The Rev. Steve Munsey of Family Christian Center in Munster defended his upscale lifestyle on national television Tuesday morning, saying he is not a "prosperity preacher."
Munsey appeared Tuesday in Fox's New York studio of "The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet" during a segment teased as "prosperity preachers under fire for their lavish lifestyles."
"Are these preachers just scamming their followers?" Mike Jerrick, co-host of the show, asked.
Munsey said he wasn't sure why he was selected to be on the panel.
"I didn't know I was a prosperity preacher," Munsey said on the telecast. "I'm a gospel preacher."
According to the Lake County Assessor's office Web site, Munsey's home in the upscale gated Briar Ridge subdivision in Schererville is assessed at $532,100.
But the Rev. David Jordan Allen, spokesman for the church, said the property was purchased from a bankruptcy sale more than 25 years ago and the home built by members of the congregation.
"It wasn't near the value that it is today," Allen said, adding that Munsey has a mortgage on the home and pays property taxes on it from his personal coffers.
"A lot of pastors can be exempt," Allen said. "He does it because he feels he as a pastor should be an example."
Munsey's church has "well over 10,000 members," Allen said, with five services on the weekend and a television ministry at 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday on WJYS TV 62 out of Chicago.
Allen said Munsey was invited to the show "to give the story of why people give."
"Anytime you have a megachurch, you're always in the spotlight," Allen said. "You have the chance to be targeted. Our ministry has been growing because we preach the word of God and people are hungry for that.
"We run a very translucent, transparent, clean organization," Allen said, adding that the church is audited regularly by the Chicago firm of Grant Thornton.
Munsey said on the show he is "excited about seeing people whose lives have changed" as a result of his work with the church.
"I encourage people to give, just as we feed people by the thousands weekly," Munsey said.
Jerrick said Munsey is "very prosperous" and noted that he flew to New York to appear on the show in his private airplane from Chicago.
Munsey defended the plane, saying, "I have a family, I have a church, I have responsibilities," and that an airplane is "a tool" for reaching more people with his message.
"If Jesus were alive today, would he have a private plane?" Jerrick asked.
"Sure," Munsey said. "Whatever we have to do."
Allen said the plane is "a small plane that holds eight people, not a multimillion-dollar jet."
Rusty Leonard, who runs the Web site MinistryWatch.com -- an online community that monitors 400 of the nation's largest churches and encourages "responsible giving" -- appeared on the show and said millionaire ministers are "an aberration of classic Christianity."
"Jesus didn't model this type of lifestyle," Leonard said, saying Jesus preached that prosperity is not a matter of possessions.
Allen said ministers at the Family Christian Center "pay our own cell phone bills, have our own vehicles and use our personal vehicles to make visits to the sick."