Spiritual leaders have provided inspiration and guidance to humankind through the ages. Some of them insist on living lives of moderation and even poverty. But not all of them. Some have contrived to amass considerable wealth as they minister to spiritual needs. Read on to find out about some of the devotional leaders who’ve managed to accumulate large amounts of worldly possessions.
20. Charles Stanley
Charles Frazier Stanley came into the world in 1932 in Dry Fork, Virginia. He’d not yet reached his first birthday when his father died. Indeed, his website states that, “Dr. Stanley’s earliest childhood memories are of God’s support during the difficult circumstances following the death of his father.” He’s said to have become a born-again Christian at the tender age of 12. Just a couple of years later, when he was still only 14, he decided on a career as a preacher.
Stanley started a TV career in 1971 with The Chapel Show which was picked up by the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1978. In 1985 he went on to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His In Touch organization had much success in the 1980s and in the following decades with radio and TV broadcasts. Stanley has also published dozens of books on religious themes. He is reportedly worth some $1.5 million.
19. N.T. Wright
Nicholas Thomas Wright – sometimes known simply as Tom Wright – was born in 1948 in Morpeth, a town in the northern English county of Northumberland. Powerful religious revelation came to him early. English newspaper The Northern Echo quoted Wright in a 2003 profile saying, “I do remember very vividly sitting by myself at Morpeth and being completely overcome, coming to tears, by the fact that God loved me so much he died for me.”
Wright’s career with the Church of England started at Oxford University’s Merton College with an appointment as junior chaplain. From there he progressed through the church hierarchy to become the Bishop of Durham in 2003. Resigning his bishopric in 2010, he has pursued an academic career as a theologian ever since. A highly respected biblical scholar, Wright is said to be worth $2.5 million.
18. Clifton Davis
Clifton Duncan Davis was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1945 although he spent his childhood years in Mastic, New York. He’s had a many-faceted and successful career. As well as being a Baptist and interdenominational minister of note, he’s also turned his hand to singing, song-writing and authorship. And he has enjoyed some success, penning songs including the 1971 Jackson Five hit “Never Can Say Goodbye.” He didn’t do too badly as an actor either, appearing in Broadway musicals, various TV shows and movies.
Davis has a theology degree from Oakwood University plus he graduated as a Master of Divinity from Andrews University. He holds a license as a minister and practices his calling at the St. Luke Baptist Church in New York City. He’s involved in a wide range of activities ranging from gospel choir competitions to celebrity golf tournaments. One source puts Davis’ personal wealth at $3 million.
17. Noel Jones
Born in 1950 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Noel Jones and two of his six siblings emigrated with their parents to Syracuse, New York in 1965. His father, Robert, was a pastor and one of the sisters who moved to New York with him is the singer and actress Grace Jones. Jones heard God’s call when he was 19 and studied theology at Aenon Bible College, a Pentecostal institution.
In 1994 Jones took on the position of bishop with the Greater Bethany Community Church in Los Angeles, which at the time had some 1,000 worshippers. Under Jones, the church increased its membership to roughly 17,000 and relocated to a new building, the City of Refuge Church in Gardena, California. The church hosts the highly successful City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir. Jones is reckoned to have a personal worth of about $5 million.
16. Paula White-Cain
Paula White-Cain, née Furr, was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1966. Life for the young White-Cain became extremely hard when her parents divorced and her father took his own life. This plunged the family into hardship. Money was tight, White-Cain’s mother descended into alcoholism, and the future preacher later asserted that the she had been the victim of physical and sexual abuse on multiple occasions during this chapter of her life.Life improved when her mother married again. Nevertheless, White-Cain became an unmarried teen mother.
When she was 18, White-Cain has said she had a vision from God which confirmed and reinforced her devout Christianity. After founding the Without Walls International Church, she embarked on a successful career as a televangelist and in 2002 White-Cain became Donald Trump’s personal minister. The pastor, who promotes prosperity theology, has been dogged by accusations of heresy, which she rejects. Her net worth is said to be $5 million.
15. John Hagee
John Charles Hagee came into the world in 1940, his birthplace Goose Creek, Texas. He started his religious career in 1966 by founding a church in San Antonio, Texas. As the years went by and his success as a televangelist grew, Hagee established new and increasingly large churches. In 1975 he founded Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, which moved to a building with a capacity of 5,000 in 1987.
Hagee is a strong supporter of Zionism and chairs an organization called Christians United For Israel. He’s courted controversy with his views on Catholicism, even claiming that the religion actively supported Hitler. He has had notable success as a televangelist and his ministry broadcasts across the U.S. and Canada. His personal wealth is said to amount to some $5 million.
14. Joyce Meyer
Pauline Joyce Hutchison, as she was called before she married her second husband Dave Meyer in early 1967, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1943. She has described how when her father came back from fighting in World War II, he allegedly sexually abused her. By her own account she was born again at the age of nine, although her calling to the ministry came later in 1976; she has claimed this was what God had directly instructed her to do.
She started out as an associate pastor and bible instructor before founding her own church, Life in the Word, in 1985. Then in 1993 at the suggestion of her husband, Meyer established a TV ministry with her show Enjoying Everyday Life which is still broadcasting today. Meyer seems to take an unabashed pleasure in the high life, owning several homes and traveling by private jet. One source estimates her personal worth at $8 million.
13. Juanita Bynum
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1959, Juanita Bynum was described in 2007 by The New York Times newspaper as “the most prominent black female television evangelist in the country.” As a child, Bynum was brought up as a Pentecostalist and started her career as a preacher after she graduated from Saints Academy boarding school in Lexington, Mississippi.
Bynum has described how after a period of unhappiness involving mental ill health, a broken marriage and attempted suicide, she embarked on a period of sexual promiscuity. But she turned her life around and came to national attention after addressing a conference in Atlanta, Georgia detailing her rejection of a life of sin. Her career as a televangelist subsequently took off and her personal wealth stands at an estimated $10 million.
12. Ernest Angley
Ernest Winston Angley was born in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1921. In his 2004 autobiography, Hurry Friday! Angley describes his upbringing as a Baptist. However, it wasn’t until he was 18 that he unreservedly accepted Jesus Christ into his life. His career as a pastor started in the 1950s when he toured Ohio living under canvas and preaching as a Pentecostal evangelist.
In the mid-1980s, Angley developed his network of TV channels preaching his Christian message. He also established his headquarters, Grace Cathedral in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and later, in 2011, founded his online Bible school. Angley’s teachings sparked controversy in 2007 when he claimed that the power of prayer could cure H.I.V./A.I.D.S.. He’s perhaps best known today for his widely broadcast TV show The Ernest Angley Hour. His wealth is said to be in the region of $15 million.
11. Kirk Cameron
Kirk Thomas Cameron first saw the light of day in 1970 in California’s Panorama City, a Los Angeles suburb. Cameron first came into the public eye in 1985 playing the part of Mike Seaver in the popular ABC sitcom Growing Pains, a show that ran until 1992. He continued his acting in TV and movies through the 1980s and 1990s, but truth be told his career flagged after that. In 2014 he won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor for his role in Saving Christmas, which won Worst Picture Award.
However, Cameron’s focus has shifted to his evangelical work. He had become a born-again Christian during his teen years after a spell as an atheist. Later, he co-founded a ministry called The Way of the Master which broadcasts an eponymous TV show, which Cameron hosts. He’s also been an enthusiastic advocate for creationism. Cameron’s net worth stands at an estimated $20 million.
10. Jesse Duplantis
Born in 1949 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jesse Duplantis wasn’t always best known as a televangelist in the charismatic tradition. At one time he was in a band called Spring Winecooler and he called himself Jerry Jackson. Reportedly, he turned to Jesus after attending a meeting addressed by Billy Graham. He started out as a preacher in 1976 and has plied that trade full-time ever since 1978. He founded Jesse Duplantis Ministries, which operates in the U.K. and Australia as well as America.
Duplantis has attracted controversy because of his fondness for private jets, but he was happy to brush off criticism. Indeed, in 2018 newspaper The Times-Picayune quoted him as saying, “I really believe that if the Lord Jesus Christ was physically on the Earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey. He’d be in an airplane flying all over the world.” Duplantis’s personal wealth is estimated at some $20 million, enough to buy a lot of donkeys.
9. Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter
After his birth in the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, Yaakov Aryeh Alter’s family wisely got out of Poland before Hitler’s thugs had a chance to murder them all. They moved in 1940 to what was then Mandatory Palestine and is now Israel. The young Alter studied the Torah at an ultra-orthodox Hasidic school. His studies eventually led to a position as a rabbi.
It seems that Alter’s father had a keen instinct for a good investment and he bought land in what was to become Israel. Alter has inherited this wealth, although it’s said that he himself leads a modest lifestyle in Jerusalem. In a 2012 survey published in the Israeli edition of Forbes magazine, Alter came third in a list of Israel’s richest rabbis with a net worth of $90 million.
8. Pat Robertson
Born in 1930 in Lexington, Virginia, Marion Gordon “Pat” Robertson is perhaps the best-known of America’s televangelists. Robertson graduated with a B.A. in history and then went on to be drafted into the Marines in 1948 and served in Korea. After his time in uniform, he took a law degree at Yale but failed his New York bar exam and never worked as a lawyer.
Instead, Robertson turned to religion and in 1960 founded the Christian Broadcasting Network, CBN. Over the years he expanded this enterprise. In the early days, he even canvassed door-to-door, selling cable boxes so people could watch his broadcasts. His hard work paid off. CBN now has audiences in 180 countries and Robertson’s original network has spawned other larger and highly lucrative TV broadcasting outfits. He is reported to have a personal net worth of $100 million.
7. Victoria Osteen
Victoria Ilof was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1961. Her father Donald was a mathematician who worked with General Electric and N.A.S.A. on rocket technology. As a child she worshipped at the Church of Christ where her mother, who ran a jewelry business, taught Sunday school. In 1987 Victoria married televangelist Joel Osteen, whom she’d met when he came into her mother’s jewelry store.
Ms. Osteen established the Lakewood Church Women’s Ministry and her sermons are broadcast regularly on the Daystar Television Network. She’s a successful author with her 2008 book Love Your Life: Living Happy, Healthy, and Whole reaching number two on The New York Times’s bestsellers list. Her worldly wealth, held in tandem with husband Joel, is said to amount to $100 million.
6. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar – Sri Sri is an honorific title – was born in 1956 in the town of Papanasam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He was called Shankar in honor of the Hindu saint Adi Shankara. According to Shankar’s own website, he was something of a child prodigy. By the age of four he could already recite one of India’s revered, and lengthy, ancient scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita. And already, despite his tender years, he had started to meditate.
The holy man established a charitable organization called the Art of Living Foundation in 1981 which offers social services. That was followed in 1997 by the foundation of the International Association for Human Values, a non-profit group that supports development and relief work. Ravi Shankar has been involved in peace missions around the world as well as in his home country. The spiritual leader and guru is said to have personal wealth amounting to some $140 million.
5. Mata Amritanandamayi
Mata Amritanandamayi was born in the Indian state of Kerala in 1953 into a Hindu family of fishermen. As a child, she is said to have been particularly concerned with the plight of poverty-stricken families in her district. This was despite the fact that her own parents were far from wealthy. In 1981 Amritanandamayi formed the international organization Mata Amritanandamayi Math, which works on spiritual and charitable projects around the world.
Often known as Amma, an Indian word for mother, Amritanandamayi has become famous for giving people spiritual comfort by the simple act of hugging them. Over a period of more than three decades, she is reported to have hugged upwards of 33 million people around the world. On a more practical level her foundation provides ten million free meals each year to poor people in India and free food is also offered in many other countries including the U.S. The Mata Amritanandamayi Math foundation is said to be worth $210 million.
4. Baba Ramdev
Baba Ramdev was born Ramakrishna Yadav in 1965 in India’s Haryana State in the north of the country. His Hindu parents were farmers. By his own account, he was paralyzed at the age of two-and-a-half but regained his mobility through the practice of yoga. The youngster went on to study Hindu scriptures and to advance his knowledge of yoga.
Ramdev established his own yoga center in the city of Haridwar, located in the Himalayan foothills. He performs yoga exercises before a live audience and since 2003 his performances have been broadcast on TV, earning him a large following. Ramdev founded a company selling herbal products in 2006 and in 2018 Patanjali Ayurved was said to have a market value of $450 million. His personal wealth is put at about $223 million.
3. Dr. Paul Dhinakaran
Paul Dhinakaran was born in the city of Madras in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu in 1962. His father, D.G.S. Dhinakaran founded the Jesus Calls evangelical ministry and the Karunya University. His son inherited both enterprises after his father’s death in 2008 and continues to run them. It was the father who was an early adopter of TV broadcasting as a way to spread a Christian message to a wide audience in India.
As well as the broadcasting operation, called Rainbow TV, Paul Dhinakaran runs a network of 30 prayer towers in India. These are basically call centers open round the clock which offer prayers to people. The operation can recite prayers in all of the major languages spoken in India. Businesses can also purchase prayer package deals, guaranteeing daily prayers for them. Dhinakaran’s net worth is estimated at $700 million.
2. Rabbi Pinchas Abuhatzeira
Rabbi Pinchas Abuhatzeira is part of a dynasty of famous rabbis in the Orthodox Sephardic and mystic Kabbalist traditions. He inherited his father’s mantle in the most tragic and dramatic circumstances. Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira was stabbed to death by a mentally unbalanced man who later professed his admiration for him, but said that the rabbi had failed to help him with marital woes.
Abuhatzeira’s father had a wide and devoted following in Israel but there were those who had questioned his probity. Notable amongst them was the journalist Yossi Bar-Moha who claimed that Abuhatzeira senior had coerced devotees into handing over money. In any case, Abuhatzeira inherited his father’s empire. In the 2012 survey of Israel’s richest rabbis by the Israeli edition of Forbes magazine, Abuhatzeira took the number one spot with an estimated net worth of $335 million.
1. Aga Khan IV
Prince Shah Karim al-Husayni, who holds the title Aga Khan IV, was born in 1936 in the Swiss city of Geneva. He had a privileged upbringing with private tutoring while a young child, followed by a spell at the exclusive Institut Le Rosey boarding school in Switzerland. He went on to study oriental history at Harvard. He graduated and hoped to pursue a doctorate but his studies were interrupted by the death of his grandfather.
The prince’s grandfather was the Aga Khan III. Before his death in 1957, the Aga Khan had stipulated that his grandson rather than his son should inherit his title, and so Prince Karim became Aga Khan IV. This is a position of religious leadership of the Islamic Shia sect, Nizari Ismailism. The Aga Khans are said to be direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad. The current Aga Khan’s wealth was estimated at $13.3 billion back in 2013.