Televangelist spreads the 'Gospel of Bling,' lands himself in hot water
One of the country's most popular pastors is preaching a gospel controversial to many in the religious community. He says Jesus was not poor and he wants Christians to be wealthy, too. Call it the Gospel of Bling.
The man's name is Creflo Dollar, and according to ABC's Nightline, he "sits atop a religious empire." He has a church with a congregation of nearly 40,000 members and offices on six continents, he's published over 70 books, and his daily television show reaches a billion households worldwide. And in many ways, the church has grown with the message that God does not want people to be poor.
"Well, you have to really talk to people who read the Bible," he says. "We've made financial prosperity like it's a wicked thing. We automatically assume that Jesus was poor."
"So you're saying Jesus was rich?" questions reporter Dan Harris.
"I say pick the Bible up and read it for yourself," he responds later in the piece. "And as you begin to read it, you'll go through the entire Bible and find out that Abraham, the Bible says, was rich. Isaac and Jacob was rich. Joseph was rich. Solomon was one of the richest people in the world. These were all servants of God. Well, why in the world would God allow his son to come and not be at least to the level of those servants?"
Dr. Joseph Hough, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, finds Dollar's message absurd.
"This claim that Creflo Dollar makes that Jesus was rich is so ludicrous as to hardly bear examination," he says.
Like other religious leaders, Dollar practices what he preaches. The son of a policeman and a school cafeteria worker, he now owns an Atlanta estate, a $2.4 million apartment in New York City, and a private plane.
"Like a carpenter has to have a hammer to do his job," he says, "I've got to have a plane to fly around this world and be back here to pastor the two churches."
But Dollar's accomplishments have also landed him in the sights of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who wants the pastor and several other prominent ministers to answer a series of questions to prove they're not using tax-free donations to their churches to fund their own extravagant lifestyles.
"Jesus came into the city on a simple donkey," says Grassley. "What are disciples of his doing flying in jets?"
Pastor Dollar denies any financial impropriety. "What I have, I get through my businesses and investments that I have separately, that I keep separate from the church."
Dollar's followers are standing by their minister, at least for now. "It doesn't matter to us," a church woman says. "And whatever they find, you know, they find. We, we don't worry about that because I know what he had done for my life. And I know it has worked for me."
The following video is from ABC's Nightline, broadcast on January 17, 2008