Given that Christianity is the most wide-spread religion in the world, it’s hardly shocking that the Christian Churches would have a fair amount of money floating around. The Catholic Church, in particular, is rumoured to be one of the richest organisations in the world; considering the vast amount and range of charities it spearheads, the number and status of the buildings it maintains and the number of service people it employs worldwide, this doesn’t seem like a controversial estimate. Some among us will defend the Church’s riches and the ways they’re used (the ways we know about, at least) while others hold that the Church could, perhaps, employ its wealth a bit more judiciously to directly benefit the needy.
However you feel about their ethos and practice, the Catholic Church’s wealth is indisputable and it has, in large part, been amassed through charitable donations. Indeed, even the high-profile Catholic Church leader and one of the most powerful men in the world, Pope Benedict XVI, doesn’t have any personal wealth due to the Catholic priests’ vow of poverty. But some other Christian figure-heads have developed an entrepreneurial spirit, standing to profit from their roles as influential religious personages. In the age of New Media, some Christian pastors, Bishops and preachers have even garnered celebrity status, amassing the kind of wealth and media attention we’d normally expect from boy band members and sports stars. It seems counter-intuitive, perhaps, for a holy man to revel in fame and fortune – what was that about the camel, the eye of the needle and the rich man? There’s something potentially questionable about using financial gains from a religious mission to buy expensive cars… But let’s leave our qualms and judgement aside for the moment, while we look, in sheer wonder, at ten of the world’s richest priests and holy men.
10. Eddie Lee Long – $5 million
Bishop Eddie Long, a notoriously controversial public figure, lives in Huntersville, North Carolina and is the senior pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Alongside his religious interests he’s a businessperson and an author, having written books like ‘Power of a Wise Woman’ and ‘I Don’t Want Delilah, I Need You’. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business, and being unceremoniously fired from Ford Motors for financial irregularities, Long decided to serve his religion. When he started working with the Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia in 1987, there were only 300 members but today the church claims more than 25,000. Apart from being divorced twice on grounds of domestic violence, Long has been linked with other controversies as well – having been variously accused of having sexual relations with male minors in his parish to personally profiting from his church’s tax-exempt charity status.
9. Al Sharpton – $5 million
Sharpton is an American civil rights activist, a radio show host and a Baptist minister, settled in Brooklyn, New York. He made most of his earnings from his media profile, with a popular radio show, ‘Keepin’ It Real’. and regular appearances on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. After preaching his first sermon when he was only four years old, he toured with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and became a licensed Pentecostal minister when he was only nine years old. He dropped out of college and served as tour manager for James Brown before becoming a Baptist minister at the Bethany Baptist Church in 1994. As youth director of Operation Breadbasket, a group that demanded new and better jobs for African Americans, he became quite a household name. Sharpton later founded the National Youth Movement to raise funds for the impoverished youth. Sharpton is certainly one of the less controversial entries on our list, though he attracted attention after he was the victim of an assassination attempt in 1991.
8. Matthew Ashimolowo – $6 million
In 1992, a Nigerian church called the Foursquare Gospel Church asked Ashimolowo to head its satellite branch in London, but Pastor Matthew decided to establish his own church instead. Today, his Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC) is considered the largest Pentecostal church in the UK. According to KICC figures, the church has assets worth an estimated $40 million and reaps profits close to $10 million each year. With an annual salary of $200,000, Pastor Matthew makes most of his money from his media company that produces Christian documentaries and publishes Christian literature. His religious programs are aired on a number of radio stations and television channels in Europe and Africa. He’s been held to task by the UK government for suspected financial mismanagement , for which he was fined around $300,000.
7. Temitope Joshua – $10 million
He may be one of Nigeria’s most controversial clergymen but Temitope Joshua is also one of the richest and most philanthropic televangelists in the region. As head of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which he established in 1987, he addresses more than 15,000 believers every Sunday. He has been in the news for years as he claims to be a ‘faith healer’, allegedly curing a wide range of scientifically incurable diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS and paralysis. With branches in the UK, Greece, Ghana and South Africa, SCOAN has reportedly donated approximately $20 million to a number of causes related to healthcare and education over the last few years. Joshua owns a Christian television network called Emmanuel TV and is known to have influential political connections.
6. Jesse Jackson – $10 million
This Baptist Minister is another American civil rights activist on our list. Jackson accumulated most of his wealth from activism for his organization Rainbow/Push and as Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Jackson was an academic and a sporting star; after turning down a contract from a minor league professional baseball team, to study at the University of Illinois on a football scholarship, Jackson transferred to a historically black university – North Carolina A&T. There, he became part of civil rights protests against theatres, libraries and restaurants that catered only to whites. He was ordained a minister in 1968 and he has received recognition and awards for his work over the years. Another of the minority uncontroversial entries on our list!
5. Billy Graham – $25 million
Billy Graham is a Southern Baptist who acquired a celebrity status after his sermons were aired on television and radio, and this popularity in the media secured him most of his enormous fortune. He began his evangelistic crusade in 1948 in and around a dairy in Charlotte, North Carolina – his birthplace. In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis, which he later transferred to his hometown.
4. Creflo Dollar – $27 million
Dollar is the founder of the World Changers Church in Fulton, Georgia where he currently serves as the senior pastor. He has acquired most of his wealth, it seems, from his several ministerial establishments throughout America. These include Arrow Records, Creflo Dollar International Covenant Association and Creflo Dollar Ministries. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science from West Georgia College, he took to preaching biblical messages full time. His first gathering took place in his college cafeteria where he addressed only eight people and raised $100. Today, his ministry addresses more than 30,000 followers and generates revenue of $69 million each years and his magazine Change has more than 100,000 subscribers from the US alone. In stark contrast to Catholic doctrine, Dollar’s version of Christianity preaches the enormously controversial ‘prosperity theology’.
3. Benny Hinn – $42 million
This Israeli televangelist, speaker and author is best known for his regular revival meetings and faith healing summits called Miracle Crusades. Hinn spearheads these crusades in large stadiums in major cities across the world and later aired on his own television program called This is Your Day. He was born in Jaffa, Israel where he was brought up in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. After the Arab-Israeli War, when his family moved to Toronto, Canada, Hinn converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Pentecostalism. He initially joined a singing troupe that comprised of young evangelicals before taking to writing and speaking about biblical teachings full time. Hinn is controversially known for claiming responsibility for miracles and faith healings, and he’s obtained a large part of his wealth through the media diffusion of this notorious practice.
2. Chris Oyakhilome – $50 million
Oyakhilome is the Nigerian founder of the Believers’ Loveworld Ministries, also known as Christ Embassy. This Christian preacher rose to fame as a televangelist and author. He’s been dragged into a $35 million money laundering case in the past, accused of transferring funds from his church to foreign banks – though the case was eventually dismissed and Pastor Chris was proven innocent. With more than 40,000 members, his church flaunts many influential people from the business world and politics. He takes a keen interest in investments and has diverse interests including magazines, newspapers, a local television station, satellite TV, hotels, real estate as well as a record label. He owns Loveworld TV Network, which is the first Christian network in Africa to be broadcasted to the rest of the world on a 24-hour basis.
1. Bishop David Oyedepo $150 million
One of several millionaire preachers in Nigeria, Bishop Oyedepo founded the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry in 1981. His Church is known to be the biggest in Africa, and he’s involved in Christian education too, having founded a university and a prestigious high school in the region. He own a publishing house, Dominion Publishing House – which publishes books with a Christian ethos, and a focus on self-help and success. Oyedepo isn’t just investing in the religious community though – he’s enjoying his wealth, with private jets and homes in England and the US.
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