A famous and controversial pastor worth an estimated $ 50 million has repaid $ 4.4 million in federal COVID relief loans his mega-church received from the government.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church repaid the money after the stadium-sized facility was widely condemned for accepting the money last year.
A spokesperson said they needed the loan because the church, which is the largest in America and can hold 16,800 worshipers at a time, was unable to support the weekly collections during the COVID closures, which she says helps pay her 368 employees.
But it sparked an uproar as details of Osteen’s extreme wealth were once again shared.
Its most recent address is listed as a six-bedroom, eight-bathroom mansion in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood, valued at an estimated $ 15 million.
Small businesses could apply for PPP loans from their banks as part of the federal government’s CARES Act stimulus package to get their workers to stay on the payroll amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pastor Joel Osteen, seen here giving a sermon in 2017, is believed to have returned $ 4.4 million to his mega-church received in pandemic aid loans
Lakewood welcomes about 52,000 attendees through multiple services per week, and its services are broadcast worldwide, as Osteen proselytizes on the word of God and spreads the prosperity gospel – which teaches that wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
And during the pandemic, reports the Daily Beast, he appeared on the Today Show urging people not to “focus on what [they] to have or not to have.
The apparent hypocrisy has prompted some people on social media to complain about the church’s federal loan – the third highest granted in Houston in July and August, according to the Houston Business Journal.
âHow many small businesses in Houston have closed because they were denied P3 funds? Rog Wagner asked. “Joel Osteen received $ 4.4 million from taxpayers, even though his church pays no f ***** taxes.”
Karen also referred to the Osteen mansion in River Oaks, while another person asked how churches could get the funds if they don’t pay taxes.
And Joel Jackson joked that the loan was a “big collector’s plate.”
The church has an average attendance of about 52,000 people per week, and its services are distributed worldwide.
Lakewood Church closed in-person services last year at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and was reportedly unable to ‘raise substantial donations’ at the time
Lakewood Church shut down in-person services last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, telling the Houston Business Journal at the time they had to go months without “the ability to collect substantial donations.”
“Believing the shutdown would only last a few weeks, Lakewood initially did not seek PPP assistance during the first half of the program,” the spokesperson said.
“However, as the closure persisted month after month, given the economic uncertainty, Lakewood eventually applied for the PPP loan and was able to provide full salaries and benefits, including health insurance coverage. to all of its employees and their families. ”
The spokesperson also insisted that none of the PPP funds went to Osteen or his wife, Victoria, who reportedly received no salary from the mega-church, but instead provided financial assistance for guarantee that their 368 employees “would continue to receive a paycheck and complete health.” care benefits.
He then got the $ 4.4 million loan from Bank of America last July.
More than 1,000 religious institutions in Houston have been approved for P3 loans, receiving up to $ 7.8 billion, although they do not have to pay taxes under federal law.
Loans were fully repayable if a company kept all its staff at the same level of pay and the money was spent on salaries and other expenses.
But on Friday, a spokesperson for Lakewood provided the Houston Chronicle with bank statements showing the loan was fully repaid.
In a statement, a church spokesperson said none of the money received from the PPP loan went to Osteen, right, or his wife, Victoria, who is reportedly not receiving a salary.
After the news broke that the church was on a pandemic loan, many on Twitter questioned why such a wealthy church would need a $ 4.4 million payment.
Outrage over the loan comes four years after Lakewood was forced to open its doors to the victims of Hurricane Harvey after facing widespread backlash for initially refusing to do so.
The Category Four storm dumped 20 inches of rain over Houston, causing extensive flooding and killing 100 people.
At first, Lakewood did not open its doors to victims, citing flooding at the mega-church, according to NBC News.
But after videos were posted to Twitter showing the location relatively unaffected by the widespread flooding, people began to wonder why Osteen’s mega-church – which has a capacity of over 16,000 people and who had once been a stadium housing the NBA Houston Rockets has not opened. for the guests.
Osteen then tweeted: âVictoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. The doors to Lakewood are open and we welcome anyone in need of shelter.
He denied closing the church to those in need and shared photos that appeared to show the church had suffered from flooding.
âWe never closed our doors,â Osteen said in a statement at the time. âWe will continue to be a distribution center for those who need it.
âWe are ready to house people once the shelters in cities and counties have reached their capacity. Lakewood will be of value to the community in the aftermath of this storm by helping our fellow citizens rebuild their lives.