Famous Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Repays $ 4.4 Million in COVID Pandemic Loans
A Houston mega-church, reportedly worth $ 50 million by the famous pastor, has repaid the federal government $ 4.4 million in pandemic loans after going viral for outrageous handouts.
Lakewood Church, which is tax-exempt like most religious institutions, took out $ 4.4 million in taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program loans at the height of the COVID pandemic. last year, while Senior Pastor Joel Osteen flaunted his insane wealth. This caused “Osteen” and “Ferrari” to become a social media trend as observers questioned the institution’s need for such a huge payment.
Osteen is said to own a $ 300,000 Ferrari and a $ 10.5 million mansion, and was pictured traveling in style in a luxury jet. During this time he made appearances on the Today’s show, urging people not to “focus on this [they] to have or not to have.
Lakewood, considered the largest church in the United States with an average weekly attendance of 45,000 people, closed in-person services last year and told the Houston Business Journal they had to go months without the “ability to raise substantial donations”.
They insisted that no part of the PPP money went to Osteen or his wife, who would receive no salary from the church, and called the loan “during such a time of need. “. The money provided the church with “short-term financial assistance” to ensure that their 368 employees “would continue to receive a paycheck and full health care benefits,” a spokesperson for the church.
Thousands of other religious institutions have received up to $ 7.8 billion in PPP loans, according to some accounts.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Lakewood provided bank statements to the Houston Chronicle showing that the church had fully repaid the loan. PPP loans were 100% repayable if a company kept all of its employees at the same pay level and the money was spent on payroll and other qualifying expenses.
The spokesperson did not say why the church repaid the loan, but other big companies like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers have repaid their loans after coming under heavy criticism.
Rob Boston, senior advisor to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Houston Chronicle that Osteen was “rightly” criticized for taking out the loan.
But the biggest problem, he said, was that “religious freedom is a fundamental promise of our Constitution, and that means that no one should be forced to pay for someone’s religious beliefs or practices. other “.
This is not the first time Osteen and Lakewood Church have taken action. In 2017, the church refused to open its stadium to victims of Hurricane Harvey, but ultimately did so after a fire storm on social media.
Osteen has also drawn criticism from some other religious leaders for his adherence to the so-called prosperity gospel, which teaches that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing on a person.