Jan. 17, 2007— -- Creflo Dollar sits atop a religious empire. He has a congregation of nearly 40,000 people with offices on six continents, a series of successful books, and a daily television show that reaches a billion households worldwide.
It's an empire built in part on the following message: God does not want you to be poor.
"If you don't know better, you'll stay in the ghetto all your life," Dollar preached just last Sunday. "But once you realize, I am not ghetto-bound."
This "Prosperity Gospel" has earned Dollar a fervent following. "I have prospered under his ministry," said one follower. "You can't stay up under the word of God and not prosper."
Some have viewed Dollar's take on Christianity as an inversion of the gospel, but he disagrees.
"You have to really talk to people who read the Bible. We've made financial prosperity like it's a wicked thing," he said. "We automatically assume that Jesus was poor, that he was homeless."
Nobody can accuse Creflo Dollar of not practicing what he preaches. The son of a policeman and a school cafeteria worker, he now owns a $2.4 million dollar apartment in New York and a mansion in Atlanta.
He also travels by private plane -- a Lear jet.
"The planes are owned by the ministry. We see it as equipment to accomplish the work of the ministry. Like a carpenter has to have a hammer to do his job, I've got to have a plane to fly around this world and be back here to pastor two churches, one here and one in New York," Dollar said in an interview with ABC affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta.
"Nightline" caught up with Pastor Dollar on a publicity tour for his latest book. He says his ironic name is not a farce, like many think.
"That's one of those urban legends that has been attached to our ministry," he said. "Dollar's my real name. My father was a Dollar, my grandfather was a Dollar. All I can say is God had a sense of humor to call me into ministry and name me Dollar at the same time."
But Dollar's success has also now landed him -- along with his wife and co-pastor, Taffi Dollar -- in the cross-hairs of Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa.
"Jesus came into the city on a simple donkey," the senator said. "What are disciples of his doing flying in jets?"
Grassley is investigating whether the Dollars are using tax-free donations from their followers to fund their lavish lifestyle. Dollar has refused to hand over his financial records, saying he's standing up for the privacy rights of all churches. He strenuously denies any financial improprieties.
"We've got to make sure that we don't judge a man, and say you know what, he's misusing the church funds to finance a lavish lifestyle." Dollar said. "What I have, I get through my businesses and investments that I have separately, that I keep separate from the church.