Robert Gibson Tilton (b. June 7, 1946) is a televangelist and former pastor of the Word of Faith Family Church in Dallas, Texas. Patterning his programs after late night Infomercials, Tilton gained notoriety in The '80s for his flamboyant style and claims that followers could be rewarded with material success by donating exorbitant amounts of money to his ministry. At Tilton's peak, his Success-N-Life show could be seen in all 235 U.S. television markets, and his ministry brought in $80 million a year (more than Madonna and Michael Jackson combined).
Tilton's ministry fell into precipitous decline when ABC aired an investigative report which claimed that Tilton was enjoying an obscenely lavish lifestyle at the expense of his viewers. Their most damning revelation was that Tilton's ministry threw prayer requests in the trash after removing donated money. The report triggered a series of lawsuits by former followers. Even though the lawsuits were ultimately dismissed or overturned, the publicity was bad enough that Success-N-Life went off the air less than two years after the ABC broadcast.
Although Tilton lost his original ministry and all mainstream credibility, he has returned to television as host of a new version of Success-N-Life on BET's morning religious programming block. It appears he has dispensed with all pretense and has taken to writing books with such wholesome Christian messages as How To Pay Your Bills Supernaturally and How To Become Rich And Have Everything You Ever Wanted.
Robert Tilton is known for:
- Big Fancy House: Lived in a succession of mansions, while his promotional materials claimed he lived in a single modest "parsonage."
- Corrupt Church: Beyond the very heavy emphasis on materialism, there are also the claims by at least one former college friend of Tilton's suggesting he started his ministry for the sole purpose of scamming people.
- According to his former secretary, he swiped parts of his sermons from "get rich quick" books.
- Creator Couple: Presented as one half of one with his first wife, Marte Tilton, until their divorce.
- Domestic Abuse: According to his second wife.
- Healing Hands: During faith healing segment.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: As reported in this segment from Dallas' WFAA-TV, Tilton's ministry is now based mostly online, with a once-monthly service held at a Marriott hotel conference room in California with a grand total of five people in attendance.
- Large Ham: Tilton may have been the biggest example in televangelism. Many of his hammiest moments would end up in a montage used during the 1991 ABC PrimeTime expose.
- Moral Guardian: Averted. Tilton never harped on moral issues in his sermons, partly in order to avoid becoming embroiled in sex scandals like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart.
- Once an Episode: During the heady days of Success-N-Life, you could expect him to reference 1 Kings 17:7-16 (the story of Elijah and the widow) on practically every program; it seemed to be his favorite scripture outside of those concerning the payment of vows.