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Top 10 Controversial Religious Leaders

Updated on 7 September, 2017 at 3:13 pm By

There have been many religious leaders who made a difference to their respective communities, and there are a few who have been questioned for the way they have carried out their roles as representatives of their religious beliefs. Almost everyone who believes in the principle of religion, fears it; and, when some representatives of the sect try and impose their thoughts onto others for good or bad, they are bound to be influenced. Listed below are top 10 controversial religious leaders we have known.

10. Jim Jones:

Jim Jones was the founder of the People’s Temple, a religious organization set up in 1955. Based in San Francisco, the organization soon flourished into various parts of California. And, then in 1978, came the incidence of Guyana, in which more than 900 members were killed in attempted mass suicide. Five other individuals and about 200 children were murdered in Jonestown by cyanide poisoning. This incidence was recorded as one of the largest mass suicides in the history of America that killed so many civilians.

Jim Jones - Controversial Religious Leaders

9. Sun Myung Moon:


Born in South Korea on February 25, 1920, Sun Myung Moon was a self-proclaimed messiah, and a Korean religious leader who founded the Unification Church. The Unification Church has expanded to many nations, including the United States. Moon immigrated to the US and led the unorthodox religious movement that has become a cult and features mass marriages in the Unification Church, which were presided over by Moon and his wife until his death in September 2012. Mrs. Moon, called Mother Moon by followers, is the current head of the Church.

Sun Myung Moon

8. Mary Baker Eddy:

Born on July 16, 1821, Mary Barker Eddy had a bumpy adult life. Married thrice, Mary was the founder of Christian Science, a system of religious thought, and is controversially recognized for her concept of illusionary nature of material world and rejection of personal god. Her religious impacts on the society have been such that even today her followers refuse medical treatment for diseases – believing medication as part of illusionary material world – and considering prayers the only treatment for all illnesses.

Mary Baker Eddy - Controversial Religious Leaders

7. Sathya Sai Baba:

Born on November 23, 1926, Sathyanarayana Raju better known as Sri Sathya Sai Baba was one of India’s most controversial religious guru and spiritual leader. Sathya Sai Baba called himself a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi and was regarded as an avatar by his followers. While he was ‘God’ to most of his disciples, there is a lobby which accuses the Sathya Sai Baba of sexual abuse, money laundering, fraud, murder and even sleight of hand.

Sathya Sai Baba

6. Joseph Smith:

Born on December 23, 1805, Joseph Smith was a self-proclaimed prophet of God sent to restore the Church. It is alarming to know how he, with his claim, was able to persuade 14 million followers to believe in him so much that almost a new, the Mormon Church referred to as Latter Day Saint movement was born. Critics have contradicted him for the way he changed Christian thought. Joseph Smith is said to have numerous wives, and is believed to profess of polygamy, something that didn’t go well with the non-Mormons, an enmity which only ended with Smith’s death in 1844.

Joseph Smith - Controversial Religious Leaders

5. Martin Luther:

Born on November 10, 1483, Martin Luther was a German monk, priest and a revered theologian. Luther is probably the most controversial religious leader and theologian to make an irreversible impact upon the Church, his acts against the functioning of the Church evolved into a reform movement that split the Church into two. He was also criticized for his writings and speeches wherein Luther prophesized that salvation was attained with faith in Christ rather than through obedience to the Pope.

Martin Luther

4. Ruhollah Khomeini:

Ruhollah Khomeini was an Iranian religious and political leader, who pioneered the Iranian Revolution, and was also named as the ‘Man of the Year’ by TIME, an American newsmagazine. He has been widely criticized for human rights violations. He organized several mass campaigns of torture against political opponents, and executed many people who were thought to be insufficient Islamic behavior. This resulted in the death of thousands of men and women. The trials were conducted in secret kangaroo courts run by Khomeini’s clerics. In the year 1988 he ordered the execution of about 30,000 political prisoners.

Ruhollah Khomeini - Controversial Religious Leaders

3. Swami Nithyananda:


Born on January 1, 1978, Swami Nithyananda a.k.a. Paramahamsa Nithyananda is spiritual master and founder of global movement for meditation – Dhyanapeetam, based in Bengaluru, India. The globally reckoned meditation guru, Nithyananda has been accused of attempt to rape, of sexual harassment and homosexuality on a few occasions and has been accused of defamation of Tamil culture and acts of insult to Hinduism.

Swami Nithyananda

2. Ram Rahim:

Born on August 15, 1967, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, better known as Ram Rahim, is preacher, social reformers and spiritual leader who leads the India-based socio-spiritual organization Dera Sacha Sauda. In 2007 Ram Rahim was accused of involvement in murder of journalist Ram Chander Chatrapati and hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikh community, though he was cleared of charges later. He is regarded as a threat to gurdwaras by radical Sikh groups and is often accused of sexual exploitation of his women followers.

Ram Rahim - Controversial Religious Leaders

1. Jayendra Saraswathi:


Born on July 18, 1935 as Subramanyam Mahadeva Iyer, Jayendra Saraswathi is the 69th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. His bold statement against communalism, regionalism, corruption and his interests beyond the activities of the mutt didn’t always go well with the image of the institution. Regarded as the most high-profile of all current Hindu religious leaders for his profound knowledge of the Hinduism, Jayendra Saraswathi became a tainted figure after he was arrested by the Tamil Nadu police in a murder case.

Jayendra Saraswathi


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