If Ben Franklin were writing today, he’d likely say that nothing in this world is certain but death, taxes, and religious scandal. There have been so many church leaders plagued by scandal that Wikipedia has an entire category devoted to cataloguing the ways various men and women of God found themselves brought low by lust, anger, or good old-fashioned greed. The people on this list are notable not just for their mistakes, but ultimately how ordinary they are: they slept with the wrong person, bought the wrong house, etc. These are the church leaders who’ve shot themselves in the feet, and who might be forgiven but will never be forgotten.

  1. Ted Haggard: Ted Haggard founded New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a military town with major evangelical ties (Focus on the Family and Young Life are both headquartered there, among others). The church grew to more than 10,000 members, and his prominence led Haggard to become the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was, basically, one of the kings of the modern evangelical movement, noted for his strong statements against gays. However, in 2006 a gay prostitute came forward and claimed that he had sold Haggard crystal meth and gotten high with him, and that the two had been engaging in a sexual relationship for three years. Haggard initially denied all allegations, then admitted to buying the drugs but not using them and to getting a massage but nothing more. The resultant scandal forced him to resign from the NAE and New Life and relocate to Arizona, though in June 2010 Haggard announced plans to start up a new church in Colorado Springs. His public downfall led to drops in attendance and contributions at New Life.
  2. Jim Bakker: Jim Bakker is one of the more famous religious figures to meet with scandal. Bakker and his wife, the uniquely made-up Tammy Faye, founded “The PTL Club” and the ensuing PTL Satellite Network, which brought him fame and fortune in the 1980s as he became one of the biggest televangelists in the nation. The money turned out to be his undoing: Bakker sold “lifetime memberships” at $1,000 a pop for people who wanted the privilege of an annual three-night stay at a fancy hotel at Heritage USA, the PTL Club’s Christian theme park in South Carolina. However, investigators found that only one hotel was ever built, and it only had 500 rooms. Bakker sold way more memberships than he needed and pocketed more than $3 million for himself. Bakker stepped down from his roles ahead of the disclosure of an affair with Jessica Hahn, who was paid to keep quiet about the sexual encounters. Investigators also found out that Bakker cooked the books. He was eventually indicted for mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy. He served five years in prison after reductions.
  3. Pope Benedict XVI: Taking the papacy in 2005, Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) has been hounded by allegations of involvement in and knowledge of sexual misconduct for years. On one hand, he’s been lauded for pursuing those members of the Church found to be abusing minors and denouncing their terrible acts. On the other, some accuse Benedict XVI of aiding in a cover-up of the abuses of Father Peter Hullermann, who abused several boys only to be transferred to another parish and allowed to resume his duties, at which point more boys were abused. There’s speculation about how much Ratzinger knew about Hullermann’s reinstatement, though he has denied complicity in any wrongdoing. Still, it’s a contentious issue for many Catholics.
  4. Henry Lyons: Henry Lyons started out as a rising star within the Baptist world: after serving as vice president of the Florida Baptist Convention and then its president, he became president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. in 1994. However, Lyons was soon brought down by revelations of inappropriate spending. To wit, some of the cash he raised in the name of the organization went to buying himself a new house and a car. There were also allegations of adultery. In 1998, he was indicted for a host of bad deeds, including fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, extortion, and conspiracy. He resigned as president of the National Baptist Convention and was sentence to five years in prison. He was paroled in 2003, and unbelievably made two more unsuccessful attempts to regain the presidency of the convention.
  5. George Alan Rekers: George Rekers, a Southern Baptist minister, met with infamy in mid-2010 for sexual indiscretions. Rekers had long been a major player in conservative Christian circles: he was on the founding board of James Dobson’s Family Research Council as well as the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, a group that dedicates itself to “converting” gay men and women into straight ones. Rekers was very outspoken about his beliefs when it came to the wrongness of homosexuality, which made his eventual scandal that much more ironic. In 2010, it was reported that Rekers had hired a gay male prostitute from Rentboy.com as a travel assistant, and the hired man claimed that part of his duties had been to give Rekers nude massages. Rekers said he’d just hired the guy to carry his luggage. The FRC soon distanced themselves from Rekers, though he maintained his innocence in the face of curious evidence.
  6. Joe Barron: Joe Barron was a minister at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, one of the biggest megachurches in the country, boasting more than 26,000 members and a regular worship service attendance around 14,000. In 2008, Barron was caught in a sting operation by Dallas police for soliciting sex from a minor. He’d thought he was propositioning a 13-year-old girl with whom he’d been chatting online, but when he showed up to meet her, he was greeted by the boys in blue. Barron was, understandably, asked by church officials to resign, and he promptly did.
  7. Coy Privette: Coy Privette was well known in North Carolina as a pastor and politician. He served four terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives, he’s the county commissioner of Cabarrus County, and he was pastor for 14 years at North Kannapolis Baptist Church. He was also president of the state’s Christian Action League when, in 2007, he was caught doing something pretty bad: Privette received six charges of aiding and abetting prostitution. His life started to unravel when his bank called the cops about a suspicious check Privette had written to a woman who turned out to be a prostitute. That was pretty much the end of his time as a religious leader in the state.
  8. Earl Paulk: Earl Paulk wasn’t like other Southern white preachers of the mid-20th century: He openly preached against racism and was one of the few white pastors to march alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet he was also hounded by scandal from the start, and left Atlanta’s Hemphill Avenue Church of God in 1960 because he’d had an affair with a female parishioner. He then went on to found the church that would become known as Chapel Hill Harvester Church and later the Cathedral at Chapel Hill, but sex scandal followed close behind. He and other pastors were accused of sexual manipulation, then Paulk was sued by a woman claiming he’d forced himself on her when she was 17. Other women came forward as news of Paulk’s affairs spread. But the kicker was when Paulk’s nephew, Donnie, revealed that DNA testing proved he was Earl’s son, not his nephew. Earl Paulk had slept with his sister-in-law years before. This led to a successful perjury charge, since Earl Paulk had stated under oath in previous cases that he’d never had an affair with anyone other than Mona Brewer, who was suing him at the time. He lived the rest of his life in legal and moral disgrace, dying in March 2009 from cancer.
  9. Lonnie Latham: Lonnie Latham was the senior pastor at Oklahoma’s South Tulsa Baptist Church and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, but he had to step down from both roles in 2006 when scandal caught up with him. He was busted for propositioning a man for oral sex, and the man turned out to be a plainclothes cop. Latham didn’t offer cash for the act, so he wasn’t charged with total prostitution, but still, it was enough. He was tried and acquitted (lack of evidence), but the brouhaha was still big enough to paint him as a man mired in scandal.
  10. Fred Phelps: Fred Phelps, founder of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church, is an antagonistic guy who exhorts his parishioners to protest events with signs reading (among others) “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” It’s not hard to see how he doesn’t just create scandal, but invites it. He was also arrested in 1951 and found guilty of battery against a Pasadena police officer, and in the decades since he’s been arrested for more battery, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and contempt of court, to start. Phelps has been able to dodge serving any time, despite being convicted in 1994 of contempt of court and two counts of assault. Phelps has also been sued many times, like the 2006 suit brought against him by the family of deceased Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder after Westboro congregants protested at his funeral. Phelps and his daughters were found guilty of invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. All in a day’s work for one of the most scandalous religious figures in the country today.

http://www.christiancollegesonline.org/blog/2010/10-church-leaders-surrounded-by-scandal/