STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Are megachurches and their preachers failing to contribute to fighting COVID-19 or offer their millions to coronavirus relief efforts? No, that is not entirely true. While it's unclear how much money is being directly donated by these churches and their leaders out of their personal wealth, it is clear that some are offering in-kind donations and support during the pandemic.
The claim circulated among dozens of Facebook pages, including a post (archived here) by Jason McCollum on April 7, 2020. The post lists nine preachers and their estimated net worth. It read:
Richest pastors in America:
Kenneth Copeland $760m
Pat Robertson $100m
Benny Hinn $60m
Joel Osteen $40m
Creflo Dollar $26m
Rick Warren $25m
Franklin Graham $25m
T.D. Jakes $18m
Joyce Meyer $8m
Total $1.06 billion
Total net worth donated to Covid assistance $0
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
Lead Stories contacted each of the pastors' churches, and some responded, pointing us toward their relief efforts. Others did not respond, or their staff said they were not aware of any coronavirus-related efforts by their churches or pastors.
Information on the net worth -- to which the post appears to be referring -- of evangelical preachers in megachurches likely came from such websites as this and this. But those numbers have not been independently confirmed. The net number might comprise only personal wealth, or it may be a reflection of their church's real estate, planes, vehicles and investments.
So far, though, none of the wealthy preachers listed are among the nation'scharitable givers with the most followers, according to watchdog group Charity Navigator, and none are listed as giving for COVID-19 relief.
But some are making an effort. Take Joyce Meyer, a preacher/speaker with an international following and a net worth of $8 million, according to the post, which is not sourced. Meyer raises money for humanitarian aid numerous times a year, and her Hand of Hope ministry is bringing masks and food to poor nations stricken with COVID-19.
After this story was published, Lead Stories was contacted by the Senior PR Director for The Potter's House, the church of T.D. Jakes (with a net worth estimated at $18 million), who informed us they:
- Provided over 5,000 meals to first responders and hospital staff.
- Connected more than 400 seniors to resources, including financial assistance through our virtual check-in team.
- Conducted wellness calls to the elderly in partnership with Meals on Wheels.
- Equipped underserved communities with access to technological resources, temporarily unavailable in public places, to complete online training and GED courses.
- Provided 3,500 hours of online case management, counseling, and skills training for employment and rehabilitative services for previously incarcerated individuals.
- Helped secure stable housing and employment opportunities for 2,600 individuals newly released from jails and prisons.
- Connected over 300 families impacted by incarceration with resources to food, clothing, and shelters.
- Comforted more than 31,000 individuals seeking prayer for healing, finances, and depression through our prayer line and virtual prayer room.
Benny Hinn ministries, with a net worth of $60 million, states that "God will rid the world of this infectious virus and will protect and heal His people during this season." Hinn's website offers hope by citing an Israeli COVID-19 treatment "with 100% survival rate tested on first U.S. patient" at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey.
Hinn does not say that his church is currently participating in or funding these trials.
Pastor Rick Warren, with a net worth of $25 million, is head of Saddleback Church, the nation's sixth-largest megachurch. It has also stepped up, running food pantries in eight cities, and with members volunteering to deliver food to needy families, and sewing facemasks. They also call and chat with shut-ins.
The website for Atlanta-based evangelist Creflo Dollar, whose net worth was estimated at $27 million, offers no outreach or aid for those stricken with COVID-19, although it reassures parishioners that the seats on the church bus are wiped with disinfectant between uses.
Lead Stories tried to get a comment from Dollar on several occasions. Our phone calls were not returned.
Pat Robertson, possibly the best-known of the wealthy preachers with an estimated net worth of $100 million, has preached about COVID-19 on his television network, Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Robertson has said that people should not fear because "God is still on his throne."
His advice regarding COVID-19 had been just to pray. But, on April 14, Robertson's website started fundraising for COVID-19 efforts. This money will go into Operation Blessing, which helps victims of all types of disaster. The appeal offers no specifics about how much, or where, money will be spent.No one from his organization returned phone calls from Lead Stories.
Most recently, on April 20, he went on record blaming abortion for the COVID-19 pandemic:
There was no response from the church of Kenneth Copeland, whose estimated worth is $760 million. Nor was anything posted about COVID-19 relief efforts on his site. Instead, the message on Copeland's Facebook home page says, "Resurrection power beats Covid-19."
Also, in a video, Copeland states he and his followers are "standing together believing for a heatwave to destroy COVID-19." Copeland also asked, "What is the responsibility of the prophet, and what is the responsibility of the believer when it comes to stopping COVID-19?"
Copeland then preached, "It is finished! It is over!" On March 30, he declared, "Judgment be executed on COVID-19. Let's get into agreement with the prophet and watch this thing disappear. Declare God's judgment on the coronavirus by decreeing and declaring, 'It is over in the Name of Jesus.'"
Even though we didn't hear back from Franklin Graham, his Samaritan's Purse charity has been in the news recently because of a controversy over its relief efforts, including a field hospital set up in Central Park where it had treated over 100 patients. According to The New York Times on April 14:
The Rev. Franklin Graham on Tuesday accused elected officials and others in New York of harassment over their criticism of his medical organization, which is operating a field hospital in Central Park for coronavirus patients that requires workers to sign a pledge that they are Christians who oppose same-sex marriage.
Mr. Graham posted his accusation on Facebook hours before Mount Sinai Health Systems, which teamed up with his organization, Samaritan's Purse, last month, informed state lawmakers that it would begin requiring those who work for the group to sign a second pledge vowing not to discriminate against patients.
Mr. Graham said Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational evangelical organization that often works in developing countries, had never discriminated against a patient. But he said that the group had a right to 'lawfully hire staff who share our Christian beliefs' because it is a religious charity.
'It seems tone-deaf to be attacking our religious conviction about marriage at the very moment thousands of New Yorkers are fighting for their lives and dozens of Samaritan's Purse workers are placing their lives at risk to provide critical medical care,' he wrote."
McCollum's Facebook post also mentions the New Testament verse Matthew 19:24, which is Jesus telling his disciples:
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
The other ministers listed in the post -- Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes -- or their churches were contacted for comment, but they did not return calls or emails from Lead Stories.
2020-04-30T10:18:02Z 2020-04-30T10:18:02ZAdded information about efforts by The Potter's House of T.D. Jakes