I Am The Best Thing…That Ever Happens…To A Sad Person. —Mike Murdock’s pinned tweet.
Mike Murdock wants you to plant a seed.
Theoretically, it can be a seed of anything you need or want more of. But in practice, Murdock wants you to plant a seed of money.
He says you have to trust that it will grow and return to you a hundred times more than what you planted. Ten dollars will come back to you as $1,000. One thousand will become $100,000.
Fifty-eight dollars, a popular sum based on Murdock’s 58 blessings, will bring you back $5,800.
In reality, it probably will grow with Mike Murdock. From there it just might end up as a seven-figure gift to a fellow sex-scandal-embroiled Nigerian pastor. But that hasn’t stopped people from giving Murdock their last $100, because God doesn’t care about need. “God has never responded to pain,” Murdock says. “He only responds to faith.”
The prosperity preacher became the latest evangelical leader to endorse Donald Trump this month, calling the upstart presidential frontrunner damn near a “genius.”
But the true genius lies in the tax-exempt business model Murdock has built for himself in the name of God—no tax disclosures, a sprawling Texas megachurch, and a fabulously tacky home that he put on the market for $3.5 million.
And while seed giving doesn’t sound like the kind of business advice Donald Trump might give, the pastor has declared the GOP frontrunner the divinely anointed choice for president.
“He has a warrior spirit for restoring America in the eyes of the world and he has a warrior’s heart,” Murdock told Bloomberg Politics. “I am endorsing him for president.”
On his internationally-available television show, Wisdom Keys with Mike Murdock, Murdock went so far as to call Trump a living legend with a “phenomenal mind.”
“He says you want to know what the other person you’re dealing with is needing [from a negotiation],” Murdock explained on the show. Then he pivoted to God.
“If you find out what God is wanting, and God is wanting to be believed,” he said. “His only passion is to be believed. God has a craving to be trusted.”
What better way to show your belief in God than by giving Murdock a seed that you trust will come back to you?
The prosperity gospel has become somewhat of a joke in mainstream circles, but continues to have a wealth of popularity around the world, preaching the message that great wealth is a sign of favor with God. Favor that stems from great faith. Trump did not respond to a request for comment about whether he endorses that theology.
Murdock first gained popularity in the 1980s on the PTL Club with Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. But as the Bakkers’ empire crumbled amid financial and sex scandals, Murdock seemed to survive unscathed, and has been spreading the Lord’s word on TV and his church for decades.
His version of seed faith asks those who have little to give a lot to the ministry. For example, a $1,000 donation will “break the back of poverty”—if it doesn’t break the back of he who gave it.
(Murdock has previously denied any personal gain from the “seeds.” “If any of this money is for Mike Murdock’s personal gain, may a curse be upon me and my ministry and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” he has often said.)
There’s little evidence that shows donations given through the church go anywhere but to the church, which has a sprawling building in Fort Worth. The ministry’s homepage, which sports a cheap casino aesthetic and was last redesigned in the mid-aughts, offers a link to donate to the Rebekah Home—an anti-abortion center for unwed mothers that shares a name with an abusive, now-defunct charity by the same name. The Daily Beast was unable to locate such a facility in Texas, though funds for the project are donated via a general donation page to the church.
A 2003 exposé by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram found the church had practically nonexistent financial giving. “For nearly a decade, less than 1 percent of donors’ money has been used for such charitable works,” the paper wrote. Shortly thereafter, the ministry reincorporated itself as a church, which is made exempt from financial disclosures.
The ministry did not return a Daily Beast request for comment.
The three-part investigative report on Murdock’s ministry was damning. The man of letters had no degree, it claimed, as Murdock had dropped out of seminary and his Ph.D. (Murdock prefers to be referred to as “Dr.”) is from an online school—and only honorary.
The Star-Telegram also found that 60 percent of the ministry’s revenue went to overhead costs rather than charities. The pastor was driving a $70,000 car. On the grounds of his sprawling home, he had exotic animals, including a camel, an antelope, and even a lion. He boasted about buying private jets—with cash.
At the time, Murdock took home about $250,000 a year from the ministry, though the Star-Telegram reports the ministry paid some of his expenses directly. His income for the decade since that 2003 report is unknown.
“In 2000, when the ministry received $3,858,637, it spent $2,056 on ‘needy families and benevolence,’” the Star-Telegram wrote. “That same year, it spent $65,348 on flowers and gifts.”
The newspaper also found that Murdock owned three for-profit businesses that licensed his songs and books. “Their boards include ministry officials. They have done business with the ministry. Murdock also promotes his books and songs through the ministry and on Wisdom Keys,” the article read. “What’s more, the ministry sells the books and music cassettes on its website and at seminars.”
The paper reported that IRS filings showed the companies made money from the sales arrangement with the nonprofit.
Public records show two of those for-profit companies are still active, while one was suspended “involuntarily” for tax reasons. (At the time, Murdock denied making a profit on those items.)
In the midst of the Star-Telegram investigation, Murdock replaced some top leaders in the church, including accountants James and Doris Couch. He later said that any incongruities in his taxes were their fault, not his.
But Doris Couch told The Daily Beast that she wasn’t fired, but resigned when Murdock hired a larger firm. She added that the tax forms she filled out for Murdock were clean, and that her faith in Murdock was unshaken, even though she hadn’t been “planting seeds” lately. Her husband, James, died last year, and she said she hasn’t spoken to Murdock in ages.
“If he were to call me today, I’d go, ‘What can I do for you?’” she said. “He knows more of the Word than anybody.”
Far more recently, Murdock found the cash to give his friend Biodun Fatoyinbo, a Nigerian pastor, $1 million and a Rolls-Royce during a January 2014 visit to his COZA church in Abuja.
“This 68 year old Wealthy Prominent and Adept Preacher released a Million-dollar Gift to the Senior Pastor of COZA,” a gospel blogger who reportedly witnessed the exchange wrote. “The Gift of a Rolls-Royce threw the Church into Shouts of Celebration and moved the Pastor and his wife to tears.”
(Reports don’t indicate whether the gift was in U.S. or Nigerian currency.)
Fatoyinbo has been accused of infidelity for years, before the pricey gift from Murdock. A Nigerian X Factor contestant publicly accused Fatoyinbo of engaging in extramarital sex with her in 2013, while another woman accused Fatoyinbo of taking her to his hotel room and then trying to bribe her to delete the evidence. The first woman, Ese Walter, claimed the pastor had singled her out for a leadership role in the church, and then propositioned her while on a trip to London, where she was enrolled in graduate school.
There, Fatoyinbo allegedly asked her to the roof of his hotel. “While there, he sat on a reclining chair and asked me to come sit on his laps,” she wrote on a Nigerian website. “He said he had told me to feel free with him and loosen up. I found myself strolling to sit on his laps.”
They had sex that night, she said, and it went on for a week. Though she wasn’t sexually assaulted, Walter said she “felt trapped in this affair.”
“Now read my lips, I know there are people here that are not part of our church, read my lips, we are going to speak but we are consulting to come out with a robust reply,” Fatoyinbo said in response. “One thing you can be sure of is that my wife and I love you.”
Murdock, who has been trailed by allegations of extramarital sex himself—a book by his son’s supposed childhood friend said the pastor had mistresses and a huge porn stash—defended his friend.
"Pastor Biodun …Is One of The Most Integrity Leaders I Have Known,” Murdock tweeted in his defense. “Attack…IS Proof of Divine Favor.”
Murdock and Fatoyinbo are far from the only religious figures to encourage so-called seed faith. Megarich California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who gave the invocation at President Obama’s first inauguration, also advocates it on his website and sermons.
“It may not make sense to you to give away something that you need more of, but that is exactly the kind of attitude that God wants to bless and that will produce fruit in your life,” Warren writes. “When you have a need, don’t gripe about it, don’t wish about it, and you don’t even have to pray about it—just plant a seed!”
And true believers are seemingly undeterred, despite the proliferation of websites dedicated to debunking seed-giving as practiced by televangelists. (Murdock was also one of several lampooned by comedian John Oliver this summer.)
One website explains the biblical root for Murdock’s theology to highlight its perversion. “Now right here anybody with even a minimal level of reading comprehension should be able to see that this parable has nothing to do with money,” it reads. “The seed is the Word of God. Even a brand new baby Christian should be able to look at this and say, ‘I don’t think these fellows are teaching this correctly.’”
And there are plenty of sites that aim to take down Murdock himself.
One introduces him as “the Fleecer.” “He presents himself as a man of letters,” it reads. “But he is ‘Dr. Mike Murdock,’ seminary dropout, and the letters we found are F-R-A-U-D.”