelical circles, Graham launched a radio ministry that he leveraged into something of a “national tour” that spurred a Christian revival in the mid-20th century and earned Graham a seat at the table with presidents like Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon. The 97-year-old is far from retired, and claims to have converted over 3.2 million people to Christianity throughout his ministry.
6. Creflo Dollar – $27 million
Excess, thy name is Creflo Dollar. The southern nondenominational televangelist runs World Changers Church International, and has built his ministry from eight staff members to a 30,000+ congregation. In 2006, his ministry brought in a whopping $69 million. Dollar is well-known for his abundant lifestyle which includes mansions in Atlanta, New Jersey and New York, and yes, a private jet. After a runway accident in 2014, Dollar infamously fundraised $60 million to purchase a brand new Gulfstream G650, which he justified as a necessity in order to continue spreading the gospel.
5. Joel Osteen – $40 million
If you’ve ever heard of the concept of “prosperity gospel,” it’s likely Joel Osteen is the face you put to it. The so-called “smiling preacher” is the heir to his father’s Lakewood Church and ministry, well-known for its televised sermons and theological message that basically boils down to “God will make you rich if you pray hard enough.” Osteen’s sermons bring in over 7 million weekly viewers worldwide. Interestingly enough, Osteen does so well as a best-selling author and brand personality, that he doesn’t touch Lakewood’s offering plate. Though Lakewood brings in $70 million every year, not a penny of it goes to his $40 million fortune.
4. Robert Tilton – $50 million
Robert Tilton is the brains behind “Success-N-Life,” a religious television program that’s structured like an infomercial, wherein Tilton basically promised super pastor prayers in return for generous donations from his millions of daily viewers. His ministry brought in over $80 million a year at its peak, but his empire came crashing down in the early 90’s when his fundraising methods were called into question. An investigation followed, and Tilton was off the air for a few years. He came back on The World Network and BET of all places, and though he hasn’t reached his same level of popularity, he’s still sitting on a cool $50 million.
3. George Foreman – $250 million
With George Foreman, we’re cheating just a little bit since he built his fame and fortune on his athletic career. Still, since retiring from boxing in 1997, Foreman became an ordained minister and businessman, with his famous grills contributing to $130 million of his $250 million net worth. Foreman has preached on the streets, opened a youth center, and made numerous appearances on religious television programming after announcing himself a born-again Christian in 1977.
2. Pat Robertson – $500 million
Arguably the most recognizable televangelist ever, Pat Robertson’s media empire includes the Christian Broadcasting Network, ABC Family, numerous best-selling books and his long-running program The 700 Club. In over five decades of ministry, Robertson has accumulated a net worth estimated (conservatively) to be in the ballpark of $500 million, and courted his fair share of controversy with the occasional outrageous opinion.
To wit, he blamed 9/11 on LGBTs and feminists in 2001, opined that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to punish the pro-choice crowd in 2005, and claimed that the 2010 Haiti Earthquake was the result of rampant Devil-worship in the country.
1. Edir Macedo – $1.1 billion
At the top of our list is a guy you might not have ever heard of, but he’s easily the wealthiest pastor alive (maybe of all time) with a net worth that laps every other entry on this list combined. Edir Macedo is a Catholic-turned-Pentecostal preacher in Rio de Janeiro who brings in over $2 billion each year in donations. Another adherent to prosperity teaching, Macedo is a media mogul and savvy businessman who basically owns the Brazilian religious industry. Worth $1.1 billion himself, Macedo wears his wealth unapologetically, citing it as proof that his interpretation of the gospel is the real deal.
Through political connections, media empires and good old-fashioned charisma, the pastors on this list have shown that there’s plenty of money to be made in religion. Whether by adhering to an interpretation of Christianity that promises great wealth or just writing a decent book that speaks to millions of faithful, the longevity of the pastors on this list just goes to show how much people are willing to surrender from their own pocketbook for a little spiritual direction.