January 2004 Church & State | People & Events

TV preacher and Christian Coalition ally Joyce Meyer leads an opulent lifestyle of fancy homes and expensive cars and keeps her entire family, including her children's spouses, on the ministry payroll, a recent newspaper expos\xe9 says.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a series of articles on the Fenton, Mo.-based evangelist in mid November. A piece that ran Nov. 16 detailed Meyer's luxurious lifestyle, noting that the ministry pulls in $8 million a month but spends only a tenth of that on charitable works.

"Meyer is fond of nice things and is willing to spend for them," the article by reporters Carolyn Tuft and Bill Smith noted. "From an $11,000 French clock in the ministry's Fenton headquarters to a $105,000 Crownline boat docked behind her vacation home at Lake of the Ozarks, it's clear her tastes run more to Perrier than to tap water."

The article asserts that Meyer's $20-million headquarters "has the look and feel of a luxury resort hotel." Local tax officials, in an unsuccessful attempt to get the building on the tax rolls, conducted an inventory of the building's contents. Among the items they found were a $19,000 pair of vases, French crystal valued at $18,500, two curio cabinets worth $5,700, a table worth $30,000, a $14,000 custom bookcase and woodwork in Meyer's office that cost $44,000. All told, the tax assessors' report found that the building contains artwork, furniture, glassware and equipment worth $5.7 million.

The ministry, which is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a church, also owns a fleet of vehicles worth $440,000. Meyer drives a 2002 Lexus valued at $53,000; her husband, Dave, drives a Mercedes-Benz sedan while her son, Dan, drives a 2001 Lexus worth $46,000. The family keeps a $10-million Canadair jet at the St. Louis airport.

Since 1999, the paper reported, the ministry has bought five homes for Meyer and her four children. The collective value of the homes is at least $4 million. Meyer and her husband live in a $795,000, 10,000-square foot Cape Cod-style home with a garage that can hold eight cars. The house also has a pool and pool house with a bathroom that was recently added on at a cost of $10,000. The ministry pays for upkeep on all of the houses.

Meyer dresses in custom-tailored outfits and wears expensive jewelry. She employs her own hairdresser. She told the Post-Dispatch that she sees no reason to live simply.

"We teach and preach and believe biblically that God wants us to bless people who serve Him," Meyer said. "So there's no need for us to apologize for being blessed."

Meyer preaches what some call the "prosperity gospel." She tells her audience that if they give to her ministry, God will bless them with their own financial rewards.

While Meyer's "Life in the Word" program continues to have many fans and viewers, some have soured on her approach. One former follower, Bob Schneller, said he gave more than $4,000 a year to Meyer, even though he and his wife lived on $30,000 annually.

"She teaches you that if you give a seed offering, it will come back tenfold or a hundredfold," Schneller said. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but you get caught up in it. You believe it as truth."

Schneller, who worked for Meyer for a while as an exterminator, said Meyer taught a "name it and claim it" theology the idea that a believer could have anything he wanted, provided he had enough faith.

Schneller told the newspaper he took Meyer's advice literally and in 1985 lay across the hood of a new Chrysler Fifth Avenue car to claim it.

"I never did get it," he recalled. "She would say that I didn't have enough faith, or that there was sin in my life blocking the blessing. It always goes back to you."

Now working as a security guard, Schneller, 59, lives in 600-square-foot mobile home.

Meyer has recently shown an interest in making her ministry more political. In 2002, she teamed up with the Christian Coalition to cosponsor the organization's "Road to Victory" conference in Washington, D.C. During her remarks, Meyer called church-state separation "a deception from Satan."

Meyer has also endorsed efforts to permit churches and religious ministries to endorse or oppose candidates for public office. Her website contains an "Action Alert" asking supporters to back legislation offered by Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) that would remove provisions in the federal tax code that prohibit churches from intervening in partisan politics.

"Our Founding Fathers fully intended for the church to influence the running of the country, in fact a large amount of these men were pastors themselves," asserts the alert. "And yet we, as Christians, have sat back and allowed our voices to be silenced without so much as a shout of protest. The time to start fighting back is now."